Oh, how we love our Colorado mountain towns. But oh, how they sometimes remind us that they were constructed well before the days of the ADA when we head up for a visit. Whether a native Coloradoan or an out of state visitor, these quaint, rustic nuggets of our state’s history are musts on touring lists. Evergreen is a close and easy day trip, but if your visit includes the need of a wheelchair, scooter, or adaptive device, a visit to the town can be a reminder of just how rugged these Rockies really are. This is not to say that Evergreen has not complied with ADA regulations, but we have discovered that the adaptations can still sometimes provide challenges that are not encountered as often in bigger cities. That doesn’t, however, mean it’s not worth visiting, but it does mean you might want to do a little planning.
On a mission to check out the adaptability of one of our closest
mountain neighbors, Dre and I headed up for a day trip to Evergreen, Colorado, a quick thirty-minute drive outside of Denver. Nestled in the hills around Evergreen lake, the city is one of those emerald jewels that truly does delight just about every sense. Beautiful scenery, dripping with old west charm, surrounded by state parks and hiking trails, rich with history from the original settlers… there is a lot to love about Evergreen. But when it comes to accessibility, the city, first homesteaded in 1878, gave us a little taste for the additional challenges pioneers living with disabilities must have faced.
Let’s talk about the Love
Keeping with the spirit of adaptable adventures, we’ll start with the things that we loved about Evergreen, and then go into some of the challenges we found in downtown, to allow other travelers to plan ahead for their visits.
First and foremost, the area around the Evergreen lake house is not only breathtaking, but is well suited for handicapped visitors. We found plenty of handicapped parking, which was pretty packed for a summer Wednesday afternoon. To us, this was a great sign that people of all abilities were enjoying the scenery and activities around the lake. A wooden boardwalk extends along the west side of the lake, offering pull offs for fishing and wildlife viewing, as well as a dedicated handicapped fishing pier.
For a look at our fun around the lake and some of the obstacles we found, click on the link to our YouTube video
Dre was also able to ride his scooter along the wide, well maintained, dirt path that runs along the lake and golf course on the South side of the lake down to the dam. While there were a couple of rocky
spots and I did have to push him once through some deeper sand, overall the trail was accessible and gave us a beautiful view of the lake and surrounding mountains. Depending on mobility levels, there were plenty of activities available at the lake, from fishing, to peddle boats, to paddle boards or just simply enjoying a day of relaxation and a picnic.
The north side of the lake has been closed off since the summer of 2016, and we give Evergreen some serious props for why. According to their website, an ADA accessible trail is being built along the north side which will allow for additional lake access and what seems to be an almost completely accessible loop of the lake. Yeah!
This does bring us into one of the areas where we struggled some with accessibility. The East side of the lake, where the dam is located, offers spectacular views of the lake and mountains from the top. The viewing area on the north side of the dam is accessible from the underpass that leads from the town. The area at the bottom of the dam has been turned into a beautiful picnic and rest area where a number of people were lounging and getting into bear creek.
While Dre was able to ride his scooter along a path near the dam, the picnic area itself wasn’t accessible as the walkway had a number of short sets of stairs. It did seem that there was enough space for an accessible ramp to get down to the bottom of the dam area. We’re not sure if this is a part of the work that is being done with the rest of the bike path, but we would certainly encourage the city of Evergreen to look at making the rest area at the bottom of the dam more
accessible and potentially making an accessible way around the road that would allow someone in an adaptive device to make a full loop of the lake.
A steep set of stairs led back up to the south side of Evergreen lake. Given the narrow area and steep climb, it did seem like a difficult area to make accessible. We tried looking for another way to access the south side of the lake from the bottom of the dam but we were pushed onto the shoulder of the highway and didn’t feel safe exploring from that area.
Thanks to our trip to the south side of the dam we discovered our afternoon eats for the day. Cactus Jack was a welcome pit stop for lunch. It has a down home, old fashioned feel but had updated its entry ways to make it easily accessible. Covered in license plates and western décor, it also has a great patio that overlooks Bear Creek. The food was fantastic, the service was great, and we felt welcome and at home.
The accessibility might have been more noticeable as we came across Cactus Jack after attempting to explore the rest of main street Evergreen. While Evergreen definitely offers all of that fun rustic feel of mountain towns, this also seemed to come with a sort of lackluster attempt at making the town accessible for everyone.
And some of the pitfalls
Here’s the thing – the basics were done, but it didn’t seem that there was much beyond that. It was a little surprising that it was one of the first town we’ve been in that hadn’t made their sidewalk curbs easily accessible. While it’s not a long stretch of shops, more than once Dre had to cruise to a parking lot, then down the edge of the highway to find the next accessible curb to come up. If you’ve ever watched your loved one cruising down the side of the highway on their scooter, you know that this is not a comfortable feel.
The same issue came up with the cross walk. The curb had not been modified for scooters, meaning we had to cross the highway sort of randomly when we got to a parking lot. This also meant Dre had to navigate his way through some pot holes to make it across the street.
You can see some of these challenges in the YouTube Video.
There was an accessible ramp that led up to the famous Little Bear. This salon, well known across Colorado, is situated at the end of what seems to be the original row of shops that made up Evergreen. The ramp itself was a little tough to navigate. We also couldn’t go any further than the coffee shop next to the Little Bear, as there were steps in the boardwalk.
It was also difficult to get in and out of the shops that we could reach on the main street, as they tended to have large ridges in their doorways that were difficult for Dre to get his scooter over. Our final frustration came when we crossed the highway again to get to the accessible path that led to the lake and realized that the area of the curb that is accessible was blocked by a parking space. Dre was forced to again cruise along the street to reach an entry point in a parking lot.
We recognize that making a town as historical as Evergreen accessible is both time and cash consuming, but we were a little surprised that more effort to at least make the curbs easy to navigate in a city this size and with the proximity to Denver hadn’t been made.
As a result we cut our time on Main Street short. If you’ve never had to navigate a scooter or chair over bumps and potholes or along the side of a highway, you might be thinking, “Well that doesn’t seem like that big of a deal,” But it actually can become a pretty stressful event and take away from a pleasant stroll through a town.
That being said, we did still have an enjoyable time. Our hope is that with the consideration Evergreen is taking in its lake front renovations, they are also considering the ease and access to their main street shopping and restaurants. We haven’t created an accessibility rating system for our town visits, but if we had to score Evergreen’s Main Street, it definitely would be on the lower end of the spectrum. The boat house and lake would be on the higher end, though.
That being said, there is plenty of handicapped parking in the town, the people we ran into were friendly, there are plenty of shops to visit, the scenery is gorgeous and there are all sorts of places to eat! So our plea to Evergreen is, please think about continuing to make the modifications that will make all of your wonderful town accessible to everyone!