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The Natural: Earth Day dawns in Evergreen

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By Stephen Knapp

On Saturday, April 19, eco-centric folks from Crow Hill to Floyd Hill braved sunny skies, mild temperatures, gentle breezes and placid waters to celebrate Earth’s special Day in its most delightful setting.

This year’s Earth Day at Evergreen Lake offered the same naturally delicious blend of entertainment and edification that last year’s did, just more of it. More than 50 area merchants, agencies, clubs and assorted greenies set up shop within and without the Lake House, serving up an environmentally friendly menu of information, advice and merchandise.

What’s up with solar power? Burdick Technologies could turn you on to the latest developments. Ecological footprint been a little heavy lately? At least three recycling outfits could show you how to tread more lightly. Your fashions don’t match your passions? Racks of tie-dyes and earth-toned paisley prints abounded.

Young conservationists were invited to add a colorful construction-paper leaf to the Earth Day Pledge Tree.

“I pledge to use less gas,” scrawled Erin, in lime-green crayon. With premium-unleaded pushing $3.75, Erin’s allowance probably doesn’t go as far as it used to, anyhow.

“I plege for golble worming,” wrote Tyler, courageously addressing a problem that’s received entirely too little attention in Washington.

On the Lake House’s broad, sun-washed deck, Golden resident Dan Ruch hoisted his 4-year-old son, Dan Jr., for a peek through a bird-spotting scope.

“We actually came up to fish,” Dan Sr. explained. “But this is really neat.”

Dan Jr. thought so, too, immediately focusing on a curious wake he saw tracing across the lake’s surface near the wetlands.

“I think it’s probably a muskrat,” his dad said.

“I think it’s probably a crocodile,” rejoined Dan Jr., with some authority.

If young Dan had swung his scope a little to the south and a little to the east, he’d have enjoyed a telescopic view of Evergreen Lake’s newest — and oldest — feature. For Saturday’s green gala, The Evergreen Naturalists Audubon Society cracked the seal on its long-sought Evergreen Nature Center.

“We’ve been pretty busy pulling this place together,” said TENAS president Peggy Durham. Indeed, the naturalists were handed a key to the lake’s Old Warming Hut less than three weeks earlier. “So many people have done so much.”

It showed. Inside, the Evergreen Nature Center presented a tidy wilderness of Colorado outdoors. Well-organized displays covered everything from the migration patterns of Centennial State birds to the aquatic residents of Evergreen Lake to the unique ecology of the Bear Creek watershed. Near the woodstove, an extra-comfy chair lies within lazy reach of the center’s quickly expanding library.

In one rough-hewn corner, a dry-erase board listed the types of birds that local avian paparazzi have spotted at the lake since April 1. Birders, be on the lookout for feathery favorites like buffleheads, common grackles and lesser scaups. Separating TENAS’s domain from the Evergreen Park and Recreation District’s boat rental operation, large and attractive mobile partitions double as exhibit space, and ample seating offered quiet comfort to overstimulated Earth Day sojourners.

“I was just walking around the lake (I actually forgot it was Earth Day), and I was pleasantly surprised to find this here,” said Julie Parelman, sneakered and sweatshirted and plainly liking what she saw. “I think it’s an amazing use of this space. This cannot only bring the community together, it can educate our kids about what Evergreen has to offer. I have a 4-year-old and a 6-year-old, and I’m excited to bring them over here.”

They won’t be bored. Over at the “touch table,” 5-year-old Ethan Burge grabbed a wooden stamp, leaned every ounce of his 30-pound frame into it, and was rewarded with a perfect impression of a beaver paw.

“I saw a buffalo once, when I was on vacation, and I saw a squirrel on the way over here, but I don’t remember its name,” said Ethan, pressing a webbed mallard duck’s foot into the yielding sand. “My favorite animal is the armadillo. And elephants, and lions and giraffes.”

Alas, TENAS had no area devoted to African fauna, but a stuffed armadillo manned the touch table alongside the pelts of badgers and bighorns, deer and Dahl sheep, and an irresistibly touchable heap of antlers and bones.

“We got the touch table and a lot of the display furniture from the Chaplin Nature Center in Arkansas (City), Kan.,” explained TENAS volunteer Brad Andrus. “They were doing a big remodel, and we just drove out there one weekend, loaded up our 4-Runner and brought it all back.”

“Now they’re sorry they gave it to us,” smiled Heather Johnson, a deputy regional coordinator for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the volunteer in charge of nature center displays. “The director told me that as soon as they reopened, everybody started coming in and asking where the touch table was,” she laughed. “And so what if we’ll have to sweep up sand every day? The kids love it.”

Unfortunately, the nature center’s most dramatic acquisition — a stuffed mountain lion — didn’t make it to the open house. A New Yorker bought the toothy trophy in Vail about a million years ago, took it into retirement in Miami and, perhaps to make room for a shuffleboard court, offered it to the Denver Museum of Nature & Science.

“They didn’t need it, but they knew we were just starting up and put us in touch with her,” Andrus said. “The big question was how we were going to get it home.”

“Somebody from Evergreen was in Florida, and they loaded it into a van, and met somebody else on the road, and somebody is driving it out here, right now, bringing it back home to Colorado after all these years,” said Johnson. “It’s supposed to arrive tomorrow. It’s like all these Evergreen people just came out of the woodwork to make this nature center happen.”

Carmon Slater, from right here in Evergreen, is the TENAS volunteer who did much of that woodwork. From comfortably rustic benches to trim display cases to the attractive stained-wood partitions, the Evergreen Nature Center owes much of its visual and practical appeal to Slater’s skilled hands.

“We couldn’t have opened without Carmon,” Johnson said. “He even made the easels. A lot of the wood — and the stargazing telescope — was donated by Dick Burrows.”

Emily Wald, an Evergreen High School freshman, donated mostly time, and she’ll be donating plenty more.

“About everyone in my family was working on this, and I kind of got caught up in it,” said Emily, relaxing on one of Slater’s comfortable upholstered benches and watching a little blonde girl carefully glue blue and red feathers onto a cut-out great blue heron. “I’ll be volunteering here this summer, too. I like the outdoors, but I’m mostly into plants. There’s an amazing variety here at the lake.”

As appealing and well-appointed as it already is, the Evergreen Nature Center’s debut was little more than a dress rehearsal for the real show to come. Between now and its scheduled May 10 grand opening, Durham, Andrus, Johnson, Slater, Emily and dozens more just like them will be tweaking exhibits, adding features, developing programs and generally polishing their act. But they crossed their biggest hurdle on Earth Day.

“Today we became a nature center,” said Michael Stills, the center’s executive director. “Some unexpected stuff that came up, and a few things we didn’t plan for, but we succeeded because a lot of different people wanted to contribute. Everything in there is a little piece of somebody.”

To learn more about The Evergreen Naturalists Audubon Society and the Evergreen Nature Center, visit www.dipper.org. Anyone interested in being a nature center volunteer should e-mail enc@dipper.org.