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Trails plan puts Evergreen on right path

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As long as I’ve lived in Evergreen, and that’s 28 years now, there has been an upside and a downside to being unincorporated. The upside is simple to see: We don’t have an additional layer of government, nor do we bear the costs of one. There are so many generous, committed, civic-minded citizens and nonprofits here that we don’t usually need a mayor or a council.

But the downside is, aside from our “special districts” for fire protection, parks and recreation, and water, we don’t have anyone who is dedicated to the welfare of Evergreen with significant power to protect it when threatened, and to enhance it when opportunities come up. From time to time a Jeffco commissioner will pay attention to our needs, but “time to time” isn’t full time, and we’ve got a few eyesores around the community to prove it. 

That’s why it is so heartening when grassroots sink deep into our community, as they often do. Like the Center for the Arts Evergreen, which is doing a “soft” launch of its capital campaign to build a first-class arts center — a gallery, an education complex, an arts camp for kids. With no city officials to smooth the way, selfless volunteers are beginning to raise the money — and others are beginning to give it — simply because they see the economic, academic and prestigious benefits to every one of us who lives here, whether we are artists and art lovers or not.

And Mount Evans Home Health Care and Hospice, which is making plans to create an endowment to protect it — which really means protecting all of us, because since disease and disability and death don’t discriminate, it serves all of us — against the tough times already trending on the horizon as demand from baby boomers goes up but reimbursements from insurance, both government and private, go down.

The latest grassroots to sink in are taking shape as the Evergreen Trails Master Plan, the purpose of which can be stated simply enough: to physically (and safely) connect every popular piece of central Evergreen with every other popular piece of central Evergreen; the schools, the library, the Lake House, the golf course, the museums, the performing arts, the rec center, restaurants and groceries, Evergreen Lake, Bear Creek and Main Street. In other words, to build trails and paths to link key destinations, to create “wayfinding” signage to facilitate finding one’s way, and, in short, to make the heart of Evergreen feel more welcoming and cohesive. While Jeffco agencies ranging from Planning and Zoning to Transportation and Engineering to Open Space are involved, the real roots are completely local: The inspiration, and the seed money for eventual construction, are coming from the Evergreen Legacy Fund, a.k.a. ELF.

There are a lot of obstacles to overcome: safety issues, conflicting user demands, private property owners’ concerns, engineering and environmental challenges, and, of course, the money it ultimately will take to build trails and paths, and especially (this is my favorite part of the whole vision, however difficult to achieve) a river walk along the downtown stretch of Bear Creek. Designed with enough allure (think about the wonderful river walk in Golden), this could be the synergy of it all, a magnet not just to invigorate the heart of Evergreen, but to give all of us yet another great place to go.

There’s an old adage that says, if you don’t grow, you die. We’re not even gasping yet, but if we want to stave off the illness, we’d better get behind these efforts to keep us healthy. They are not just our civic roots; they are our grassroots.

Greg Dobbs is a 28-year Evergreen resident. In the 1990s and early 2000s, he was a regular Courier columnist.