If your mom was anything like my brother’s and mine growing up, she searched for ways to get you out of the house over summer vacation! In hindsight, I cannot blame her. We were in our more formative years, and she wanted to make sure that our growth would not cease for three months just because our formal education did. The Game Boy Advance was also at the height of its popularity, and the risk of us thumb-tapping our summer away was more imminent than we would have cared to admit.
We resided in a notoriously reclusive neighborhood. As our best friends on the block made a piecemeal pilgrimage to other communities, our family sought recreation in the local area. Fortunately for us, Bear Creek Nature Center was a reasonable distance from home. Their week-long children’s day camp provided a literal breath of fresh air.
Nature center employees would give educational presentations, conduct games, and even perform a conservation-themed puppet show at one point. It was like school without tests, which I was fine with. Groups of us kids were allowed to roam the park with adult guides, and even play in the stream. We were prohibited from drinking creek water, however, because of a bacterium whose name none of us could pronounce at the time. One boy found a few flakes of gold, declaring himself a bona fide 49er over lunch break. On Friday, campers and their families would gather in a multipurpose room for a slideshow recap of the week’s events. (I specifically remember part of the presentation being set to “Time of Your Life” by Green Day, as if the occasion were a cheesy graduation or something!)
Rose-colored glasses may play a role in my recollections; I am willing to admit that much. For this past weekend’s hike, I decided to hop in my Hyundai Santa Fe, and rediscover the park for myself. Spoilers: almost nothing had changed. From the amiable employees to the captive bee colony, the nature center had apparently been frozen in time. After a quick survey of its miniature museum, I hit the trail. More specifically, I hit Creekbottom Loop for the first time in years.
Trees and shrubbery, fed by the park’s namesake, greeted me with outstretched limbs. Most of the Creekbottom Loop’s lower half can best be described as a forest parade procession, with the hikers as the marching band and the greenery as the jostling crowd. Vegetation near the stream can be moderately dense, especially for those who plan on making the trip side-by-side with hiking companions.
Fittingly enough, travelling upward on the map coincided with an increase in altitude. Forest leafage gradually gave way to tall grasses as I neared the intersection of Creekbottom Loop and Coyote Gulch Loop. At this point I had a decision to make. While I had previously planned to walk all three loops in the park, an overcast sky gave me reason to hesitate. Coyote Gulch Loop spanned an open field – not the best place to be stranded during a thunderstorm. When a few sprinkles of rain hit my shirt, I took that as a sign from God to start wrapping things up.
I began to trek down Mountain Scrub Loop. Creekbottom’s manicured terrain had clearly spoiled me for the morning, because the relatively rocky descent took me by mild surprise. Some creative footwork was required on my part. From a kid’s perspective: it is just tricky enough to be a challenge, but far from perilous. Before I knew it, I was back in the parking lot, wanting more.
Yes. Bear Creek Nature Center does, in fact, hold up. Everything is obviously smaller from my newfound adult perspective, but their charm factor remains. Taxidermed critters and informational displays within the facility give hikers an indication of what to look out for. Thriving plants and a variety of observable animals greet them outside (under the right conditions, of course). Trail maps are common, functioning like training wheels for novice navigators. People like me, who need a “You Are Here” sign every hundred yards, will certainly appreciate them. It is Colorado hiking – set to level one. I hope to tackle some more challenging trails this summer, but I am satisfied for the time being with Bear Creek Park’s quaint beauty.
This week’s jaunt is brought to you by Phil Long Hyundai Chapel Hills.