Town Story: Burlington
With only 4,000 occupants, this eastern plains town may appear at first unassuming, but there's more than just a century-old secret swirling in Burlington's city center.
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MURPHEY’S VISITS ARE always a highlight, but a weird twist of fate scheduled his third Burlington show on what would end up being one of the city’s darkest days – it was March 11, 2011, the date of the funeral of Charles and Marilyn Long. The Longs were a devoutly Christian Burlington couple with seven children, four of them grown and three of them still living in the house, where they were homeschooled. One morning, for reasons still unknown, their 12-year-old son shot them to death while they lay in bed. He then attacked his younger brother and sister with both gun and knife, seriously injuring them, before he was apprehended.
People in Burlington were horrified to see a family unit destroyed, said City Administrator Bob Churchwell.
“Family is incredibly important here,” he said. “You see all these second-, third- and fourth-generation businesses being run – keeping the family strong means a whole bunch to this community.”
When Murphey found out about the tragedy, he called to cancel out of respect. Burlington officials begged him to go ahead with the concert, Churchwell said.
“That was just what we needed to begin the healing process as a community right then,” he said. “It was huge for the community to be able to focus on something else besides the tragedy that just happened.”
Murphey gave his fee and all proceeds from tickets to a fund for the injured siblings. Murphey’s support moved the people of Burlington, and the community’s courage in the face of tragedy moved the singer. He returned with his band three months later and invited Denver Post publisher William Dean Singleton to attend.
The city’s spirit, along with its deft touch with the logistics of putting on big events, underscored that Burlington was more than up to the task of hosting the huge bicycle event that Singleton and others were planning for the area: Pedal the Plains.
Most people credit Gov. John Hickenlooper with the idea for Pedal the Plains, a three-day bicycle tour that’s the prairie’s answer to the popular Ride the Rockies. The 160-mile tour, scheduled for the start of cooler weather, Sept. 21-23, begins with a Yuma-to-Wray leg, then a day’s ride from Wray to Burlington and a final jaunt back to Yuma.
Though Burlington isn’t the kick-off point, it will be the site of most activities. Besides being the designated as Pedal the Plains’ official party city, it’s also the start and finish of the 120-mile Gran Fondo for more serious riders. A six-mile family ride will be available there for more leisurely riding, looping around quaint farm houses, windmills, cows and horses. Cowboy costumes are encouraged as families stop to investigate corn mazes and pumpkin patches before ending up – where else? – at the Kit Carson County Carousel for a private party just for riders.
Be Part of Burlington’s Big Events
July 23–28 - Kit Carson County Fair & Rodeo
Live concerts and PRCA Rodeo Fri. & Sat.
Sept. 1-2 – Harvest Festival
Two day Bluegrass and Folk Music Festival
Sept. 21-23 - Pedal the Plains
Three day cycling adventure across Colorado’s Eastern Plains
Exit 437 and 438 | Burlington, CO | burlingtoncolo.com | 719-346-8652
(This story originally appeared in the July/August 2012 issue of Colorado Life Magazine)