Commentary about our home town by John Burke.

Lyons, Colorado. It’s a small town tucked in the foothills of the Rocky Mountains – lodged between foothills below the center of the picture. That’s famed Longs Peak standing about 15 miles behind Lyons. (No apostrophe in “Longs.” Usually.)

At 5,374 feet above sea level our elevation is modest by local standards. Some nearby mountain, like Longs, break 14,000 feet. A few towns perch above 8,500. Nevertheless, Lyons is every inch a mountain town, with a little bit of Mayberry and some Northern Exposure thrown in.

lyons_fireworks750We’re located 12 miles north of Boulder. That’s an exciting city with many distinctions: “#1 Best Place to Live on Earth” according to Newsweek magazine; “#1 Healthiest City in the USA” according to USA Today. The conservative Wall Street Journal even named Boulder America’s “Best Educated City.” Other publications and polls have bestowed “Best Sports Town,” “Most Highly Educated Citizens,” “Foodiest City”(whatever that means), “Best Running City,” and “#1 Clean & Green City.  Get this: the Gallup Healthways Well Being Index even rated Boulder as the nation’s happiest city.

Sure, the world knows Boulder is neat. But Lyons dscn1421residents think those citations are way over the top! 

The flock of Boulder folks who move to Lyons agrees with that skepticism.

Let’s restate that point: many Boulder people move up to to Lyons! (They arrive with kids and Subarus and dogs, rejoicing that they found a town like Boulder used to be before becomming “Foodiest City” and all that other crap.)

The Town of Lyons, and its Boulder suburb, are both environmentally passionate, outdoors oriented and creature-friendly.  The latter characteristic is another place where Boulder gets excessive. That town is SO creature-friendly you see “DEER CROSSING” signs on major city streets. In a municipality of 94,673 human beings approximately 1,000 deer comfortably graze on anything green in backyards, golf courses and parks. The deer herd is now large enough to talk about running its own candidates for town council. Hold on now! You may think the coexistence of deer and human folk is an attractive, warm and fuzzy municipal quirk.

It is NOT!

Keep reading – and you’ll find out how Bambi now lures life-threatening danger into residential communities in Boulder and environs, including Lyons.

img_9260Lyons was first settled by sturdy, laid-back hardworking people. Farming, ranching and rock quarrying were traditional Lyons occupations for generations. Time passed. Then Lyons also became home to artists, writers, musicians and a growing colony of culinary experts. It is whispered that a yuppie or two lives here. Plus a few ex-hippies who made it this far during the California migration of the sixties, cool folks who never figured out how to to get over our mountains. (Like irony? Now Colorado is a marijuana-legal state. Go figure…..) Bottom Line: Lyons became a community of outdoorsy, culturally aware, educated and family-oriented neighbors and friends.

A century before the hippies invaded these foothills, an earlier migration consisted primarily of gold miners. The road sign on the right welcomes goldhilltravelers to a former mining town in the mountains a few miles above our house. Note the numbers. You can’t survive at an elevation of 8,500 feet without a sense of humor.

Lyons is also home to Planet Bluegrass, the renowned sponsor of the Telluride Bluegrass Festival on Colorado’s Western Slope and three annual events in Lyons: The Colorado Folks Festival, the RockyGrass Festival and the Festival of the Mabon (Moon). The local events are conducted on the gorgeous grounds of a former stagecoach stop a couple hundred feet from our office.

dscn5893For a few weeks each summer, our town is taken over by music loving tourists attracted by world class talent playing at Planet Bluegrass festivals.

Here is a partial list of participants in img_5448_recent festivals, major league stars who enjoyed our restaurants & coffee shops and  and even jammed with the local talent:  KT Tunstall; Kris Kristofferson; Alison Krauss & Union Station; Chris Isaak;  Ani DiFranco; Yonder Mountain String Band; Emmylou Harris; Ray LaMontagne; Norah Jones; Doc Watson; Nanci Griffith; Arlo Guthrie; Natalie MacMaster; Earl Scruggs; Joan Baez; Bruce Hornsby; Susan Tedeschi; Del McCoury Band; Joan Osborne; Richie Havens; Indigo Girls; Randy Newman; Missy Higgins; John Prine; Kasey Chambers; Pinetop Perkins; Sam Bush; David Grisman; Gillian Welch; Nickel Creek; John Hartford; Rosanne Cash; Warren Haynes; Ricky Skaggs; John Paul Jones; David Crosby; Tim O’Brien.

