Getting outside has been difficult for Denverites with disabilities during the pandemic. One group is trying to help

· Aug. 8, 2022, 4:01 am
22020730-RTD-NEDERLAND22020730-RTD-NEDERLANDHart Van Denburg/CPR News
Denver artist and author Sherrill Morris in Nederland, on Saturday, July 27, 2022.

Sherrill Morris was ready for adventure. The 57-year-old artist, author and Denverite of 32 years was wearing a floral print dress and clashing floral print bucket hat when we boarded an RTD bus at Union Station on a recent Saturday morning.

“I am so excited,” she said. 

Our destination was Nederland, a small town at more than 8,000 feet 17 miles west of Boulder. Morris was eager for peace and quiet — something she doesn’t often have in her City Park West apartment.

“I love the mountains. I love taking pictures of the mountains,” she said, adding: “I love getting out of town.”

Leaving Denver is difficult and rare for Morris, who relies on friends and RTD’s paratransit services to get around. A brain aneurysm and subsequent surgery left her with shaky balance and occasional trouble with speech and writing. Morris doesn’t drive and isn’t comfortable using buses and trains alone.

But on this day, Morris had a guide: Jaime Lewis, transit advisor for the Colorado Cross-Disability Coalition. Lewis landed a small grant from the Denver Community Active Living Coalition that allowed him to launch an “Urban Discoveries” program through August that is paying for one-day excursions like Morris’ outing to Nederland. 

22020730-RTD-NEDERLANDHart Van Denburg/CPR News
Denver artist and author Sherrill Morris watches as Jaime Lewis, transit advisor for the Colorado Cross-Disability Coalition, boards an RTD bus at Union Station, headed for Boulder and eventually Nederland, on Saturday, July 27, 2022.

“A lot of our community pretty much became shut-ins because of the vulnerability of catching COVID,” said Lewis, who uses a wheelchair. “Now that COVID is relaxed a little bit, we just figure, ‘Wouldn’t it be nice to just advertise and try to get people out of their houses?”

Lewis has mapped out 10 destinations reachable by RTD buses and trains, including Denver’s Washington Park, Chautauqua Park in Boulder and downtown Nederland. He hopes to incorporate the Colorado Department of Transportation’s new Pegasus shuttle service that stops in Interstate 70 communities like Frisco, Idaho Springs and Avon sometime in the future too. 

“I’m excited to explore that myself,” he said.

Morris’s excitement grew the farther we got from Denver.

After a transfer in Boulder, we rumbled up a steep canyon to Nederland. Morris leaned toward the window, camera in hand, exclaiming at the beauty of the creek below and the people high above us on the canyon’s walls. 

“I’ve never seen somebody rock climb in real life,” she said. “Wow.”

We pulled into Nederland. Lewis led us through town, pausing to let Morris take photos of flowers — inspiration for her artwork — and the Indian Peaks to our west. 

22020730-RTD-NEDERLANDHart Van Denburg/CPR News
Denver artist and author Sherrill Morris walks alongside Jaime Lewis, transit advisor for the Colorado Cross-Disability Coalition, in Nederland, on Saturday, July 27, 2022.

But the town was busy, with lots of cars and lots of noise. Many sidewalks were crumbling or non-existent. The sun beat down overhead. It all felt a little overwhelming. 

“I’m tired,” Morris said after about 15 minutes. “It’s warmer up here than I thought it would be.” 

After a detour to Nederland’s Carousel of Happiness, I said goodbye to Morris and Lewis as they ducked into a restaurant. As I headed back to Denver, I kept thinking about how Morris never really got what she’d been looking for — peace and quiet. 

So, I called her up a few days later. She said that while the Nederland trip wasn’t exactly what she expected, she still enjoyed herself. The town wasn’t quiet, she said, but it also wasn’t as noisy as her apartment above Colorado Boulevard. 

I suggested that next time, she could get off the bus halfway up Boulder Canyon and walk down to the creek. 

“Now that’s an idea,” she said. “I hadn’t thought about that. That’s a great idea.” 

Given how close the creek is to the highway in most spots, even that might be fairly loud and uncomfortable for Morris. But she sounded eager to try it. She isn’t one to sit around and wait for more accessible recreational opportunities to appear.

“I have to live in what is,” she said. 

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