2014 Pulitzer Prize Winner
  • Colorado Springs native, recent Pulizter Prize winner, heads to New York Times

    Wed, June 18, 2014 by Bill Vogrin with no comments

    Side Streets columnist Bill Vogrin, left, and Dave Philipps, winner of the 2014 Pulitzer Prize for national reporting, pose in the Colorado Springs Pioneers Museum before a portrait of Colorado Springs founder Gen. William Jackson Palmer, a Civil War hero and railroad baron who also founded The Gazette. Bill Vogrin / The Gazette

    Side Streets columnist Bill Vogrin, left, and Dave Philipps, winner of the 2014 Pulitzer Prize for national reporting, pose in the Colorado Springs Pioneers Museum before a portrait of Colorado Springs founder Gen. William Jackson Palmer, a Civil War hero and railroad baron who also founded The Gazette. Bill Vogrin / The Gazette

    Today, just two months after we gave Dave Philipps a champagne toast in the newsroom to celebrate winning the Pulitzer Prize for national reporting, we are honoring him again.

    It’s his last day at The Gazette.

    He is leaving us to join the New York Times, where he’ll start on Monday.

    Gazette Managing Editor Joanna Bean, Dave Philipps and photographer Michael Ciaglo pop champagne in April to celebrate winning the Pulitzer Prize for national reporting. Mark Reis / The Gazette

    Gazette Managing Editor Joanna Bean, Dave Philipps and photographer Michael Ciaglo pop champagne in April to celebrate winning the Pulitzer Prize for national reporting. Mark Reis / The Gazette

    I applaud Dave, 36, for reaching what I consider the pinnacle destination in our profession. He deserves it as much as any reporter I’ve ever known. And in my 20 years at The Gazette, I’ve seen some good ones.

    Dave is proof of what I used to tell prospective reporters when I was hiring as City Editor.

    The Gazette is a place where you can do great work because it has an atmosphere that encourages reporters to think big. This attitude has produced two Pulitzer Prizes, national military writing awards, national religion writing honors and prestigious prizes for photos and designand our Lifestyle and Sports sections. I’m confident there will more accolades in our future.

    But today we are bidding farewell to Dave, who bounced into our old newsroom on South Prospect Street in 2002 as a brash intern ready to show all us oldtimers how this journalism thing is done.

    I didn’t know it at the time but Dave grew up here, on the campus of the Fountain Valley School where his late father, Glenn, taught history for years.

    His mother, Peggy, still lives in Colorado Springs after retiring as an elementary school teacher.

    He arrived at The Gazette after stints doing construction work (he’s skinny as a 2-by-4!) and as a ski bum, er ski instructor.

    “I can get down the hill OK,” Dave said modestly.

    His first day should have been an omen . . . it was the day the Hayman fire erupted near Lake George. He came armed with an environmental studies degree from Middlebury College in Vermont and a master’s degree in journalism from Columbia University in New York.

    It was immediately obvious he was confident in his abilities and unafraid to push boundaries.

    “I just wanted to write,” Dave said. “Journalism is a way to engage people and connect with people. It’s not an academic practice.”

    By the time his summer internship was over, Dave felt ready to jump right in as a fulltime employee.

    But he had to wait for an opening about six months later when we hired him as a outdoors writer specializing in hiking, skiing and other fun pursuits.

    “It was a dream job,” he said. “They were going to pay me to have fun in the Rockies.”

    Dave threw himself into the job.

    “I wanted it to appear to readers like it was totally awesome, which it was,” Dave said laughing.

    I remember resenting this skinny kid who we paid to play.

    Then I started hating him when he became our food critic. (It wasn’t enough he specialized in recreation, we had to feed him too?)

    But I couldn’t ignore his talent. His early writing taught me about hiking and biking and camping and skiing with thoroughly researched stories that always included entertaining turns of phrase.

