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John Thompson, owner of the Mountain Man Outdoor Store, waits for customers to come into his shop on Nov. 14, 2019. A recall. A recall protest. A lawsuit. A town trustee’s resignation. Ongoing daily closures as road work continues in Boulder Canyon. The closure of local landmark the Pioneer Inn. All have created tension in the mountain community.
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Editor’s note: A previous version of this story misstated the name of the Mountain Man Outdoor Store.

A recall. A lawsuit. A sudden political resignation. Near-daily blasting in the canyon. And now the closing of a local landmark.

It is the autumn of Nederland’s discontent, where the Carousel of Happiness keeps spinning — even if the accumulating cares of the world have made it harder for some folks to crack a smile, much less saddle up for a ride.

This community perched at 8,230 feet, frames in wide shot as postcard-perfect. But sitting on a bar stool downtown at the Branding Iron on a recent afternoon, area resident Kevin Raye nursed a beer and offered his view on what the all-the-warts-included-closeup reveals to him.

“It’s us against them, and I’m not even sure who the ‘us’ is and who the ‘them’ is,” said Raye. He lives in nearby Rollinsville, but has considered the Nederland area his home, for 24 years.

Raye, who works in construction, cited Nederland’s “diversity.” But he said it’s a diversity in which components are in conflict, not complementing one another.

Just a few weathered doors away on East First Street, the venerable Pioneer Inn, the setting for many Saturday night dramas never to be forgotten — and some much better left to the smoke-filled rooms of selective amnesia — sits locked up tight and silent.

“Closed until Further Notice” advises a sign on its door, saying so much and explaining so little.

“It’s a sign of the times,” Raye said with a sigh. “The oldest establishment in town, as I know it. …The town has changed. Things have changed.”

‘An iconic landmark’

Several blocks further up the same street at Nederland Town Hall is paperwork showing the Pioneer experienced an Oct. 2 expiration of its liquor license, coinciding with a $26,416.63 notice of sales taxes owed to the state. That came after taxes were not filed correctly for November 2018, and January, April and June of this year, according to the town clerk’s office.

In an installment agreement with the Colorado Department of Revenue, Pioneer Inn owner of record Cynthia Shaw-Pierce has established a payment plan of $2,297.30 per month for 11 months and a final closing payment of $2.297.33 to satisfy that obligation.

A sign on the door of the Pioneer Inn in Nederland reads “Closed Until Further Notice.”

Presuming it reopens, the Pioneer will be under new management, according to Nederland Town Clerk Miranda Fisher, who said it is “pending a possible transfer of ownership.”

The Camera in August 2016 reported the Pioneer Inn was being shopped. Michael Ackerman, managing broker and CEO for Boulder’s CREA Outdoor Properties Group, which was listing the property at that time, said in recent days that he is aware of the Pioneer’s status but is not currently able to comment.

On Thursday, in a statement, Shaw-Pierce said, “I have been so blessed to have been a small part of such a long-standing institution of our community. I thank all for the support and love. It is time for me to step aside and move on. Love and blessings to all.”

So for now, the watering hole where musicians recording at the now-defunct Caribou Ranch studio — including the late legends John Lennon and Michael Jackson — are said to have come by to unwind and lubricate their vocal cords, has run dry.

Its closure was a surprise to Town Marshal Larry Johns, and not a happy one at that.

“It’s definitely an iconic landmark, here,” Johns said. “If you’re talking to people around the state, or even outside Colorado, and you mention Nederland, it’s Nederland, and it’s the Pioneer Inn. It’s one and the same” in many people’s minds.

Citing the inn’s location smack in the heart of town, Johns said he is convinced a business there should be “viable,” and hopes it makes a quick comeback.

Many businesses in Nederland have been taking it on the chin this year, since the onset of a major road improvement project in Boulder Canyon on Colo. 119, requiring four-hour road closures four days a week, for rock blasting in support of the $31 million project that is now not set to wrap until 2021.

‘It’s just killing us’

John Thompson, owner, with his wife, of Mountain Man Outdoor Store, runs his business just a few doors away from the town marshal’s office in the same downtown plaza.

Late on a recent afternoon, Thompson said from behind his register, “Today, I brought in a grand whopping total of, let me see … $61. Which means I made, um, $30. But I gave that young lady who just went out the door” — gesturing to an employee who had just clocked out for the day — “$90. So, I’m down $120.”

Whatever the math, Thompson knows the pain isn’t reserved just for him.

“I’m just a little guy, and I’m working here, mostly by myself. For the restaurants in particular, it’s got to be hard,” he said.

And he’s also not happy with a lot of what he is seeing on the town’s political front, where a recall drive is targeting Mayor Kristopher Larsen, Mayor Pro Tem Julie Gustafson and Trustee Dallas Masters. That vote is now set as part of the regularly scheduled election on April 7.

The town board recently lost now-former trustee James Rawsthorne, who resigned Oct. 24, with a scathing parting letter in which he showed his sympathies were with the pro-recall faction. The political disarray also has made its way into Boulder District Court, where those favoring the recall have so-far unsuccessfully sought outside intervention, in hopes that a recall vote can be held as a separate election ahead of the April 7 date.

