By John E. Watson
The mission of the Evergreen Park & Recreation District is to improve the quality of life of the Evergreen community by providing a wide range of excellent, financially responsible park and recreation amenities and programs while maintaining and enhancing the area’s mountain character.
I have lived in Evergreen for nearly 35 years. Although I wouldn’t be considered an “old-timer,” I have certainly witnessed my share of changes to our beloved mountain community. Some changes have marked improvements to our way of life, while others have been a step backward.
There are changes going on in our midst today that are affecting the very nature of our community in a fundamental way. Those who have not observed what is happening to Evergreen Lake might want to take the time on a Saturday or Sunday to visit the lake and witness the impactful level of usage so evident to those of us who live or work nearby. This icon of Evergreen is rapidly deteriorating into a common city park, destined more for the use of the large metropolitan population than for those of us who live in the community that now surrounds it. Denver has many facilities from which to choose. Evergreen Lake is unique to Evergreen.
This is not to say that we should keep Evergreen Lake all to ourselves. It is beautiful and distinctive, something to be enjoyed and treasured by residents and visitors alike. It is only to say that it should stay beautiful and unique, not become a water feature or paddle-board theme park for metropolitan Denver.
Due to the recent heavy promotion of the facilities through social media and Groupon by our own Evergreen Park and Recreation District, summer weekends now see many hundreds of visitors to the lake, creating significant parking hazards and overuse of a fragile ecosystem, as well as overuse of the park’s limited infrastructure, resulting in significant impact to the neighborhoods nearby and, perhaps more importantly, to indigenous wildlife. The parking situation has become critical. It is only a matter of time before someone is injured or killed stepping out from between cars illegally parked along both sides of the road for a mile or more, usually in clear view of a “No Parking” sign.
Being near the lake almost every day, I have personally witnessed numerous dog owners allowing off-leash pets to chase wildlife (birds, elk and deer). I have been made aware of dogs being allowed to raid the nests of waterfowl. EPRD currently has no staff with the authority to enforce its own rules and regulations. In short, Evergreen Lake appears to have become a “for-profit” enterprise, simply to financially support future budgets, with little or no regard for the consequences. It is our own elected board that seems to ignore its responsibility to care for what it calls “the Crown Jewel” of Evergreen. Is our community truly in favor of sacrificing the lake and its serenity for the purpose of supporting other EPRD projects and expenses? It seems like a bad trade to me.
Birds and waterfowl often meet an unfortunate fate from ingesting discarded fishing line that has been left behind by uncaring fisherman. Such material cannot be digested by animals. When swallowed, the fishing line becomes a cruel death sentence for almost any animal. When tangled in the feet of waterfowl, the bird is defenseless. The incidence of such discards is made worse because of bait fishing. The bait fishing also leads to increased refuse, consisting of corn cans, plastic bait bags and empty salmon egg bottles.
Evergreen Lake is the water supply for much of Evergreen. I wonder about the effects of this overuse coming from the trash, dog and human waste (yes, that too), and animals off leash, as well as recent approval of swimming in the lake? What parasites and bacteria are needlessly introduced to the wetlands and the water? When I first came to Evergreen, fishing was limited to flies and lures only. Swimming was prohibited, and the water was what you would expect from a mountain lake: clear, cold and pure. No longer. Today, I wouldn’t consider for even a moment walking barefoot on the lake trail. Would you?
I have owned the commercial property across Upper Bear Creek Road for a decade. My wife and I once enjoyed the path around the lake as a welcome relaxation at the end of a day, enjoying the scenery and the tranquil environment. Unfortunately, for the past two or three years, we have chosen to walk elsewhere because of the crowds, the traffic and (perhaps worst) the dog waste. One cannot freely walk the trail without constantly watching the trail for poop-mines left by uncaring dog owners. What once was a tranquil trail is now a crowded, overused metropolitan park.
At the beginning of my thoughts, I quote the EPRD mission statement. I draw your attention to two phrases: “to improve the quality of life for the Evergreen community” and “maintaining and enhancing the area’s mountain character.” I submit that the recent heavy promotion of Evergreen Lake has created unsustainable levels of use, simply for financial gain, constituting a gross miscarriage of that mission.
I call on the Board of Directors of the Evergreen Parks and Recreation District to reconsider its policies with regard to the Crown Jewel before it is lost. Treat it with the care and preservation that it deserves. Tell those of us who elected you what your individual vision is for this unique asset. Three members of the EPRD board are up for election in March. Before we vote, I would sincerely appreciate knowing each candidate’s vision for our lake.
John E. Watson is the owner of the Lakepoint Center on Upper Bear Creek Road.