The adjective “enchanting” has never come to mind in describing Nederland, Colorado, a laid-back, quirky, former mining supply town 18 miles west of Boulder. But the Carousel of Happiness, which had its grand opening May 29, 2010, changes all that. The old-fashioned merry-go-round, complete with sounds from a calliope, delights children and dredges up nostalgia among their grandparents’ generation who remember such rides.
Nederland’s carousel is the fulfillment of a 25-year dream of Scott Harrison, who began carving and painting wooden animals in 1985 and bought a century-old carousel frame a year later. The Carousel of Happiness combines the antique and the contemporary.
The frame is a 1910 model by master carousel builder Charles Looff. The motor is controlled by a computer, and the carousel is contained in a brand new, green 12-sided carousel house, complete with solar panels. Heavy insulation saves energy and
enables it to operate year-round at Nederland’s 8,233-foot elevation, withstanding frigid temperatures and fierce winds.
Harrison, who served with the Marines in Vietnam, found solace from the pressures of a combat theater in a music box that his sister sent to him. He became an international peace activist, and when the inspiration came to do something for children, especially disadvantaged and disabled youngsters, a carousel with a calliope came to mind.
This new carousel in the old style isn’t populated only with painted ponies but with an entire alphabet of whimsical animals, from an alpaca to a zebra. Wheelchair space is “guarded” by a friendly gorilla at the chair’s anchor spot.
Harrison calls it “an instrument of giving” to his community. In return, the community has given back with donated labor, materials, and money. Individuals, businesses and foundations contributed some $675,000, and the parcel on which it sits in the heart of town was leased to the non-profit that now runs the carousel for a token fee. It is on the west end of the Caribou Shopping Center’s parking lot, next to the caboose that is now a coffee shop.
The carousel site also happens to be along the Peak to Peak Highway, a scenic mountain route between Black Hawk and Estes Park (various sections are marked as Colorado Highway 119 and Colorado Highway 72). What a great leg-stretching, kid-pleasing stop.
If You Go
The Carousel of Happiness operates daily during the warm months. Winter operations will most likely be only on weekends. Three-minute rides cost $1. Children under 8 must be accompanied by an adult. Contact: 303- 258-3457.
Claire Walter, who lives in Boulder, is a freelance travel, food and snowsports journalist, author and blogger. Her website is claire-walter.com.