We have obtained optical (BVR, [OIII]5007 and Halpha), near infrared (JHK) imaging and long-slit optical spectroscopy for the Blue Compact Dwarf galaxy Mrk86 (NGC2537). In this paper, the first of two, we present optical-near- infrared colors and emission-line fluxes for the currently star-forming regions, intemediate aged starburst and underlying stellar population. We also describe the evolutionary synthesis models used in Paper II. The R and Halpha luminosity distributions of the galaxy star-forming regions show maxima at M_R=-9.5 and L_Halpha=10^37.3 erg s^-1. The underlying stellar population shows an exponential surface brigthness profile with central value, mu_E,0=21.5 mag arcsec^-2, and scale, alpha=0.88 kpc, both measured in the R-band image. In the galaxy outer regions, dominated by this component, no significant color gradients are observed. Finally, a set of evolutionary synthesis models have been developed, covering a wide range in metallicity and burst strength.