    Dave Philipps, winner of the 2014 Pulitzer Prize for national reporting, studies an exhibit at the Colorado Springs Pioneers Museum on June, 17, 2014, about the life of Colorado Springs founder Gen. William Jackson Palmer, a Civil War hero and railroad baron who also founded The Gazette. Bill Vogrin / The Gazette

    Dave Philipps, winner of the 2014 Pulitzer Prize for national reporting, studies an exhibit at the Colorado Springs Pioneers Museum on June, 17, 2014, about the life of Colorado Springs founder Gen. William Jackson Palmer, a Civil War hero and railroad baron who also founded The Gazette. Bill Vogrin / The Gazette

    And soon he was revealing his appreciation for the history of The Gazette, of Colorado Springs and, of course, founder Gen. William Jackson Palmer. How could I dislike someone who shared my passions?

    He loves to cite the trivia of The Gazette.

    “The Gazette building was the first school, and the first firehouse and the first two-story building in the city,” Dave said, repeating one of his favorite sayings.

    “And we’re the oldest surviving non-taxpayer funded institution in the city. That’s really cool. We get up each morning and have to figure out how to keep the lights on.”

    I wondered where he got his love of history.

    “My dad was a history teacher,” he said. “We spent every summer in an orange Volkswagen bus touring history sites.”

    Then he started producing cartoons to tell stories. I began looking forward to see how Dave would surprise me next.

    The biggest surprise would come in 2009 when Dave dove into an investigation of post traumatic stress disorder, or PTSD, among returning combat troops at Fort Carson.

    In just about any newsroom it would be an audacious move for a skiing writer/food critic to grab a hard news story. But Dave didn’t care.

    He’d been watching the headlines we were churning out about soldiers coming back from combat tours only to wreak havoc at home in a series of violent crimes and murders.

    Dave Philipps and Joanna Bean at the Pulitzer Prize award banquet June 17, 2014, at Columbia University in New York.

    Writer Dave Philipps and Gazette Managing Editor Joanna Bean at the Pulitzer Prize award banquet May 28, 2014, at Columbia University in New York.

    Hanging out with his wife, Amanda, whom he met in college and was a public defender, and her friends, Dave gained a different perspective on the soldiers and their crimes and, with the encouragement of his editor, Joanna Bean, he started digging.

    “I felt there was a real need to explain what was going on,” Dave told me. “We needed to take a step back and consider the bigger forces at work. We owed it to these guys, who are the kernel of why this community exists. These soldiers.”

    His research produced the “Casualties of War” series that uncovered PTSD and traumatic brain injuries among our troops. The series was a runner-up in Pulitzer voting in 2010. He later wrote a book “Lethal Warriors” based on his stories.

    Dave was not a one-hit wonder.

    Remember his stories about the bogus psychiatrist?

    Or his exposé about wild horses being rounded up and shipped to Mexican slaughterhouses despite promises from federal officials they would not be harmed?

    Or his investigation of Colorado Springs Utilities’ questionable investment of millions in ratepayer money in unproven scrubber technology?

    And I haven’t even mentioned how Dave convinced sources to talk on the record about El Paso County Sheriff Terry Maketa and produce hundreds of sexually charged emails, even a half-naked selfie, he is accused of sending to women he supervises.

    And I think he could have won many awards for his reporting last fall that uncovered a secret snitch squad among cadets at the Air Force Academy.

    Of course, the biggest prize came in April for his three-day series “Other than Honorable,” which examined how wounded combat veterans were being discharged from the Army and stripped of benefits for offenses likely caused by their war injuries.

    His stories reveal a reporter who is fearless and dedicated to standing up to those in authority and those in power on behalf of the helpless. Exactly what the best reporters, editors and newspapers should be. It’s what The Gazette has been doing during my 20 years.

    He’s also a fun guy to hang out with at lunch or after work. I’m going to miss him.

    But I have hope that maybe we haven’t seen the last of Dave.

    Deep down I harbor a feeling that Dave, Amanda — a graduate of the University of Colorado law school — and their kids might be back someday.

    After all, Dave’s a hometown boy.