Lyons renowned music scene is enriched by folks who attended Planet Bluegrass events in the audience or on stage, fell in loveNew Picture with our community and stayed for a while. Or stayed forever.  Every weekend, and often in the middle of the week, informal jam sessions and planned performances are held all over town in parks, coffee shops and other venues – especially at the famed Oskar Blues restaurant and blues bar.   Lyons is truly the “great bluegrass mecca of the West,” a title granted to our town by the Denver Post, honored by the nation’s bluegrass musicians and embraced by the locals.


The photo, taken at Oskar Blues, is typical of sessions in a number of venues – including private homes. Nobody is sure how many Grammy Award winners live in town. People we regard as neighbors, people who we run into at the Post Office, library and school functions are “locals” to us – and stars to music fans throughout the country.

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On Main Street visitors find a mix of antique shops, art galleries other cool places like Bird Dog Press. That’s where Alli Bozeman designs nostalgic graphics and prints them with traditional materials and methods, including an ancient letterpress machine. How about Lyons Classic Pinball, a shop filled with historic games for your amusement? We’re also noted for outrageous restaurants like Lyons Fork, Famous Dave’s Barbecue, Julie’s Thai Kitchen and more.

Other reasons Lyons is a preferred day-trip destination to in-the-know Front Range Spirit_Hound_Outsideresidents:Lyons Mercantile, Lyons ReRuns, The St. Vrain Market, The Barking Dog and Stone Cup cafes and Spirit Hound Distillers, home of Richardo’s Coffee Liquer and incredible sipping gin made from local juniper berries. News Flash: Lyons is the North American headquarters of Red Fox – an outdoor gear store with branches in Moscow and St. Petersburg, Russia and non-Russian locations like ……  Kathmandu, Nepal….. Pontresina, Switzerland…. Tokyo, Japan….. and LYONS COLORADO! 

Here’s another measure: Lyons, with a small base of local advertisers and only 2,000 residents, supports TWO local newspapers. We suspect few towns of our size can achieve that. Another unique measure: through Town Center runs a whitewater section of the North Saint Vrain river, a short but exciting kayak course.  In one of the town’s parks it merges with its cousin, the South Saint Vrain river. In a town that’s a fly fishing destination for Colorado anglers, perhaps the most unique business is South Creek Limited. That’s where Mike Clark makes the best custom bamboo fly fishing rods in the world. Try to order one of Mike’s creations today, handmade to your personal specifications.  If you are lucky enough to get on Mike’s waiting list, you can look forward to receiving your custom rod in something like six years. It will be a work of art, a one-of-a-kind limited edition collector’s item.

img_8700img_8583Despite an internationally recognized  fly-fishing icon and the constant presence of area anglers, these photos show what may be the primary role played by the river. During summer it is heavily used by locals and tourists who carry inner tubes to the west edge of town, float to the east edge and then trudge back to repeat the cycle.

(A further word about the rivers – in early September, 2013, they flooded. Damn near wiped us out. Many homes were lost, never to be replaced and many families were displaced, never to return. Rebuilding will take years. No need to tell that story here – it has been well-told elsewhere. This summary is about what Lyons WAS, what Lyons IS today and what it will REMAIN long after we have completed flood cleanup. The mantra Lyons STRONG resonates!)

Lyons abuts two former ranches that are now in the Boulder County Open Space inventory. This is nearly 11,000 acres of publicly owned wilderness recreation area to townies and tourists from trail-heads at the edge of town. Adjacent to this section of County Open Space is the Roosevelt National Forest. And then comes Rocky Mountain National Park.

162Tourists and music fans aren’t the town’s only visitors. Mule deer wander into town. Elk and bighorn sheep graze on the ridges above. (The photo is of a herd of about 160 elk that moved across the alpine meadow next to our house and up the mountain one snowy evening.) Coyotes work the rabbit and prairie dog populations at the edges of Lyons. Eagles circle overhead. As hibernation time approaches, black bears visit local dumpsters and bird feeders. Footprints in the snow indicate another mountain lion passed through town during the night. In fact, in 2011 a Boulder County Sheriff was patrolling through the Lyons Cemetery at 2:30 AM. In the darkness he hit a deer. Needing to see if the deer was seriously injured so he could do his duty and euthanize it, the sheriff pulled over to the side of the road. By the time he walked back to the impact spot, about 10 yards from where he had parked, a mountain lion was dragging the deer back through the tombstones. The cemetery is in the middle of town, about 4 blocks from our offices.

That incident with the deer introduces a Boulder County wildlife story. It’s your story too. Today we read about coyotes in New York’s Central Park, bear in suburban Boston backyards, alligators in Tampa swimming pools and sea lions taking over California piers.

