Cafe in Lyons unites a town rebuilding after Colorado floods

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4min 41sec
(Photo: CPR/Megan Verlee)
<p>An exterior view of the Barking Dog Cafe in Lyons, Colo.  Residents say that stopping by allows them the chance to catch up with other neighbors and check in on progress each is making.</p>

Drivers got access to another flood-damaged highway Monday - Route 72 through Coal Creek Canyon. That followed last week’s reopening of Highway 36 between Estes Park and Lyons. Lyons was completely cut off during September’s flood. Nearly all of its residents had to leave for weeks until water and power were restored.

The Barking Dog Café on Main Street was one of the first businesses to reopen and now residents gather there regularly to try to rebuild their sense of community.

To a tourist passing through Lyons on the way to Estes Park, the Barking Dog doesn’t look all that different from any other coffee shop in any other Colorado mountain town: cheery paintings on the walls, comfy armchairs scattered among warm wood tables. On any given morning, it hosts a rowdy crowd of regulars, hashing out the problems of the world.

“There’s a terrific amount of knowledge that sits around this table that’s been gained over the years,” says long-time Lyons resident Larry Webster, “‘cause we’re all geezers!”

Webster and his friends are known around here as the Coffee Boys, although they’d be the first to admit they’re pretty far past the “boy” stage. When Lyons was evacuated after the flood, the men relocated their daily gathering to a restaurant ten miles away in Longmont. Now, after nearly two months, they’re back.

Webster says coming home gave him a warm, fuzzy feeling, and that’s not an expression he uses a lot.

“Just to set your chair out on your porch and watch the world go by,” he says, “you miss it.”

As people like Webster have returned to Lyons, the Barking Dog Café has become an informal check-in spot. It reopened three weeks ago, even before water service was restored. Employees brought in giant urns of coffee for residents who needed a break from dealing with their damaged homes.

“You know, this table is very symbolic of Lyons,” says barista Kelsey Deems, pausing by the long rectangular table where the Coffee Boys are seated. “Every morning a very diverse group of people gather around it. Not having it was very hard.”

The community table may be back, but it will be years before large parts of Lyons are restored, if they ever are. The flood wiped out entire neighborhoods, including the mobile home park where café worker Amanda Anderson lived.

Anderson had just stopped by what’s left of her home before the start of her shift, trying to salvage a few things off the walls.

“You walk in, and it looks like it’s haunted,” she says, “because there’s still life in there. But it’s dead. So … it’s like haunted by yourself, by your own ghost.”

These days, Anderson and her two children are staying in Longmont, and she’s commuting back to Lyons for her shifts at the café. The drive takes her past lingering evidence of the flood: piles of debris, long lines of orange construction barrels, and the raw, chewed-up banks of St. Vrain Creek.

“All of us, I think, have PTSD, all of us do,” says Anderson.

She doesn’t think it’s going to get easier any time soon, “because every time you drive into town you re-live it over and over again."

Anderson’s creekside mobile home park won’t be rebuilt, and many in Lyons worry there won’t be much affordable housing left once the town recovers.

Business has been brisk at the Barking Dog since it reopened, far better than in past Novembers. People from across the Front Range have been coming to spend money in Lyons, and the café is one of the few places in town where they can do that. Many of the town’s other restaurants are waiting until spring, and the return of tourist season, to re-open, if they ever do.

“The winter’s our off season,” explains Barking Dog employee Colleen McGuire. “People were like, ‘we weren’t open for two months, do we really want to put all the money into reopening when we’re going into our slowest season?’”

In the late afternoon, crews with ‘FEMA’ stenciled on their jackets take over the Barking Dog’s community table. Lyons resident Jeff Cornell comes in to plan a benefit with a friend. He says it seems like everyone in town is working on some kind of fundraiser.

The flood, Cornell says, didn’t change how he sees Lyons. It just made his love for the community that much clearer.

“When it’s over and life goes back to being normal in two or three years, we’ll never let go of how we grew together as a community and how sad we were,” he says, “but yet how uplifting the resiliency was and the spirit of empathy and concern for your neighbor.”

It’s a spirit that thrives, in part, over hot cups of coffee at this Main Street cafe.