5 Alternatives To Fireworks This (Very Dry) Fourth of July

wildfireIt’s hard to imagine the Fourth of July without fireworks, but for drought- and fire-stricken regions like Colorado, that’s the way it’s going to be this year. If you happen to be living or traveling in a no-fireworks zone, don’t despair. There are still ways to celebrate our nation’s birth without setting it ablaze.

Since I’m in Colorado right now, I brainstormed with a group of rangers at Boulder’s Chautauqua Park (which is adjacent to the now 90%-contained Flagstaff Mountain blaze). Our ideas, below:

1. Organize a block party

2. Go to a laser show (or hold your own; those PowerPoint things are for more than just entertaining cats)

3. Have a picnic or barbecue and stargaze

4. Go to a concert in a park or other outdoor venue

5. Go camping, minus the open fire

[Photo credit: Flickr user H Dragon]

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Boulder’s Chautauqua Park: more than just hiking and climbing

Chatauqua Park, boulderThe Chautauqua Movement of the late 19th and early 20th centuries provided millions of Americans with cultural, educational, and entertainment experiences that included concerts, classes, lectures, and exhibitions. It was, to quote Teddy Roosevelt, “The most American thing in America.” Ask most Americans today what a Chautauqua is, and odds are, you’ll get a blank stare.

Until recently, I too would have had that deer-in-the-headlights expression. I’m ashamed to say that although I lived in Boulder for nearly two years, I had no idea that Chautauqua Park was anything more than just an exceptional place to hike, with some cool historic buildings thrown in. Thankfully, while in Boulder on business last month, I displayed the instinctive intellectual curiosity I possess when I’m in travel mode. Thus, I discovered that the city’s–and my–favorite recreational spot is far greater than the sum of its parts.

The first “Mother” Chautauqua was organized by a Methodist minister, at a campsite on New York’s Chautauqua Lake in 1874. By the end of the first World War, 12,000 Chautauquas were in the U.S.. Many had religious leanings, but Chautauquas were primarily educational adult or family summer camps, fostering a sense of community and culture.

The 40-acre Colorado Chautauqua in Boulder opened on July 4, 1898 as a summer retreat. Today, according to the website, it’s one of three remaining Chautauquas in the U.S., and the only site west of the Mississippi River in continuous operation, with its original structures intact. It became a National Historic Landmark in 2006.

%Gallery-129131%Chautauqua Park, boulderThe Colorado Chautauqua (locals just call it “Chautauqua”) includes 60 guest cottages and two lodges for nightly or long term rental; a dining hall and auditorium; 48 miles of mountain biking and hiking trails; climbing routes and bouldering spots, and 8000 acres of open space. The “Green” located at the entrance was Boulder’s first city park.

In 2008, the Colorado Chautauqua Association vowed to make the grounds the country’s “greenest” National Historic Landmark. Changes in operation include water and energy conservation, and expanding methods of diverting waste from landfills. Even the (adorable) cottages have recycling bins, water-saving shower heads, faucets, and toilets, eco-friendly soaps and hair products, and alternative cooling systems.
Chautauqua Park, boulder
Chautauqua hosts public events at reasonable fees year-round, including music, theater, dance, film, forums on everything from global warming to sustainable farming, outdoor “active” plays for children and family, and the Colorado Music Festival. It’s also immensely popular for weddings and other outdoor gatherings (which must be booked through the Chautauqua).

Even if you skip the events, I recommend a pre-hike, al fresco breakfast or brunch, or a post-hike (local, craft-brewed) beer at the Dining Hall, which has been in existence since 1898. It’s not where you’ll find the best meal in town, but the wrap-around porch offers stellar views, and it’s an ideal place to absorb the essence of Boulder life. The Dining Hall offers classic American cuisine, and is also open for lunch and dinner; reservations strongly recommended.