Lyons is on the edge of wilderness, so we see more of the story, we see it earlier and we see it more often. What we see is nearly universal. It’s coming to a town near you…..

Book%20Jacket,%20hardcover,%20thumbnailOne way or another all wild species adapt when their habitat is absorbed for shopping centers and suburbs. They adapt for their own survival, not for human convenience – or safety. Our friend and Boulder resident David Baron, science reporter for NPR and for Public Radio International’s The World, wrote a book as gripping as Jaws. It is a nonfiction account of the shifting balance of nature right here in the Boulder Valley. The title is The Beast In The Garden. This book is fun, enormously entertaining, a bit unsettling – and important. Prediction: read the first two pages and you will be stuck in this incredible book for the next four hours. It is that exciting. And chilling.

Mountain lions have lived around town forever, and never caused a serious problem.  We know janice%20and%20starpath%20hatlgthey are here. While we almost never see one, we know they are watching us. The photo on the right is of Janice, wife of the author and president of the family company, standing next to a sign on a hiking trail behind our house. We take the sign seriously. We’ve read Dave’s book.

Lyons has long been known by the self-applied distinction “Double Gateway to the Rockies.” That’s because to reach the majesty of the high country from the great plains you have to drive up one of the canyons that interrupt the wall of mountains every 20 or 30 miles from New Mexico to Montana.  Lyons has two!

iStock_000016785472SmallA few feet from our offices two scenic highways leave town, heading up and west. They travel through different canyons, each spectacular in its own right. They’re called, with typical Western reticence “the South” and “the North”, those being references to the North Saint Vrain and South Saint Vrain creeks which run snow-melt through Lyons and down to the plains. About 20 miles up the canyon via the North, or 25 miles via the South, is the town of Estes Park. The roads join together at the edge of Estes in front of the famed Stanley Hotel.  That collection of white clapboard buildings is where a vacationing author Stephen King began to wonder what might happen if a mentally unstable man got snowbound  for a long, dark winter in a mountain hotel. You know the rest….

Estes Park is the entrance to Rocky Mountain National Park, four hundred fifteen square miles of rock-ribbed wilderness.  The park truly is a land of superlatives, with more than 110 peaks that soar above 10,000 feet and at least 60 that exceed 12,000 feet. It’s Colorado’s Wilderness Cathedral, topped at 14,255 feet by the football field-sized summit of Longs Peak, the mountain at the top of this page.

img_9297The old adage says: Location. Location. Location!   We’re not bragging about Lyons, just stating the facts. Lyons really IS the end of the Yellow Brick Road. With all this natural beauty and with more hours of sunshine than San Diego or Miami, Lyons is the perfect location to live, work and keep things in perspective.


This summary is about our town, not our company. But there IS a unique connection between the two. Our company, VisABILITY, is a pretty cool operation staffed by Type A people who are determined always to exceed client expectations. Pursuit of this standard is realistic in environs that help us stay content, mellow, productive – and grateful. Thus, we and our company flourish in Lyons.

If you are involved with the work of nonprofit public service organizations, you might want to bathroom-reading-1_lread about VisABILITY. Or you might find the Nonprofit Branding Blog is a useful resource. It’s  a sometimes snarky and sometimes funny blog about fundraising, marketing, management and nonprofit frustrations – written from the trenches, not the pulpit. So, we invite you to look us up online and give us a read.

Special thanks to Ed Bruder and “Brian Donnell – Ducks in a Row Studio” for the really good photos in this article. I took the bad ones.    jb

10 thoughts on “LYONS, COLORADO

  1. The first time i came to Lyons for the Folks Festival 20 years ago, i knew i wanted to live here. I have never lived in a community of people who care so much about a town and the people who live in it. I am proud to be part of this town i call home!!!

  2. Excellent writing! Yes we are truly blessed to live here! Here’s to all Lyonites-past, present, and future!!!

    Best of luck with this new blog JG & JB!

  3. Thank you for the article.
    At this point, with the flooding…just makes me cry reading about Lyons and that made me realize how much I LOVE the town of Lyons.

    Praying for Lyons!!!

  4. Thanks for mentioning The Beast in the Garden. I read it last month and it is fascinating. I asked my hiking/snowshoe partners to read it as well. And now we carry pepper spray if only to make ourselves less tasty if need be.

  5. Great article. Lived here for 28yrs. and wouldn’t live any where else. BUT, if it wasn’t for all of the volunteers and grants I wouldn’t have made it back home to my confluence neighborhood and to the town I love heart and soul. I’m one of those low income people, we have so fee of now.

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