They say what counts isn’t what happens to you but, rather, how you respond.
The small, Boulder County mountain town of Lyons epitomizes that.
Five years ago in September, Lyons was ravaged by an epic flood that crashed down the canyon. It took lives, houses, businesses and parks and closed the whole town down for almost three months. When residents returned, they barely recognized their community. The waters had stolen so much.
Lyons today has changed a lot, but there is some beauty in that. Where entire neighborhood blocks were leveled now grow wildflowers and plants. Ravaged community parks have been rebuilt bigger, better. Unique businesses and restaurants continue to pop up.
If you haven’t been to Lyons in a while, there’s a whole new world to explore.
In memory of the Boulder Flood of 2013, the Lyons community has launched a new campaign, “Love Lyons,” encouraging people to get to know the town all over again.
“Lyons’ businesses and residents were so invested in seeing Lyons come back even better than before — so we could maintain this standing as one of Colorado’s small, old towns,” says Mary Huron Hunter, spokeswoman for the initiative. “You can still experience that today.”
In fact, Elevation Outdoors magazine recently named Lyons a “Top Adventure Town” in Colorado.
When something is lost, there’s an opportunity to build anew. Here’s a look at some of the losses Lyons suffered — and how the town has bounced back with new offerings for residents and visitors.
The damage: Lyons lost about 20 percent of its houses in the flood. One neighborhood at the confluence of the North and South St. Vrain rivers was especially hit hard.
In addition, an entire mobile home community was essentially washed down the river.
“There was a lot of local sadness and heavy hearts over the loss of the homes and the community members who were not able to rebuild. That’s the shadow side of all of this,” Huron Hunter says.
The recovery: Some residents were able to take advantage of special government programs to sell their homes at pre-flood values, then walk away with money to rebuild elsewhere. Many homes were cleared away. In their place: little “pocket parks” scattered throughout the neighborhoods where wildflowers, wild grass and plants thrive.
When you walk through these areas, there is still the memory of loss, but as new life blooms, it’s a reminder of resiliency and how some expression of beauty can always surface over time.
In place of the mobile home neighborhood, Lyons got new lodging for visitors that has attracted national attention. WeeCasa, at 501 W. Main St., is the world’s largest tiny-home resort. It’s a sprawling, scenic, riverside collection of quirky, one-of-a-kind tiny homes that you can rent for the night.
Find all kinds of interesting themes, like The Hobbit House, covered in green moss and earthy accents adorning its round door and windows; the Lilypad, decorated with Balinese carved-wood pieces and stunning mandala art; or the Pequod, a wavy-roofed home with fun porthole-style windows.
“We started WeeCasa to bring people to our beautiful town at the base of the foothills of Colorado to share a beautiful setting and to challenge people’s ideas of what they have and what they need,” says Kenyon Waugh, “WEE-EO.”
In addition, WeeCasa’s campus, tucked against the impressive canyon walls, can be rented for big parties and weddings.
This innovative concept works with the floodplain regulations.
Huron Hunter adds: “It is rethinking — taking challenging situations like that and rethinking how we’re going to use our land and resources and rebuild from something that had such a profound impact on our lives.”
Before, Lyons didn’t have much lodging, other than a few small motels. WeeCasa makes Lyons a getaway destination and invites visitors to stay rather than drive through Lyons on their way to the Rocky Mountain National Park, she says.
Businesses and Bluegrass
The damage: Several downtown businesses were hit hard by the flood, including two Lyons’ institutions: the Lyons Fork and the St. Vrain Market.
Planet Bluegrass, a huge festival circuit and tourist attraction that put Lyons on the international map for live music, also suffered major damage. It had to close down for a while.
The recovery: Not all businesses survived; some small, newer businesses and retail shops were forced to relocate or close doors. But both the Lyons Fork and St. Vrain Market worked hard to rebuild and survive.
Today, the Fork survives in a historic building as “a food-centric, beer-driven, margarita-adoring little haunt” in Lyons, serving up the self-proclaimed best truffle fries in the west. Saved in the flood: a mural of two cowboys crossing the river on the west wall. Look closely and, as local legend claims, you can still see a bullet scar on that mural, from a shooting during a late-night poker game.
“We were in the threat of losing two of our anchor businesses, but they found a way to rebuild and repair,” Huron Hunter says. “That would have been a significant hit if we had lost those establishments and well-loved businesses.”
Planet Bluegrass was also able to rebuild — “even stronger, expanded and better serving the people,” Huron Hunter says.
Today, when you attend a Planet Bluegrass concert, the riverside of the festival grounds has been completely revamped, the grass is all new and the outbuildings have been repaired. The campgrounds were also fixed and then revamped. Planet Bluegrass acquired land across the street for more parking and launched various environmentally sustainable projects to lessen the impact on the town. For example, Planet Bluegrass was always zero-waste, but this year, all vendor food will be served in washable bowls that you can clean in a dishwashing station to reduce composting and recycling.
Open Space and Parks
The damage: In the flood, Lyons lost its two main community parks, Bohn Park and Meadow Park. The latter lost its river access, playground, access to watch eagles nest, campground and ballfield.
The recovery: Both parks have been brought back to life — even better than before.
“Built in their place is extraordinary, like Disneyland — some of the best parks in all of Colorado,” says Huron Hunter. “The amenities and opportunities they provide allow visitors to camp, and families to stay the day and splash in the river, and locals to access them so kids have parks to grow up in.”
Meadow Park had to be completely rebuilt and was renamed the LaVern Johnson Park after a local community leader. Today, it boasts a new playground, zip line, climbing rocks, campground, shelters and a bathroom pavilion area with showers (the old campground didn’t have that). A small creek runs through the park, lined with swimming holes. Go tubing down the creek when water levels allow. Stroll along the walking path and across the bridge, rent the picnic shelter for a party and cool off in the pop-jet fountain.
In colder weather, warm up near the fire pits. In the winter, the park offers an ice rink with skate rentals and hot chocolate.
Bohn Park has largely been rebuilt but is still being worked on.
The damage: Lyons lost its downtown library in the flood.
The recovery: Lyons now has a library district. The town is close to meeting its fundraising goals to build a new library and community center downtown and is expected to begin construction soon.
“That’s another example of an amazing new asset that our town will be able to enjoy on the other side of all this,” Huron Hunter says.