Sadly, the Chautauqua Movement lost its mojo as we became a more urbanized and technologically advanced society. Why go to the Chautauqua when you can play “Angry Birds” or see what those crazy Kardashians are up to? And that’s exactly why I was so affected by what I learned in Boulder last month. I used to live less than two miles from this remarkable monument to American history. Yet I was too self-absorbed and distracted at the time to be curious about its roots, despite hiking there on a weekly basis.Chautauqua Park, boulder Sometimes, we need to put down the toys, be in the moment, and really take note of our surroundings. And that’s what the Chautauqua Movement was all about. May it one day thrive again.

If you’d like to support the revival of the Chautauqua Movement, go to this new site launched by the Chautauqua Network: Chautauqua Trail.

Boulder’s favorite outdoorsy chefs describe their perfect day in “Sliced and Diced” guide

Boulder's best chefsBoulder, Colorado, is an anomaly when it comes to the complicated relationship between mountain towns and great food. Whether it’s a slice of pizza or a charcuterie plate; a well-crafted cocktail, or just a damn good cup of coffee, it’s generally hard to find quality ingredients and skilled artisans, chefs, and cooks to produce them in enticing high-altitude settings. Ski towns are a prime example: who wants to work on an epic powder day? Fortunately, Boulder is setting the bar on combining the two aesthetics, thanks to its “Sliced and Diced” guide.

As I mentioned in a post last week, Boulder takes its outdoor pursuits and sustainability seriously. The city boasts one of the highest concentrations of tri-athletes in the nation, and is famed for its hiking, climbing, biking, kayaking, backcountry sports, fly fishing, and mountaineering. It also has the highest number of yoga classes, physical therapists, massage specialists, and top bike fit specialists per capita than anywhere else in the world. This might explain why some people are a bit…irked by Boulder, and even I tend to feel self-conscious about my resting metabolic rate when I’m in town (and I used to live there).

Now, the city’s most talented chefs–some of them competitive/former athletes themselves–share their ideas of a perfect day in Boulder in the “Sliced and Diced” guide, which is available online, at area hotels, and the Boulder Visitors Center kiosk at 1301 Pearl Street (on the pedestrian mall).

Unsurprisingly, the guide’s focus is on Boulder’s edible and outdoor charms. It’s not unusual for ski town chefs to be avid outdoor enthusiasts, as I’ve discovered from living, working, and attending culinary school in the Rockies and Sierras. Until I moved to Boulder, however, I’d never met entire restaurant staffs comprised of pro-climbers, tri-athletes, competitive cyclists, and ultra-runners. How they find the time and energy for both are a mystery to me, but I admire the hell out of them.

Since my first visit to Boulder in 1995, the food scene has changed dramatically. In the last couple of years, sourcing from local or regional family farms and food artisans whenever possible (remember, this is Colorado, where there’s a short growing season) has become an integral part of the Boulder dining scene. Where five years ago only a few estaurants featured product from family farms, now there are dozens of eateries and shops featuring local, usually sustainable, product.Boulder chefs, outdoorsThere are excellent farmstead goat, sheep, and cow’s milk cheeses from the region. You’ll find farm dinners, grass-finished beef, dozens of coffee houses, and locally-roasted beans. The growing number of acclaimed craft breweries and distilleries makes for a white-hot beverage scene. If you care about excellent beer, wine, or well-crafted cocktails, don’t miss the Bitter Bar, Upstairs, Frasca, or Oak at Fourteenth (which will reopen soon, following a fire). If that doesn’t convince you that Boulder’s become a serious drinking town, it’s also home to five of Colorado’s ten Master Sommeliers (there are only 112 in the U.S.).

Some “Sliced and Diced” contributors include former Food & Wine Best New Chef/James Beard winner Lachlan MacKinnon-Patterson of Frasca (which he co-owns with Master Sommelier Bobby Stuckey–himself a former pro-cyclist and active marathoner). The two recently opened an adorable Italian pastry, panini, and espresso bar, il caffe (don’t skip the housemade pastries, baked fresh throughout the day), and the excellent Pizzeria Locale.