    Colorado Springs founder Gen. William Jackson Palmer, a Civil War hero and railroad baron who also founded The Gazette, is seen in a photo exhibit at the Colorado Springs Pioneers Museum. Bill Vogrin / The Gazette

    Colorado Springs founder Gen. William Jackson Palmer, a Civil War hero and railroad baron who also founded The Gazette, is seen in a photo exhibit at the Colorado Springs Pioneers Museum. Bill Vogrin / The Gazette

    And his beloved Gen. Palmer is here. Always will be. And we all know how much Dave loves the founder of Colorado Springs. He can’t just leave Gen. Palmer behind forever, can he?

    “I will miss Gen. Palmer deeply,” Dave said.

    Heck, he came back twice already. Remember, he left for college. Then he left the Gazette in 2011 to attend a journalism fellowship at CU in Boulder. But he returned in October 2012 and immediately picked up where he’d left off . . . reporting about those in authority who were not doing the right things.

    But for now, I’m just wishing him the best as he heads to Gotham City and the Times, which counts among its prestigious ranks ex-Gazetteers including sports writer Lynn Zinser, sports copy editors Greg McElvain and Melissa Hoppert and 2013 Pulitzer Prize-winning sports writer John Branch.

    I’m proud of all of them. Like Dave, they are all really great people. And I miss them all.

    So good luck, Dave. I know you’ll kick some butt.

    As a parting gift, he bestowed on me his local history book collection.

    Thanks, Dave. I appreciate it. I’ll mine it for columns. And I’ll take good care of it so it will be around for years.

    Until you return.

    Dave Philipps

    Dave Philipps

  • Mourners praise Emir for serving four tours in Iraq, protecting president

    Thu, May 23, 2013 by Bill Vogrin with 1 comment

    Mitra Singh with Emir, a retired military working dog, shortly after she adopted him in January 2012. Emir served four tours in Iraq between 2004 and his retirement due to injury in 2009. Emir died Monday and is being hailed as a hero by Singh and by his former handler, Roy Mollenkamp. Photo courtesy Mitra Singh.

    Mitra Singh with Emir, a retired military working dog, shortly after she adopted him in January 2012. Emir served four tours in Iraq between 2004 and his retirement due to injury in 2009. Emir died Monday and is being hailed as a hero by Singh and by his former handler, Roy Mollenkamp. Photo courtesy Mitra Singh.

    Mitra Singh is planning a memorial service for a hero: her friend and companion Emir.

    For six years, Emir was in the Air Force and served four combat tours in Iraq. Emir won an award for being a key member of the security detail that protected President George W. Bush during his 2008 visit to Baghdad. He even played the role of matchmaker while recuperating from an injury.

    Emir died Monday due to health issues likely related to a back injury that forced him to retire in 2009.

    The loss has rocked Mitra, even though they were together about 18 months. And the fact Emir was a German shepherd trained in explosives detection and combat patrol has not lessened the pain.

    He was a war hero, Mitra said, and deserving a honors befitting a soldier. In fact, she’s hoping to arrange a memorial service next month for Emir at Fort Carson.

    “There are a lot of people who would like to come,” Mitra said. “These dogs save so many lives. They are real heroes.”

    Emir was Mitra’s hero and she related to the dog’s struggle with a back injury which required him to use a wheelchair for months. Mitra had her own back injury. She was an Army medic stationed at Fort Carson when she damaged a vertebra in training for a deployment to Afghanistan.

    Emir, a military working dog, shown during one of his four tours in Iraq between 2004 and his retirement due to injury in 2009. Emir died Monday in Colorado Springs, where he had lived since his adoption by Mitra Singh.  Photo courtesy. Photo courtesy Mitra Singh.

    Emir, a military working dog, shown during one of his four tours in Iraq between 2004 and his retirement due to injury in 2009. Emir died Monday in Colorado Springs, where he had lived since his adoption by Mitra Singh. Photo courtesy. Photo courtesy Mitra Singh.

    Her injury led to her being declared disabled and she left the Army in 2010. Eventually, she was prescribed a service dog. She heard about a military dog that needed adoption — Emir — and he became her service dog. After brief training, Emir was able to lead Mitra to her classes at Pikes Peak Community College, compensating for her memory lapses.

    “I’d have never made it without him,” Mitra said.

    He also became a regular visitor to the Veterans Affairs office at PPCC’s Centennial Campus.

