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Nederland’s New Carousel of Happiness Makes for a Happy Family Getaway

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Nederland, just 17 miles west of Boulder, retains a reputation for being a hippie town, thanks in part to such well-known, offbeat annual events as the jam-friendly music festival NedFest, happening Aug. 28-29, and winter’s wacky Frozen Dead Guy Days.

But today at 10 a.m., Nederland launches into a new era of being not just a hippie town, but a happy town, too. That’s when the Carousel of Happiness starts to turn, the calliope begins to play, and the face of this community breaks into a smile.

In 1985, Scott Harrison, a Nederland resident, began carving and handpainting carousel animals, and a year later, bought and set about restoring the workings of an old merry-go-round that long ago graced the Saltair amusement park near Salt Lake City.

Since then, with determination, inspiration and idealism, Harrison kept carving and painting animals, restoring the mechanism, and building an energy-smart, 12-sided structure to house it. Over the years, Harrison’s dream became Nederland’s dream. A cadre of dedicated local volunteers joined him to help the project along, investing both sweat equity and financial support.

Why a carousel? When Harrison was in Vietnam with the Marine Corps, his sister sent him a small music box that played Chopin. He has since sought to make the world a more peaceful place. In 1975, against all odds, he and his wife, Ellen Moore, founded and co-directed Amnesty International’s Urgent Action Network to respond to genocides and other human crises around the globe. It now has tens of thousands of members worldwide.

Nederland artist George Blevins, whose angels decorate the carousel house, says of his friend’s upbeat project: “The carousel is one more insane dream in a crazy world. Now let’s finish this and do world peace.”

The Carousel of Happiness provides a new reason to visit this laid-back mountain community with a compact, walk-around downtown. Every one of the roughly 1,500 residents seems to know every other local in this friendly place that time forgot. Visitors can park their vehicles and wander around exploring shops and galleries, and having a remarkable choice of places to eat and relax.

1. Ben’s High Country Emporium

This new-for-Ned store on the east approach to downtown stocks all sorts of items for being active and staying warm. There’s ski and snowboard apparel, flannel shirts, sweaters, fleece, socks and warm boots for men, women and kids, as well as the cutest kids’ footed jammies. 229 Colo. 119; 303-258-3554; bens-

2. Nederland Mining Museum

This museum located in a historic stone garage is the town’s attic, an especially rich repository of mining implements and maps from the area’s various booms: silver in Caribou (1859-1880s), gold (Eldora, turn of the last century) and tungsten (1905-1970s). The behemoth in back is one of the few remaining steam shovels used to build the Panama Canal. The museum admission ticket is also good at the nearby Gillaspie House. Both are operated by the Nederland Area Historical Society and open seasonally, Saturdays, 10 a.m.-4 p.m.; Sundays, 11 a.m.-4 p.m. Admission is a suggested $5 donation. Located at the Nederland traffic circle, intersection of Colo. 119 and 72, 303-303-258-0567,

3. Nature’s Own

Displays of magnificent mineral specimens and fascinating fossils draw customers into this corner store. Little children root around a low table stocked with small stones polished to a gleam, while adults are drawn to specimens from around the world, jewelry and also platters, plates and bowls fashioned from stone. Open daily, usually 10 a.m.-6 p.m. 5 E. First St.; 303-258-3557;

4. New Moon Bakery

House-baked pastries (including gluten-free items), quiche, paninis, a selection of teas and the best espresso in town in a casual cafe located next to the historic Town Hall. Open weekdays, 7 a.m.-3 p.m.; weekends, 7:30 a.m.-5 p.m. 1 W. First St.; 303-258-3569;

5. High Peaks Art Festival

Coming up next month (June 26-27) is the first of the town’s summer events. The 10th Annual High Peaks Art Festival features a juried art show, live music by area musicians, popular local restaurants’ food booths and on Saturday only, a children’s art tent with four project stations. Nederland Town Square. For more information on Ned and nearby, stop at the Visitor Center, 2 W. First St., 303-258-3936; The Visitor Center’s (loose) summer hours are 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. daily.

6. Blue Owl Books, Coffeehouse & Ice Cream Parlour

Stop in for something to eat, something to sip or something to read from their great selection of used books. Saturday is “Tacos & Tunes” night with live music played by local musicians and fresh, house-made tacos. Open Sunday-Friday, 1 a.m.-6 p.m.; Saturdays, 10 a.m.- 9 p.m. 176 Colo. 119 South; 303-258-3695.

7. Off Her Rocker Mercantile

Housed in a cheerful yellow frame building, this charming shop sells locally handcrafted furniture and home accessories, local art, jewelry, antiques and enchanting gift items. A unique specialty is the store’s collection of hand-carved stone gifts sure to create an atmosphere of style in your living spaces. Choose from handpainted tables and columns or artwork featuring Egyptian goddesses and replica statues from the Cairo Museum. 4 E. First St., Nederland, 303-258-7976.

8. Mountain People’s Co-Op

Founded in 1979 with 11 members, the co-op reflects the community’s long interest in “health foods” and natural products before they became mainstream. There are now more than 400 member households, and the co-op is also open to the public. Carob bar, anyone? Open 9 a.m.-8 p.m. daily. 30 E. First St.; 303-258-7500.

9. Wild Mountain Smokehouse & Brewery

This carnivore’s delight specializes in house-smoked meats, sensational BBQ sauces, and beers and ales brewed on site and served by the growler, the pitcher or the pint. The intimate but high-ceilinged indoor dining room is cozy, but in good weather, the deck is the place to be. It overlooks Boulder Creek, Barker Reservoir and the high peaks of the Continental Divide. Open 11 a.m.-10 p.m., Sunday-Thursday; 11 a.m. – 12 midnight, Friday and Saturday. 70 E. First St., 303-258-9453;

10. Nathan Lazarus Skate Park

Nederland might be a small town, but it boasts a big skate park: 12,340 square feet of awesome concrete features that opened to skateboarders and in-line skaters exactly a year ago. Skateboard legend Tony Hawk put his imprimatur on the free skatepark, which has been a mecca for skaters ever since. RTD serves Nederland from Boulder, so kids don’t need to be of driving age to visit the park. Open dawn to dusk, daily. 145 East St.; 303-258-9703;

11. Carousel of Happiness

The carousel plans to operate year-round, daily during the summer. Its fanciful wooden menagerie includes a giraffe, a zebra, an Indian pony and 33 others. Rides are just $1 per person (adults must accompany all children 8 and younger). The gift shop carries items from inexpensive souvenirs to one-of-a-kind artworks. Caribou Village Shopping Center parking lot (Colo. 119, just south of the train box cars); 303-258- 3457;

12. Black Forest Restaurant

The large, chalet-style building on the south end of downtown houses a classic German-American restaurant. It was established in Blackhawk but moved soon after gambling was legalized as this place is more about schnitzel and sauerkraut than slots. The rustic Garden Room’s large windows frame expansive views. The atmospheric main dining room has real European ambiance. And the terrace is congenial in warm weather. Open for lunch and dinner. 24 Big Springs Dr.; (303) 258-4248;

-Claire Walter

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