There’s also chef/farmer Eric Skokan of the charming Black Cat Farm Table Bistro. When he’s not cooking, he’s riding his tractor so he can supply his restaurant and CSA-members with produce from Black Cat Farm. Boulder’s food scene, while still nascent, is most definitely blowing–and growing–up.

“Sliced and Diced” contributor/chef Hugo Matheson of The Kitchen helped launch Boulder’s communal dining and green restaurant design/business ethos trend when his seasonally-inflected restaurant opened in 2003. Now known as a community bistro, Matheson and his partners have spawned two spin-offs. There’s Upstairs, a community wine, beer, and cocktail lounge (the bar menu includes affordable small plates, and incredible Happy Hour deals), while Next Door, a community pub, opened in mid-June.
Boulder chefs, outdoors
The Boulder Farmers Market is, I believe, one of the finest in the nation. Saturdays, April through November, it’s where everyone–locals, students, tourists, tech entrepreneurs, chefs, climbers, cyclists, hippies–goes to shop and socialize–usually before heading off for a run, peddle, paddle, or hike.

And that’s the thing about Boulder. It may take its fitness a little too seriously, but it’s hard to mind when the soul of the community is so intertwined with the pursuit of good things to eat and drink and enjoying the outdoors. Now, thanks to “Sliced and Diced,” you can, too.

“B-cycles” comes to Boulder: grassroots bike share program ideal way for visitors to explore

bike sharesAs a former resident of Boulder, Colorado (If you regularly read my posts, you may have the impression that I’ve lived everywhere. You are correct.), I can attest to this lovely college town’s biking obsession. Boulder has more than 300 miles of dedicated bikeways, and there are almost as many bikes as cars.

One of the reasons Boulder is so bike-friendly–besides its firm stance on reducing carbon emissions–is that the terrain is ideal for every kind of wheeled pursuit. There are tree-lined urban paths; flat; hard-core mountain trails, and lots of rural roadway.

But Boulder isn’t just for hobby cyclists; this year it’s even home for one of the Tour de France teams. Competitive road cycling and mountain biking are much like oxygen in Boulder: essential for existence. Unless you’re me. I’ve always been a cruiser bike kind of gal, and I always will be. And downtown Boulder is just right for that type of low-key peddling.

This is why I was so delighted when, in town on business this past week, I discovered B-cycles. Launched on May 20, this non-profit community bike share program (a growing movement nationwide), is an inexpensive, fun, and active way to get around town if you’re a visitor. There are a number of conveniently located B-stations downtown, so you can just grab-and-go. When you’re done, re-dock at the nearest station and walk away.

Users must buy an initial five dollar membership fee online or at any B-station (kiosks accept debit or credit cards). Then you’re free to peddle off into the sun…shine. There are three types of memberships–24-hour, 7-day, and unlimited. The 24-hour rentals are just five bucks. It’s a lot cheaper and more practical than a bike rental for the casual rider.

%Gallery-126471%bike sharesThese are some sweet bikes, too. Spanking new crimson cruisers, equipped with metal baskets (big enough to fit a 12-pack; Boulder is also home to some of the nation’s top craft breweries).

If you’re a casual rider like me, I highly recommend my personal favorite, the Boulder Creek Bike Path. Its a five-mile meander along gorgeous Boulder Creek (the water levels are raging right now, so you can watch kayakers running the rapids. There are also calmer spots prime for tubing. Don’t forget to pack a picnic (those baskets hold more than just beer, you know); there are loads of creekside tables and rocks just right for a bike break.

P.S. If more serious biking is your thing, Valmont Bike Park–the largest free urban bike park in America–opened June 11 in Boulder. It’s a 40-acre off-road bike park with competition-grade cyclo-cross racing trails, big dirt jumps, dual slalom tracks, pump tracks, and slope-style trails.

[Photo credits: Laurel Miller]

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