    Mitra repaid his loyalty by spending thousands of dollars on medical treatment for the dog. But she couldn’t save Emir.

    Her experiences with Emir and other war dogs she has adopted has convinced her to devote her life to giving them a home when they retire from the military.

    “I’ve just fallen in love with these guys,” she said. “I will adopt them for the rest of my life.”

    Mitra said in their short time together, Emir made many friends who want to attend his memorial.

    Former Air Force canine expert Roy Mollenkamp with Emir, a military working dog, in September 2008. Emir served four tours in Iraq between 2004 and his retirement due to injury in 2009. Emir died Monday in Colorado Springs, where he had lived since his adoption by Mitra Singh.  Photo courtesy Roy Mollenkamp.

    Former Air Force canine expert Roy Mollenkamp with Emir, a military working dog, in September 2008. Emir served four tours in Iraq between 2004 and his retirement due to injury in 2009. Emir died Monday in Colorado Springs, where he had lived since his adoption by Mitra Singh. Photo courtesy Roy Mollenkamp.

    Emir’s longtime handler, former airman Roy Mellenkamp, would like to attend but he’s back in Iraq, still serving as a dog handler only now as a civilian contractor.

    But for several years Roy and Emir were a team, served two tours together, and developed a bond that survived even after they split up.

    “Emir was a fantastic dog and one of the best friends I’ve ever had,” Roy told me via email. “He set the standard by which I have judged all of my dogs, both personally and professionally, ever since.”

    Roy was Emir’s first handler after graduating from basic dog training and joining the Air Force Working Dog program. They met at Kirtland Air Force Base near Albuquerque, N.M.

    Former Air Force canine expert Roy Mollenkamp trains with Emir, a military working dog, in September 2008. Emir served four tours in Iraq between 2004 and his retirement due to injury in 2009. Emir died Monday in Colorado Springs, where he had lived since his adoption by Mitra Singh. Photo courtesy Roy Mollenkamp.

    Former Air Force canine expert Roy Mollenkamp trains with Emir, a military working dog, in September 2008. Emir served four tours in Iraq between 2004 and his retirement due to injury in 2009. Emir died Monday in Colorado Springs, where he had lived since his adoption by Mitra Singh. Photo courtesy Roy Mollenkamp.

    Roy said Emir had essentially flunked out as a bomb detection dog.

    “His records stated that he was worthless as a detection dog,” Roy said.

    Hard work together, and a strange incident, changed the lives of both Emir and Roy forever.

    Somehow, Emir bit off his tail and Roy rushed him to the veterinary clinic at Kirtland where they met veterinary technician Pam Mason.

     

    When former Air Force canine expert Roy Mollenkamp married Pam Mason a year ago, their wedding cake included a German shepherd figurine. It represented Emir, a military working dog who brought them together. Emir bit off his tail while Mollenkamp was stationed at Kirtland, Air Force Base near Albuquerque, N.M. about six years ago. Mason was the veterinary technician who treated Emir. Photo courtesy Roy Mollenkamp.

    When former Air Force canine expert Roy Mollenkamp married Pam Mason a year ago, their wedding cake included a German shepherd figurine. It represented Emir, a military working dog who brought them together. Emir bit off his tail while Mollenkamp was stationed at Kirtland, Air Force Base near Albuquerque, N.M. about six years ago. Mason was the veterinary technician who treated Emir. Photo courtesy Roy Mollenkamp.

    “We ended up spending a lot of time together,” Pam told me. “A few years later, Roy and I were married.”

    Even better, Emir recovered fully and “turned into an awesome working dog” as Pam described him.

    Roy agreed, describing Emir as “quite possibly the best bomb dog we had in our arsenal.”

    Emir performed so well he was sent to advanced training in desert warfare and developed into a valuable combat patrol dog capable of sniffing out enemies and taking down suspects with “controlled aggression.”

    A memorial created for Emir, a military working dog who served four tours in Iraq between 2004 and his retirement due to injury in 2009. Emir died Monday in Colorado Springs, where he had lived since his adoption by Mitra Singh.  Photo courtesy. Photo courtesy Mitra Singh.

