ALLENSPARK - Traditions have come and gone here at Meeker Park Lodge, but this one around suppertime remains.
The setting sun casts an orange glow on 13,911-foot Mount Meeker and below on the idyllic valley where knotty pine structures stand, some for nearly a century. They were built by the family of the three sisters who now sit on the lodge's porch: Laura Dever, Bonnie Dever and Patty Dever-Cavaleri, beside her husband in the cowboy hat. Also here is a man from Chicago and a woman from Michigan, longtime family friends who have made this rustic resort their summer home, because they can't imagine the season without the cabins and the country from their childhood memories.
And now is the time when they sit together for a crossword puzzle. Laura, the lodge's general manager, has a loaf of multigrain bread and peanuts for the chipmunks she knows by name. "Hi, Bubba," she says, tossing him a generous slice. A few she doesn't recognize scurry along the wood floor, "new babies," she says, scattering the nuts as the Chicago man, Fred Stasny, reads out riddles to the group.
This won't be the last tradition of the day. Later, they'll pile into a car and head up Colorado 7 to nearby Estes Park, taking the back roads in search of mammals - another "animal ride" during which they'll share ice cream. At Meeker Park Lodge, as beloved as the regular visitors are the area's wildlife. On this night, a little black bear will roam around the 19 cabins, alone, as if the cub of an unworried mother.
"Elk, bear, deer, they're all around," Fred says on the porch.
"And moose!" adds Patty, who guides rides from the resort's horse stable. "We've had 'em born in our pasture. Last year, a female moose was born, and she'd come and sit under a tree there while we were all at the barn. She'd sit there, how long, Fred?"
"All day," he says. "She just sat there by the horses."
The animals have come for as long as the sisters can remember, ever since they were toddlers staying on the land where their grandfather settled in 1922. O.L. Dever wanted a summer retreat for when he and his wife, Crete, weren't teaching school. He wanted to share Meeker Park and this atmosphere that Crete romantically described in a history she penned: "The pine-laden scent of the trees and the perfume of the wild flowers fills the air with a freshness unknown to city folk ..."
So more cabins were built, along with the lodge in 1935. Guests and locals alike would fill the dining room and then the living room for evening entertainment. There were Chinese checkers, gin rummy, canasta, bridge.
Kristen Lawver, the Michigander here on the porch, tears up reminiscing about those days. She grew up at the lodge, spending her summers as one of its many young employees.
"Getting up together, everyone eating together, serving breakfast, lunch and dinner, and all of us playing games at night," she says. "It was so, so fun."
Now only breakfast is prepared and served by the Dever sisters. Now only a couple of teenagers work in the lodge. The rooms once reserved for employees are empty at the "recreation hall." Keith Dever, the sisters' father, built it in 1958, as the regular square dances outgrew the lodge.
The dances don't happen anymore. Neither do the buffets that accompanied those dances. Neither do the movie nights, where a reel projector rolled and local kids enjoyed popcorn popped over the lodge's stove. On Sundays, church services were held at the rec hall. Now a pulpit collects dust, along with the cushions on the pews that have no order in the shadowy space, empty on this evening, except for the couple shooting pool to the sound of oldies from the radio.
"It just got to the point where people wouldn't come," says Crystal Darnell, representing the fourth generation of Devers at Meeker Park.
Out of the rec hall, she walks past an old playground, the splintered plank from which she'd swing and the rusted metal slab on which she'd slide. Later, she'll walk by the picnic area where picnics and big parties don't happen much anymore.
Some things haven't changed. Crystal and her aunts are proud of those things. There is Keith Dever's 1947 baby blue Jeep that is still used, along with his rusted Ford truck. In the cabins there is stuff left behind that has been left alone - a package of cotton balls from the 1940s and a similarly aged box of detergent, for example, or old trail gazettes from the '30s. There is the little market attached to the lodge, where the sisters still trust locals with tabs.
There is the fresh air and the great mountain that still gains the family's admiration. There are the animals.
But Meeker Park has changed, the Devers feel.
"We used to have the only pay phone around. Used to be over there," Patty says, pointing to a blank spot from the porch.
Laura sighs. "Before all the phones, people would be down here, chit-chatting, playing games," she says. "After the phones came, it got different. Now it's not so much of a gathering place."
But the women continue to work, as they were taught to do as kids. "Work hard, play hard" was their father's rule. The girls saw how he rose for work early, finishing the day with a venture in the hills or a square dance - visiting children were hesitant to take his hand, which lacked fingers from all the sawing he did as he built furniture. His daughters enjoyed nighttime festivities only after chores around the lodge and the cabins. They rode horses only after cleaning the stable.
A larger part of their focus now is the water they supply to 45 taps not their own - a promise O.L. Dever made to locals as he was establishing the resort in the '20s. "It was all gravity-fed then," Laura says. "It was a lot simpler then."
But she imagines her grandfather would be proud. His name is inscribed beside his wife's on a memorial stone that rests at a pond behind the lodge. The sisters soon will add the names of their father and mother.
Keith Dever died in 2011. Marian, the woman he married on the property, died in May.
"She was a mother to everybody," Laura says.
A moment of silence passes on the porch. "She was extremely positive," Fred says. "Loving and very happy all the time."
And she was one reason why he was always excited for the summer, when he would return to Meeker Park. The warm welcome is still here, he says.
"It's like a family," says Kristen, the other long-time visitor. "When you get here, they're excited to see you, and they're excited to talk. And they're sad when you leave."
Laura smiles as she throws out more bread to Bubba the chipmunk. "Family. We are like family, huh?"
Later, she sits outside her cabin, the one that belonged to her parents. She watches the sun go down with Scarlet, her parrot full of surprises.
"Can you laugh? Can you laugh?" she asks the bird. "Yes, yes you can."