Missoula, MT (KGVO-AM News) - Since its opening in 1995, A Carousel for Missoula has delighted young and old alike with an experience that very few communities in the U.S. can offer, a ride on a real, hand-carved motorized wooden carousel.

KGVO News had the privilege of visiting with Theresa Cox on Wednesday, one of the founders of ‘A Carouse for Missoula’ about its history which began in 1991 with Missoula artisan Chuck Kaparich, who carved the very first carousel horse. Cox said the Missoula community couldn’t wait to get involved.

Theresa Cox says the late Chuck Kaparich was the Genius Behind the Carousel

“Carving lessons were started through the adult education program at MCPS, so he opened the class,” began Cox. “In 15 minutes, all 40 slots of the class were full. And we had a waiting list. And the people who joined that class started out making the gargoyles that go around this rounding board of the carousel.”

Obviously, the horses would be useless without the actual motorized carousel, so Cox explained how the community came together for that part of the project.

Get our free mobile app

Volunteers Carved all the Horses and Built the Carousel

“While they (the carvers) were learning to carve, we had a group of mechanics who met every Monday night for four years to work on that frame and motor that Chuck (Kaparich) had brought home from the Miracle of America Museum (in Polson). The last place we know it was used was at the Ponderosa Theme Park in California. We actually had a picture at the carousel of (actor) Lorne Green whisking a child up onto a horse that is on that frame, which is kind of fun. It was built in 1918 by the Herschel Spillman company, so it's well over 100 years old now.”

And now, the number you’ve been waiting for; just how many rides have been taken on A Carousel for Missoula since it’s opening in 1995. Unfortunately, there are no official records, however, Cox and the staff at the Carousel have come up with an approximate number.

4.5 to 5 Million is the Approximate Number of Riders Since the Carousel Opened

“4.5 to 5 million rides, which I think is astonishing,” said Cox. “I would not have guessed that, although I certainly should have. We were not able to find the records from the early years, which would have been the time when we gave the most rides. So, I think it's ended up closer to 5 million rides, and I am just astounded this community has been so incredibly supportive of and generous to the Carousel. It just warmed my heart every day I was there.”

Click below to hear the entire interview with Theresa Cox for the full history of A Carousel for Missoula.

Cox retired in 2019, but the A Carousel for Missoula and the Dragon Hollow playground continue to attract visitors from all over the world, making Missoula proud.

21 More Missoula Businesses That We Would Like To Return

We wrote about 24 Missoula businesses that you all said you missed. We thought of 21 more that we think should be brought back.

Gallery Credit: Chris Wolfe

More From Newstalk KGVO 1290 AM & 98.3 FM