There is a nature center right next door to the Mountain Man Outdoor store in Nederland, Colorado. Actually, right next door is the brew pub which, at less than ten paces away, is dangerously close for my old friend John who opened the Mountain Man store with his wife Sasha two years ago. No, a couple doors down in the other direction is the Wild Bear Mountain Ecology Center. Wild Bear is a cozy, walk-in nature center with exhibits on the local ecology. They offer a variety of workshops primarily for children, but there are many adult and family programs as well, with the goal of “fostering a lifelong appreciation of the environment”. Wild Bear also sponsored a volunteer opportunity just hours after we arrived in town to visit our friends. It seemed like the perfect opportunity to get to know the town and some of its residents so we joined in on a clean up of the creek that flows through town and the lakefront it drains into. Like all the creeks and rivers along the Front Range of Colorado, Boulder Creek was running very high with spring runoff from winter snows and the wettest May on record. Because we ended up staying in and around the region for just over two weeks we got to see the town make the transition from spring to summer, the unpredictable period of thunderstorms, clouds, sunny hot afternoons and crisp cool evenings. As the snows that covered the high peaks and shadowed canyons gradually faded away we got the see the creek rise and fall with the daily snowmelt as slowly more mountain rock revealed itself. Exactly two weeks after we cleared the trash from the lakefront we also got the chance to return with another group of locals to remove a few hundred pounds of invasive plants and spread an abundance of native seeds. With all the great vagabonding we’ve been doing it was nice to get our hands dirty in the same spot a couple times.
Perhaps Ned is the perfect small mountain town. John and Sasha seem to love it here. There is a community of about 1500 friendly and quirky people nestled at 8300ft on Colorado’s “Peak-to-Peak Highway”. You can see the 13,000ft crests of the continental divide from almost any point in town and much of the land to the west is national forest including the rugged and beautiful Indian Peaks Wilderness. Our friends live a five minute walk from their store, and have a half dozen backcountry trailheads within a 15 minute drive. They don’t even need to drive. Hopping on a bike or walking out the door gets you to the nearest trails in just a few minutes. In winter it’s snowshoeing, cross-country skiing or hitting the slopes at the small ski area, Eldora where within ten minutes of leaving your door you can be on the first ski chair up the mountain. In a short radius from town we saw people fishing, kayaking, white-water rafting, paragliding, and dozens of folks road cycling. In other words it is exactly what you expect from the Rocky Mountains of Colorado.
The boundary between wild nature and civilization is much fuzzier in a place where a moose might wander into town and when your unruly dogs get its attention it might leave a dent in your hood. It’s a place where many town blocks are occupied by aspen groves and wildflowers. A bold young family of foxes dens about 50 yards from where we had Lil’ Squatch parked. We saw one or more of them almost daily making their rounds. I sensed a casual acceptance from the people in town. It’s not so much that the foxes were taken for granted, but that it was the most natural thing to enjoy sharing your neighborhood with these handsome creatures.