Evergreen in 2013: fire, flood, controversy — and a blooming garden

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By Sandy Barnes

Wildland fire, heavy flooding and a contentious recall election created drama in the lives of Evergreen residents in 2013.


On the brighter side, a long-awaited community garden project blossomed at Buchanan Park along with major improvements at Wulf Park.

Here’s a look at those events, and a few other noteworthy happenings.

Fire board recall

Incensed by a decision by the Evergreen Fire Protection District board to build a training facility with live burn capability in Bergen Park, a group of residents moved forward with a recall election early in 2013.

EFPD board members George Kling, Charles Simons, Jeff DeDisse and David Christensen were challenged by recall candidates Barry Pier, Dan Koller, Paul Piel and Jodi Kesten.

Fire board member Charles Dykeman was not named in the recall because of his plans to resign and move from the area. The fire board appointed Evergreen physician Valeri Leswing as his replacement.

The major point of contention for those opposed to the training facility at Fire Station 2 was that live burn training would take place. Opponents of the project said that live burning was not appropriate at that location because of its proximity to homes and a school. However, Evergreen Fire Chief Mike Weege, staff and volunteers said they needed a facility in Evergreen to adequately train firefighters.

While the recall committee waged a modest campaign for its candidates, members of the Evergreen Fire Department organized and gathered support for the fire board members. The Committee to Save the Evergreen Fire Rescue District — No Recall sent out fliers to residents and stood alongside major roads voicing their support for the incumbents.

The no-recall committee reaped success, with all four fire board members retained in the April 23 election. About 6,500 Evergreen residents voted against the recall. The challengers received more than 1,300 votes — an amount they called significant.

Before the election, construction of the three-story fire training facility had begun. In July, volunteer firefighters began training in the completed building.

The recall election cost the Evergreen fire district approximately $150,000.

The Bluebell Fire

During a community forum sponsored by Evergreen Fire/Rescue in April, Fire Chief Weege stressed the importance of being prepared in the event of a wildland fire. Evergreen volunteer firefighters also began wildland fire training in May, practicing techniques such as digging fire lines and testing communications.

In early June, a wildfire broke out in an area near Brook Forest Drive after a 48-foot tree fell on power lines and ignited. Evergreen firefighters reported seeing 40-foot flames when they arrived, and initially worked to protect homes in Deer Path and Brook Forest Drive.

High winds fueled the fire, and Evergreen firefighters anticipated the worst, Weege said.

An Evergreen crew saved a home on top of a ridge that was surrounded by flames, which came within 10 feet of the structure.

By the following afternoon, fire crews from Evergreen and other departments were able to contain the blaze, which had spread to 15 acres. To keep the fire from spreading, helicopters dropped water on structures and a single-engine air tanker dropped loads of slurry.

The Bluebell Fire forced hundreds to evacuate their homes on June 4. An evacuation center was set up at Conifer High School the day of the fire. However, by the next evening, residents who were evacuated were able to return home.

No structures were damaged in the fire, and there were no injuries.

The Bluebell Fire was a test for the recently installed CodeRED phone-notification system in Jefferson County. More than 9,000 emergency evacuation calls went out to homes north of U.S. 285, south of Buffalo Park Road and west of Highway 73.

The fire also underscored the need for preparedness for many Evergreen residents, some of whom learned about fire mitigation techniques from Doug Saba, fire and life safety educator for Evergreen Fire/Rescue, during the summer.

Evergreen Fire/Rescue also identified evacuation routes for residents and distributed information about them throughout the district.

A garden grows in Evergreen

By midsummer, plots in a community garden at Buchanan Park were flourishing with ripening vegetables and brilliantly colored flowers.

After years of effort and planning, the community garden championed by Evergreen resident Rachel Emmer and other members of her environmental group had finally become a reality.

In January, Emmer learned that Evergreen’s Alliance for Sustainability had received a $43,000 grant from Great Outdoors Colorado, which provided needed funding for the project. The organization also received many in-kind contributions and community support, Emmer noted.

Because there seemed to be far more interested gardeners than plots available at community garden site, Emmer and other EAS+Y members created a lottery as a way of selecting those who would get plots.

On Feb. 28, a group of gardening hopefuls gathered at Buchanan Recreation Center for the lottery drawing. Wearing a farmer’s outfit and a large flower, Emmer passed around a glass jar filled with tickets for the drawing.