“Everybody’s trying to do right by the town,” Thompson said, when prodded on the politics. “But, trying to recall them, and making a big to do out of it …”

Beyond adding that he saw recall proponents as simply “caustic” and “mean,” he clearly didn’t have the stomach for a much deeper analysis.

Over his shoulder, out across the wind-swept parking lot, loomed the Carousel of Happiness — idled for the day — and the adjacent Train Car Coffee & Yogurt Company. Late on a weekday, a cheerful employee tended matters behind the coffee shop’s counter as mellow hits from the ’70s and ’80s played softly in the otherwise nearly vacant cafe and the sun slipped away behind the Indian Peaks.

Train Car owner Jim Graves put the impact of the canyon project at about 12% to 15% decreased business for his shop as compared to last year.

“The canyon’s being closed, it’s just killing us,” said Graves, who lives in nearby Pinecliffe. The Carousel draws many of its clientele from outside Nederland, and when its business is down, he said, his follows suit.

“If it wasn’t for them,” Graves said, glancing next door, “I wouldn’t be able to keep my doors open.”

The Branding Iron Grill in Nederland on Nov. 13, 2019.

He expressed probably even less interest than Thompson in what’s happening between the town trustees and their detractors.

“I think there is a certain group of local people who instigate the stuff,” he said. “The little bits I hear about it, I think it’s just a waste of time.”

A more optimistic slant about Nederland’s state of health, perhaps appropriately, came from herbalist Gabriel Laperle, who works at Alpine Botanicals in downtown Nederland, where shelves burst with remedies to very possibly fix whatever might ail a person.

“I have a sense that the canyon closing has probably hurt business over the summer a little bit, but at the same time, it’s probably not as bad as we had anticipated,” Laperle said. “It actually has been fairly busy, transitioning into the fall.”

His boss, owner Kate Miller, was less sunny, referring to the “devastating” effect of potential high country leaf-peepers earlier this fall turning around at the bottom of Boulder Canyon in frustration and making other plans

As for broader trends in Nederland, Laperle — who lives in Boulder but has lived in Nederland in the past — said “I think it’s a fairly health town. I think it’s in a transitional place. There are growing pains as it becomes a bigger community.”

‘Wind fever’

Nearby, Eldora is enjoying the bounty that comes with substantial early snow that fueled its earliest opening in 22 years. And as indicated by a trio of locals outside a local eatery debating the merits of Novato reefer versus local weed — while toking on some of the former within a stone’s throw of the Town Marshal’s Office — certain aspects of the life that some might associate with “Grateful Ned” don’t seem too ruffled by the unpleasantness that has earned recent headlines.

That’s not the perspective, however, of Hansen Wendlandt, lead pastor of Nederland Community Presbyterian Church. He has sat through hours of town trustees’ meetings since he took his post at the church six years ago. And he does not like what he is seeing.

“All in all, the town is really struggling,” Wendlandt said, standing outside a trustees meeting on a night where a swollen full moon was rising over a still ice-free Barker Reservoir.

“Peace has never been easy in Nederland.”

Wendlandt noted that he was making his remarks on the eve of World Kindness Day, which he’d heard some suggest be observed by people wearing a cardigan to honor television’s Mr. Rogers.

“I’m not Mr. Rogers, but I really wish there was someone who could point us to that,” Wendlandt said.

Far from any version of a Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood, one of Nederland’s most notable headlines of recent years was the attempt of an aging member of a 1970s hippie gang once known as “Midget Jessie” to blow up the Town Marshal’s Office in 2016 to avenge the murder of one of its members by then-town marshal Renner Forbes in 1971.

Acrimony and discord that he has observed, Wendlandt said, can be attributed to factors including isolation, drugs, the canyon construction and even, what he called “wind fever.” After all, one of the first geographic landmarks a visitor passes when coming up the canyon from Boulder is called Hurricane Hill.

“That constant anger does drive you nuts,” Wendlandt said. “And there are people who think it is a spiritual, or untold, something, that causes hurt. I don’t subscribe to any particular idea about what causes it. But so often it feels like a shadow of negativity that creeps in to damage our neighborliness.”

As a pastor, shouldn’t he … ?

“I have no answers on how to solve it,” he said, before a question was finished.  “We (in the clergy) don’t have nearly the amount of answers that people think we do.”

Down the street from the Pioneer Inn, there’s a large storage unit decked out to suggest it’s the Tuff Shed holding the cryogenically frozen remains of Bredo Morstoel, the man enshrined on ice and celebrated each March with the three-day Frozen Dead Guys soiree. It’s not truly Morstoel’s resting place. The real site is outside of town. This one is merely for the amusement of tourists.

On the side of the stand-in shed is inscribed the message, “I could go on forever.”

And then there are the words of Fisher, the town clerk, in discussing the near-term fate of the Pioneer Inn: “We don’t really know what’s to come.”

It’s a sentiment many in the town might, more broadly, share.

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