    A memorial created for Emir, a military working dog who served four tours in Iraq between 2004 and his retirement due to injury in 2009. Emir died Monday in Colorado Springs, where he had lived since his adoption by Mitra Singh. Photo courtesy. Photo courtesy Mitra Singh.

    Sounds like he should have been a Seal Team 9 member.

    “He was a superstar,” Roy said.

    His only real character flaw was his tendency to self-mutilate when under stress. As a result, Roy had to fly commercial airlines with Emir in the passenger cabin. This led to one of Pam’s fondest memories of Emir — a photo of Roy and Emir in an airport.

    “They had fallen asleep together on the floor of the airport,” Pam said. “Roy said he woke up to the sound of people taking their pictures. That’s how close they were.”

    She said Emir’s death has hit her husband hard and though he won’t be able to attend a memorial service, she intends to drive up for it.

    “I honestly cannot tell you how much he meant to me,” Roy said. “Most of the time it is the handlers that must teach the dogs. But Emir turned the tables and taught me how to be a handler. He cannot be replaced and will be sorely missed.

    “My life is so much better for having had Emir in it. He was an amazing soul.”

    Emir, a military working dog, shown during one of his four tours in Iraq between 2004 and his retirement due to injury in 2009. Emir died Monday in Colorado Springs, where he had lived since his adoption by Mitra Singh.  Photo courtesy. Photo courtesy Mitra Singh.

    Emir, a military working dog, shown during one of his four tours in Iraq between 2004 and his retirement due to injury in 2009. Emir died Monday in Colorado Springs, where he had lived since his adoption by Mitra Singh. Photo courtesy. Photo courtesy Mitra Singh.

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  • TALE OF ROCKRIMMON BUCK ENDS LIKE TARANTINO FLICK

    Mon, February 25, 2013 by Bill Vogrin with no comments

    A mule deer buck with magnificent antlers roamed Rockrimmon and is seen in the fall with its antlers in velvet. Photo by Bob Gibson

    A mule deer buck with magnificent antlers roamed Rockrimmon and is seen in the fall with its antlers in velvet. Photo by George Gibson

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    There’s good news to report about the Rockrimmon buck released by wildlife officials south of Colorado Springs in January after suffering on a ledge near a busy intersection with an infected leg and broken antlers from brutal rut season.

    There’s also some bad news.

    And some really bad news.

    So proceed at your own risk.

    deer map.

    The good news comes from Side Streets reader Bob Zyer, who lives about three miles west of Highway 115 and Fort Carson off Barrett Road. That’s about 20 miles southwest of downtown.

    Zyer had been reading the saga of the buck with the mangled antlers, swollen leg and drooping ears living on the ledge of a retaining wall near Vindicator Drive and Rockrimmon Boulevard.

    He knew in late January state Division of Parks and Wildlife officers had captured the buck, treated its infected leg, cut off its magnificent twisting antlers and released it south of the city.

    So he wasn’t shocked when a buck with sawed-off stumps instead of antlers showed up on his 80-acre spread where he and his wife, Linda, often enjoy wildlife sightings.

    INJURED DEER

    After a brutal rut season, the buck was injured and its antlers broken. It began living on the ledge of a retaining wall in Rockrimmon, isolating itself from other deer determined to fight with it and establish dominance. Photo by Mark Reis of The Gazette.

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    “The deer showed up here not too long after that,” Zyer said, explaining the buck must have traveled several miles from where it was released on Fort Carson.

    “It was easy to identify him,” Zyer said. “He was playing. He didn’t look the least bit lame. He was chasing around with the other bucks. He looked fine.”

    Like several readers, Zyer was suspicious when Michael Seraphin, wildlife agency spokesman, announced Officer Steve Cooley had captured and relocated the buck.

    “I wondered whose freezer they relocated it into,” Zyer said with a laugh. “But they actually did relocate it. I saw it and several of my neighbors saw it, too.”

    The twisted, broken antlers were all that remained after Division of Parks and Wildlife officers captured the buck, treated its infected leg and released it south of Colorado Springs on Jan. 19, 2013.

