“There will be pain. But a neglected downtown would surely hurt a lot worse… ”

When the dust finally settles one happy day two years from now, Evergreen residents will have gained much from several local, county and state infrastructure projects now in the offing.

We’ll have gained a more welcoming Evergreen Lake, gained more accommodating gateways, gained a more feet-friendly Heart of Evergreen. It’ll be great.

But first, the pain.

We’re feeling the first twinges right now as the Evergreen Park & Recreation District (EPRD) tackles the long-awaited and much-needed Evergreen Lake North Trail, two broad ribbons of scenic promenade uniting Downtown with the Lake House. ESCO Construction broke ground on the $5.5 million project six weeks ago, and Job One has been building a massive concrete supporting wall to sustain the upper trail along Highway 74, a messy business that’s reduced lake-adjacent pavement to one lane and fouled the waters for drivers on both ends.

The good news is that bi-directional flow should resume sometime in September. The bad news, if we can call it that, is that Jefferson County is getting ready to bring the hurt to County Road 73 the moment EPRD declares Highway 74 fit for duty.

The $11.5 million JC 73 project is half scheduled Jeffco upgrade, half Evergreen Local Improvement District wish-list, and all of half a congested mile. In Phase A, crews will expand and improve the intersection with Buffalo Park Road—enhancements to include widening the bridge over Cub Creek and adding a bonus northbound turn lane from Buffalo Park.

Targeting the narrow stretch between Buffalo Park and Little Cub Creek Road, Phase B will make room for an 8-foot wide, paved multi-use trail creekside and a 4-foot-wide bike lane cliffside. Finally, Phase C will extend that model around the bend to Plettner Lane, and widen the bridges at Little Cub and Evergreen Dam. Along the way, crews will improve drainage, repair or replace dated utilities, and construct new parking opportunities.

“The design team has worked extremely hard trying to minimize [delays] as much as possible, but there will be delays,” says Mike Vanatta, assistant director of Jeffco’s transportation and engineering division. “Some night work will need to take place to avoid major backups.”

Vanatta hopes to ease the sting by keeping both lanes open every morning between 5:30 and 8:30 am, and between 3:30 and 5:30 each afternoon, mostly to facilitate high school traffic. County planners spitball 660 days from onset to all-clear, which means we can expect to start feeling like ourselves again on or about Bastille Day, 2025.

In case that’s not headaches enough, the Colorado Department of Transportation aims to repave 5.5 miles of Highway 74 between Idledale and Upper Bear sometime next year. No precise timetable has been announced, but the Heart of Evergreen seems doomed to a double bypass in the summer of 2024.

The watchword is “connectivity” and, like so many root canals, these projects are unpleasant but necessary to Evergreen’s future health and happiness. Still, two years of fuss and feathers on their doorstep could leave downtown merchants feeling the burn.

“The downtown Evergreen business community thrives only because of a mixture of local business and tourists,” says Nancy Judge, president and CEO of the Evergreen Area Chamber of Commerce (EACC). “Construction acts as a deterrent for both tourists and residents.”

And whether you ramble the boardwalk a little or a lot, keeping Evergreen’s historic core busy and robust serves everybody’s best interest.

“Downtown Evergreen isn’t filled with a bunch of chain stores and restaurants you can find anywhere in the USA,” explains Marmalade Artisan Jewelry owner Larae Evans, “something that’s getting harder and harder to find.”

“A healthy downtown makes for an energized community, and adds to the list of reasons people stay and invest in Evergreen,” says Alexa Cowley of Mountain Home and Alexa Interiors on Meadow Drive, “so it’s a win-win.”

If downtown traffic disruptions are inevitable, confusion and frustration can be managed. EPRD, for example, will be running free shuttles between Wulf Recreation Center and the Lake House, and it’s working with the Evergreen Downtown Business Association to cook up an irresistible menu of summer events. The Evergreen Legacy Fund donated $3,000 dollars to improve downtown signage, and the EACC is working the streets to get the good word out.

“We’re working to help improve the signage so folks know how to get in and out of downtown Evergreen,” Judge explains. “Communication is key, and without one clear location for obtaining information in Evergreen, we’re using every means available.”

With so many capable civic spirits turning their talents to the problem, most downtown business owners are confident that today’s pain will beget tomorrow’s prosperity. And that, come what may, they’ll get by with a little help from their friends.

“Local residents are the heart of why we do business in Evergreen,” says Muddy Buck owner Tiffani Packer. “They’re beyond supportive, and we certainly hope they will continue to visit our downtown.”

“Evergreen knows how to pull together and support one another,” adds Evans. “We saw as much in the worst days of the pandemic. People sought out ways to support businesses they truly wanted to survive.”

“When push comes to shove,” says Cowley, “locals always rally to help other locals.”

There will be pain. But a neglected downtown would surely hurt a lot worse, and with a little patience and aspirin, we’ll all live to see a more convenient, more connected and more robust Heart of Evergreen two years down the road.

“Think about the times that we congregate downtown each year,” says Judge. “The Rodeo Parade, the Dam Ducky Derby, Trick or Treating on Halloween and the Holiday Walk. Those of us who have been here for years have all participated in these events. Our kids grew up at these events. This is small-town living at its best.”

To learn more about the Evergreen North Lake Trail project, visit bit.ly/3CfKsk8

To learn more about the JC 73 project, visit bit.ly/43JJ8BT