Evergreen “Gateway”

Is El Rancho to be Evergreen’s sacrificial anode?

Community Voices by Kathryn Mauz
Posted 2/2/22

Community Voices by Kathryn Mauz

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Evergreen “Gateway”

Is El Rancho to be Evergreen’s sacrificial anode?


Dear Evergreen,

When you last returned from Denver, following the signs from I-70 to Evergreen Parkway, did you look ahead to the familiar hills and glance westward to see how the mountains looked at that moment?

You may have stopped at the intersection with Highway 40 and looked over at the historic El Rancho building. You next passed a sign for the Lariat Loop Scenic and Historic Byway, just before another that reads: Bergen Park 2, Evergreen 8.

The transition in your consciousness of the landscape probably began around Genesee, and was seamless as you exited for home. Living beyond this threshold is why you came here, whenever that may have been.

El Rancho is your landing pad. It is our neighborhood.

This has been a crossroads since the late 1800s, when prospecting and ranching centered around small enclaves widely spaced along primitive roads. When the Denver Mountain Parks were developed in the 1910s and 1920s, the scenic drive that connected them was planned through here. When Highway 40 was built in the1930s, it also came through right here. I-70 was under construction here in 1970, and it conscientiously followed a natural valley westward from what is now exit 252. Forested slopes along the valley were preserved, and tall pines on adjacent hilltops were spared.

Today, someone has decided that Evergreen needs a “gateway” and envisions creating a “beautiful entryway” into our community in the form of a shopping center and travel plaza at El Rancho.

Visible from every direction would be a 60-foot tall hotel where our firehouse and the Alpine Rescue Team headquarters have stood for decades west of Highway 74. The old-growth pines there would be destroyed and the view that has been carefully conserved through a century of infrastructure planning would be forever obstructed. From this hilltop location, our emergency services would be displaced a quarter mile away to the narrow strip of sloping land between Highway 40 and I-70. Where the park-n-ride lot is now, there would be a 16-bay gas station.

Alongside Highway 40, where a half mile of forest currently buffers light and sound from the interstate, six new retail and drive-thru outlets are proposed. Much of the forest would be replaced by parking lots and token landscaping. As a gesture to the community, the development promises a “pocket park” (smaller than the current park-n-ride lot) and that the “skin” on the modern-style buildings would be “rustic” (steel frames with wood and stone veneer).

The traffic generated by this proposed development, also affecting the intersection with Highway 74, is projected to at least double from present levels.

The footprint of the proposed development is as large as the El Rancho Town Center across Highway 74, but imposes urban density and resort scale. There is no single building in Evergreen that rivals the proposed hotel for its size. Go just seven miles east to I-70 exit 259, however, and the recently built “Gateway Village” provides an excellent analog of what is proposed for Evergreen’s “gateway.”

Visit there and imagine that “village” transported to El Rancho. Drive by at night and imagine that wall of light right across the road from the historic El Rancho restaurant. Is it beautiful? If it had a “rustic” facade, would it make you think of Evergreen? Would it make you feel like you were home when you saw this in front of you as you came through the exit 252 overpass, unable to still view the Continental Divide from the road?

How does the proposed density and scale of this development comport with this sensitive location at El Rancho, long recognized for its natural and historical setting? Within the Jefferson County Master Plan, the Evergreen Area Plan states, foremost, “The community greatly values its scenic, natural and cultural environments. The Plan should guide land use in a way that preserves these qualities.”

It explicitly recognizes that Evergreen should prioritize meeting the needs of its residents and not attempt to provide all the amenities of a city; advocates preservation of the scenic and historic elements of the Lariat Loop; and urges that planning should avoid undesirable visual and environmental impacts on the community.

The Evergreen Area Plan recognizes the El Rancho Activity Center as a priority area for commercial development.The area east of Highway 74 was undoubtedly chosen for its siting near I-70 and the buildability of Swede Gulch. Although the former grassland there rivaled other foothills parks we know today as open space, this valley was not fortunate enough to be conserved.

We cannot reclaim that historical landscape, but we can take this opportunity to consider, again, what Evergreen residents need, what Evergreen means to its residents and what our community and environment represent to visitors.

We have a Plan, and the proposed development west of Highway 74 is antithetical to the Plan.

Going forward, we can insist that the Plan should mean something. We must choose to value the investments that citizens of our community have made over the decades, not just to build but to preserve the landscape we enjoy today.

We here at El Rancho hope you see our neighborhood as more than just Evergreen’s sacrificial anode. Exit 252 is already Evergreen’s “gateway.” The forested hills you see when you exit I-70 are where our homes are, and that scene is what has always welcomed residents and visitors to Evergreen.


Kathryn Mauz

El Rancho and Evergreen native, EHS ‘90


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