    The twisted, broken antlers were all that remained after Division of Parks and Wildlife officers captured the buck, treated its infected leg and released it south of Colorado Springs on Jan. 19, 2013.

    That’s the good news. The buck seemed to have recovered and seemed like a normal deer — with one notable exception.

    “When I approached him, all the other bucks and does walked off,” Zyer said. “He just stood there. Apparently he thought I should get out of my truck and give him a cookie or something to eat.”

    Zyer reported the sighting to wildlife officials and he offered to take a photo of the animal.

    “For a couple days, I hunted all the deer herds looking for him,” Zyer said. “But I couldn’t find him.”

    Here comes the bad news.

    On Feb. 8, Zyer called the wildlife agency with a follow-up sighting.

    “He was on the side of Highway 115,” Zyer said, pinpointing the location as 100 yards south of the Turkey Creek Ranch recreation area entrance. “He’d been hit by a car. He was headed north. I think he was going home.”

    Zyer said he turned around to get his camera so he could send a photo to wildlife officials. But by the time he got back, the carcass was gone.

    Here comes the really bad news.

    The buck that had gotten used to being hand-fed cranberries and blueberries by concerned passers-by in Rockrimmon had ended up becoming a meal to a hungry bear.

    “The bear dragged him under a fence away from the road where it ate him,” Zyer said. “I saw vultures sitting on a fence and then saw where the bear dragged him. The bear and the vultures were the end of him.”

    Dang. A car? A bear? And vultures? I hate vultures.

    That’s not exactly the Disney movie ending I’d hope for the buck.

    I never thought it would end well.

    But I never expected it to play like a Quentin Tarantino flick.

    .

    The last photo of the Rockrimmon buck taken by Division of Parks and Wildlife officers as they released it south of Colorado Springs on Jan. 19, 2013.

    The last photo of the Rockrimmon buck taken by Division of Parks and Wildlife officers as they released it south of Colorado Springs on Jan. 19, 2013.

     

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  • CHOPPERS INCOMING BUT FORT CARSON PROMISES PEACE AND QUIET

    Wed, February 29, 2012 by Bill Vogrin with 1 comment

    A UH-60 Black Hawk takes off in Gypsum in this March 28, 2011, file photo by Christan Murdock.

     Last week, the Army warned that a helicopter brigade will arrive soon at Fort Carson to begin high altitude training before deploying to Afghanistan.

    It’s routine for units to visit Fort Carson for two or three months to practice touch-and-go landings and other things with their choppers.

    This alert, though, came with an invitation which caught my eye.

    Anyone who encounters unreasonable noise was invited to call Fort Carson.

    Army officials say they are serious about enforcing their “Fly Neighborly” program on visiting brigades and especially when a new combat aviation brigade is established next year at the post with 113 helicopters.

    “Soldiers need to train,” said Dee McNutt, Fort Carson spokeswoman. “But we need to be good neighbors, too.”

    That means keeping helicopters within established flight corridors as they zip up Ute Pass and Gold Camp Road area to train in the Pike National Forest, or as they fly down the Highway 115 corridor to visit a couple dozen recently approved Bureau of Land Management sites near Canon City, or as they head over to the Pinon Canon Maneuvering Site northeast of Trinidad.

    It means keeping the choppers at minimum heights to avoid buzzing cattle or campgrounds or neighborhoods and unduly upsetting folks.

    Follow this link to the Army’s environmental assessment of the Combat Aviation Brigade and the impact of locating it at Fort Carson. It discusses noise issues in chapter 4.4 beginning on page 67.

    Longtime Colorado Springs peace activist Bill Sulzman

    One skeptic is Bill Sulzman, a longtime Springs peace activist who opposes military expansion in the region and has campaigned against the permanent chopper bridge.

    Sulzman doubts the Army’s sincerity, or their ability to control pilots, when it promises to mitigate noise.

    “I think it’s lip service,” Sulzman said, noting that Fort Carson is under pressure to avoid upscale neighborhoods like the Broadmoor as well as Cheyenne Canyon State Park just west of the post.

