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Downright dazzling: Main Street works hard to be downtown Evergreen’s main event

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By Stephen Knapp

The next time you contemplate abandoning Evergreen for a restorative weekend somewhere cool and green and busting with local color, hang the car keys back on their hook and contemplate this — shoals of discriminating day-trippers from the Front Range and beyond have already done the math, and they’re coming to the heart of Evergreen.

“If you look at the percentages, the majority of people downtown on the weekend are from out of town,” says Janice Stutters, board member of the Evergreen Downtown Business Association.

And she would know. As the owner of Seasonally Yours, Stutters has a front-row seat to the weekly parade of smiling strangers strolling the boardwalk, lounging alongside babbling Bear Creek, sampling the indigenous cuisine, and generally appreciating what the natives too often take for granted.

“Main Street has something for everybody, and people from Aurora, or Parker, get the feeling of visiting the mountains without using a tank of gas. And they like that it’s 10 degrees cooler, too.”

True, downtown Evergreen is many degrees cooler — literally and figuratively — than, say, downtown Commerce City, but reasonable temperatures are just the tip of the iceberg. Within a tidy two blocks, Main Street offers enough food, fun and flavor to keep even the most particular perambulator engaged. Just ask Joey Veltman of Commerce City, who joined the flood up Bear Creek Canyon and came ashore on the Ice House patio.

“My sister brought me to Evergreen Lake in 1999, and I’ve been riding up here ever since,” said Veltman, relaxing with an iced latte a few feet from his gleaming Polaris Victory Hammer, which sleek artifact somehow managed to stand out from the dozen other gleaming motorcycles lined up in front of the Little Bear. “I love the views and the small-town atmosphere. It’s a nice and mellow, and I like the people.”

Jeanne Harger would probably agree on all counts, although the Littleton resident’s mission on this sun-kissed Saturday, as on many summer Saturdays, is art-specific.

“I come here for the galleries,” said Harger, smartly dressed in a leopard-print halter, skin-tight chinos, and rhinestoned leather sandals that clearly possess more form than function. “There are a lot of good art galleries around, but these are just better. I always find something I just have to have,” she grinned, holding up a heavy bag of swag as proof. “Always.”

Fact is, folks like Veltman and Harger would probably make downtown Evergreen a regular fair-weather destination even without the enchanting boardwalk, the colorful bunting, the barrels of flowers lining the sidewalks and the 40 acres of wet adventure just a stone’s-throw away, but downtown’s merchant folk are ever willing to go the extra mile to make sure Colorado’s exurban explorers do the same. If Main Street businesses host some of the area’s best off-season parties — the Halloween and Holiday walks, to name just two — they ramp up the hospitality a notch or two about the time the pasque flowers start blooming.

“From May to September, we try to find something fun to do each month,” Stutter says. “We want to give people a reason to come downtown.”

That reason might be Go Paint’s popular Easter Egg decorating contest, followed by the Rodeo Parade in June, sidewalks sales galore during Main Street Days in July, and the Dam Ducky Derby in August. Add recurring downtown attractions like Thursday farmers markets, live music on Cactus Jack’s creek-side deck and the pulse-revving Auto Rendevous held last Fridays in happy union with downtown’s venerable Art Walk, and Main Street has a summer’s worth of family-friendly main events.

But that’s all just sprinkles on little Avery Gardner’s ice cream cone. One of relatively few locals hanging chilly downtown, Avery’s mom, Jeri, brought Avery and her little sister, Ryn, all the way from Sunset Ridge in Kittredge to ride the Evergreen Trolley, and both girls plainly consider everything else EDBA has done of small consequence by contrast.

“I sat up front!” declared Avery, still a bit giddy from the experience. “I rang the bell!”

Then she had some actual ice cream and spent a pleasant interval splashing around in the creek with Ryn and their young playmate, Logan Killough.

“Today we came to ride the trolley,” said Logan’s dad, Hunt, “but sometimes we come just for ice cream, or for pizza, or just to feed the ducks. It’s really nice. But the kids love the horses.”

The kids aren’t alone. For the last four years, from June straight through to Labor Day, the downtown merchants have hired Willard Forman of Rawhide Partners to hitch up his draft horses and give all comers a leisurely introduction to the best parts of Evergreen, so long as those parts lie between the Evergreen Dam and Forest Hill Road. Not surprisingly, Forman gets a lot of comers.

“We’ll carry up to 400 passengers a day sometimes,” he said, smiling as recently debarked children make much ado about Kit and Kat, his honey-colored team of Belgians. Constantly polished by so many wee hands, it’s a wonder the gentle giants’ noses aren’t worn as shiny as new pennies. “The kids love the horses.”

Still, if horses, ice cream, pizza and a sun-dappled creek are all the younger set needs to achieve perfect bliss, grown-ups crave a more balanced entertainment diet, and satisfying those more sophisticated appetites is Main Street’s real forte. In most mountain towns, Stutters says, regardless of their size or amenities, one tends to see a lot of the same-old, same-old. On Evergreen’s Main Street, on the other hand, merchants quite consciously conspire to variety.

“Estes Park has enough fudge shops to sink a boat, and everywhere you go you see the same T-shirts and the same product lines. Here, each store works hard to keep its unique character, to carry unique products, and to find its own unique way to make the experience fun for people who stop in. You can visit every shop on Main Street and see something new and different in each one.”

So how many out-of-town visitors take the short trip up the canyon every summer? If precise statistics are hard to come by, it may be instructive to ask Bill Ortiz, who tends the Main Street parking lot for the Ross-Lewis Trust.

“There are 109 slots, by my count, including the handicap spaces,” says Ortiz, an Aurora resident and semi-retired Pepsi Center employee who’s been at his Evergreen post for the better part of seven years. “On weekends in the summer, it’s full most of the time.”

Conservatively figuring two passengers per vehicle, that’s about 220 urban refugees savoring Evergreen’s matchless promenade at any given moment on any given summer weekend. What, we must ask ourselves, do they know that not a few locals don’t?

“It’s a wonderful thing to have lunch on the patio at Creekside Cellars or Beau Jo’s,” says Stutter. “It’s a wonderful thing to sit on the boardwalk with a cup of coffee and watch people go by. It’s a wonderful thing to get an ice cream cone and feed the ducks at Evergreen Lake.

“If people will only stop long enough to see what’s going on right here in Evergreen, they can start enjoying it.”