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Tiny homes and canned beer: this small Colorado town has big character

LYONS – Seventeen miles north of Boulder at an elevation of 5,374 feet, the town of Lyons sits nestled in the shadow of Long’s Peak.

It’s a community that takes pride in its small-town feel.

And one that has been tested, but has come back even stronger thanks to the perseverance and generosity of those that live there.

Join our photo tour of Lyons, this Friday on the 9NEWS Instagram!

The history of the town

The first settlers came to the area now known as Lyons starting in 1861. It’s one of the few Colorado towns that wasn’t founded because gold or silver were found.

Instead, miners who had rushed to those areas and come up empty-handed were spreading out and looking for a new start somewhere else. Others came to Lyons because of the health benefits the sunshine and altitude were supposed to bring.

One of those people were E.S. Lyon, who came to Colorado in 1880 with his wife Adeline. Mr. Lyon’s doctor has recommended he move from his hometown of Putnam, Connecticut to Colorado. One year later, the town of Lyons had been platted and it was incorporated in 1891.

Soon, it was Lyons turn for a mining boom. The sandstone that surrounds the town was quickly becoming an in-demand commodity. Quarries were developed and business was booming.

In 1884, the Denver, Utah and Pacific Railroad built a narrow-gauge track into town so Lyons sandstone could be shipped across the country. Brownstone homes as far as Chicago and New York were built using Lyons sandstone. It was also used during the construction of many of the buildings on the University of Colorado campus.

The Union Pacific later built the first wide gauge railroad through town and over the years many other railways have passed through Lyons. It has long served as an important railhead for shipping, both for sandstone and gold ore from mines in the nearby St. Vrain canyon. Stone and rock still travel by train through of Lyons on the Burlington Northern Railroad today.

The floods of 2013

Lyons was among the Colorado towns ravaged by the September 2013 flooding. The damage the town sustained was vast.

Dozens of homes, including two mobile home parks, were destroyed. Roads were wiped out. The drinking water was contaminated with E. Coli for days. Even the landscape was changed permanently.

But instead of letting the destruction permanently ruin their community, city officials used the disaster as a catalyst to create a new community plan addressing environmental sustainability, cultural and historical attractions, housing, land use, parks/trails/open space, infrastructure and economic development and tourism.

Part of that planning process also involved updating LaVern M. Johnson Park, a seven-acre area on the eastern edge of town that’s bounded on three sides by the North St. Vrain Creek and sandstone cliffs. The park has everything from picnic and playground areas, to camping grounds, to sports fields, a volleyball pit and more. It also has the Whitewater Park, a quarter-mile stretch of water for kayakers and tubers to enjoy.

One other immediate response was the formation of the CAN’d Aid Foundation. The non-profit arm of the Oskar Blues Brewery, it was created to help raise funds to support Lyons and Longmont after the floods. That first year, they organized the Burning Can festival: a celebration of canned beer, music and outdoor fun to raise the money. That year, they raised over $16,000 for the local community.

Since, the CAN’d Aid Foundation has gone on to raise more than $2.5 million for flood relief, bike builds, grants and more for communities across the country.

And the annual Burning Can Festival is coming up this weekend. This year, the festival is combining with another yearly event, the Lyons Outdoor Games. The festival will include live music, beer relays, cycling, food trucks and the games themselves. World-class athletes will compete in the Outlaws of Dirt BMX/Dirt Jump competition and the slalom kayak competition. Other games include dog jumping contents, a disc golf tournament, races and more.

Lyons today

With a population of about 2,100, Lyons is one of the gateway towns to the Rocky Mountain National Park and the birthplace of the Oskar Blues Brewery.

Oskar Blues is the longest-canning brewery in the U.S. and in 2016 became the first Colorado brewery to pen agreements to be distributed in all 50 states. Today its main brewery is in Longmont, but it still has a microbrewery (and grill) in downtown Lyons.

It’s also home to the only tiny house resort in Colorado. WeeCasa is a collection of 22 tiny homes that are available to rent. Rates are about $150 to $185 per night depending on the day of the week and the particular tiny home. There is also a wedding venue next door that often partners with the resort for a beautiful outdoor wedding on the river with a fun place to stay right after.

A stroll along Main Street offers no shortage of places to shop and eat, such as PizzaBar66, Button Rock Bakery, Lyons Soda Fountain and the St Vrain Market, Deli & Bakery, to name a few.

Other fun spots include Buttercream Bakery, Farmer Girl and Barking Dog Café.

Lyons is also well-known for its fun antique shops — like Ralston Bros. and Aspen Leaf — for those interested in the historic and unique.

On the far southern edge of town, the Lyons dog park is a great place to bring four-legged friends.