However, before those selected could begin digging and planting, there was much work to be done at the garden site. Two old sheds had to be removed and a gardening shed built for tools and other equipment. An irrigation system was installed and plots defined with borders. And, an 8-foot fence was placed around the garden to keep elk and deer from sampling the harvest.

With the help of organic soil enhancements and welcome summer rains, the garden was at its peak by early August, when Emmer and others held a celebratory gathering.

The garden has 44 plots, including 21 that are 10 by 16 feet, and 23 half-plots that are 5 by 16 feet.

Six of the plots have been allocated to community groups including Evergreen Christian Outreach, Evergreen Rotary and the special-needs program of the Evergreen Park and Recreation District, which approved the project.

Rain and more rain

In mid-August, a heavy rainstorm caused flood damage to downtown Evergreen businesses, including a couple of restaurants, a clothing store and Evergreen National Bank. John Ellis, director of communications for the bank, joked that employees weren’t trying to launder money.

A few weeks later, relentless rains that fell from Sept. 9-16 sent Bear Creek over its banks, severely flooding Cactus Jack’s Saloon, other downtown businesses and Evergreen roads.

Bridges were destroyed along Upper Bear Creek Road, which remained closed for several days because of deep standing water. Some residents living in the area were walking home and taking detours.

Evergreen schools also were canceled for a couple of days because of the flooding.

To assist businesses and residents affected by flooding, members of the National Guard mobilized in downtown Evergreen. With assistance from the Evergreen Fire Department, National Guard members placed sandbags along Bear Creek to protect homes and businesses.

In Jefferson County, officials estimated that 14 homes were destroyed and 215 damaged in the flooding. And 24 commercial properties sustained damage.

After the rains abated, neighbors began helping one another dig out of the flood along Upper Bear Creek Road.

In the aftermath of the flooding, the Evergreen Area Chamber of Commerce and other organizations organized cleanup efforts and financial assistance for those affected.

Home Depot employees worked with chamber members and volunteers to clean up the downtown area. Stagecoach Sports Grill and the Elks Lodge held fund-raising events to benefit flood victims.

In November Evergreen businessman Jim Sherwood distributed $30,000 raised at the Elks Lodge event to those who had sustained losses.

A few days before Christmas, Cactus Jack’s reopened, with customers streaming in to congratulate owners Megan and Gary Mitchell on the repairs and renovations to the iconic establishment.

The heavy rains in September also created havoc in area parks, including Lair O’ the Bear, which was closed for repairs for a few weeks. The park is now open, with some trails still closed.

Of parks and creatures

Wulf Recreation Center has an improved look, with replaced playground equipment, a large covered plaza and gently graded sidewalks. The popular skateboard park also has upgrades that make negotiating jumps and turns easier and more fun.

The project has been a work-in-progress over the past year or so, with Lafayette architect Axel Bishop at the helm of its design.

Working with the Evergreen Park and Recreation District board and executive director Scott Robson, Bishop created a plan to make the park more accessible and user-friendly.

During the Oct. 26 celebration of Wulf improvements, Robson said the project reflects collaborative efforts and generous donors. Blue Spruce Kiwanis contributed $23,000 for the plaza at the entrances of the park, and the Evergreen Recreation and Park Foundation donated $6,000 for new playground equipment.

Jefferson County Open Space contributed $228,000 in grant funds for Wulf Park, substantially adding to the park district’s $317,000 allocation in its capital improvement budget.

This past year Robson and the park district board also have focused on concerns about increasing numbers of people at Evergreen Lake Park.

Nearby residents and business owners at the Lakepoint Center have complained about traffic congestion, particularly on weekends and during special events.

Members of Evergreen Audubon also have expressed concern for wildlife at the park, as well as its environment.

In response, Robson has said that he would consider moving some events such as the winter festival from the Lake Park to other locations.

Colorado Parks and Wildlife is also reviewing the elk population in the Evergreen area through a community survey. Instead of trying to relocate the elk, the population can be controlled by adjusting the limit on the number that can be harvested during hunting season, according to state wildlife officer Reid DeWalt.

Depending on decisions made by Evergreen and state park officials, Evergreen residents could see some changes both in park use and the elk population this year.

Contact Sandy Barnes at sandy@evergreenco.com.