    UH-60 Black Hawk trains in Eagle in a March 28, 2011, gazette file photo by Christian Murdock.

    But McNutt insists her community relations office works hard to reach out to neighbors to solve noise issues. And it stands ready to respond to future issues related to the helicopters.

    “We have a lot of helicopter units come through,” she said. “Sometimes issues may arise. If we’re flying over people and it’s causing difficulties, we want to know about it.”

    She said neighbors experiencing chronic noise often are invited to the post to meet with the unit to describe what they are hearing and try to solve the problem.

    It’s especially important for neighbors to speak up as the permanent new aviation brigade settles in at Butts Army Airfield, McNutt said. Once pilots learn the region, she predicts a great relationship.

    “They’ll know the flight corridors better and it will be easier to work with our neighbors,” she said.

    In the meantime, jot down the number — 719-526-9849 — and don’t be shy about calling.

    Fort Carson Butts Army Airfield

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  • THIS IS A PUBLIC TRAIL, SOLDIER. BUTT OUT!

    Wed, June 1, 2011 by Bill Vogrin with 9 comments

    Joyce Cheney and her dog, Poodles

    Joyce Cheney, seen here with her dog, Poodles, loves to hike.

    She especially enjoys the Mount Manitou Incline and Barr Trail in Manitou Springs, as well as Section 16 and Waldo Canyon.

    Of course, those are four of the most popular trails in the region.

    Cheney wishes they got a little less use from members of the military who regularly go on training runs on those same trails.

    Cheney said she regularly sees soldiers from Fort Carson and Air Force Academy cadets on the trails.

    It bugs her.

    Why, she asks, can’t they train on the thousands of acres set aside for them?

    “I wish they’d train somewhere else,” she said. “These are public recreational trails. They have thousands of acres of base land available to train on.”

    Isn’t it bad enough we have to share them with every Texan who wanders into town? (OK, the Texan crack is my smart-mouth remark, not Cheney’s words.)

    And something else really bugs her. Some of the military smoke. And, she said, they drop cigarette butts on the trails. Even lit butts!

    Dropping cigarette butts on trails is not cool. Doesn’t matter who you are, military or civilian. It’s like letting your dog drop something on the trail. It’s just wrong.

    And lit butts are dangerous. Stupid and dangerous.

    I was shocked at the idea soldiers and cadets are puffing and dropping butts after a 10-mile jaunt up Barr Trail. So I called a trails expert, Susan Davies, executive director of the Trails and Open Space Coalition, to see how bad the situation really is.

    She said it’s true our friends in the military, when they aren’t risking their lives for us halfway around the world, do like to run our trails.

    “But so what?” Davies said.

    I couldn’t have said it better myself.

    Davies added that the military doesn’t just run the trails, they volunteer regularly to perform trail building and maintenance.

    Here’s proof: Air Force cadets with picks and shovels building trail in Red Rock Canyon Open Space and collecting trash along the Pikes Peak Greenway downtown Colorado Springs.

    Air Force Academy cadets perform trail maintenance in Red Rock Canyon Open Space on April 2, 2011. Photo courtesy the Trails and Open Space Coalition

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    Air Force Academy cadets perform trail maintenance in Red Rock Canyon on April 2, 2011. Photo courtesy the Trails and Open Space Coalition.

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    An Air Force Academy cadets bends over to pick up trash along the Pikes Peak Greenway during a cleanup day in March 2011. Photo courtesy the Trails and Open Space Coalition.

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  • INDEPENDENCE PLACE OR ANIMAL HOUSE?

    Sun, May 8, 2011 by Bill Vogrin with no comments

    Stratmoor Hills is an unincorporated neighborhood of 540 homes built in the 1950s & ’60s on a hilly tract outside the entrance of Fort Carson just south of Colorado Springs

    Of course, Fort Carson just keeps growing. The mountain post is home today of 26,500 soldiers

    Of those, about 7,000 are deployed. The 1st Brigade Combat Team is in Afghanistan. Elements of the 43rd Sustainment Brigade and 71st Ordinance Group are in Iraq. The 4th Infantry Division headquarters is in Tikrit and the 10th Special Forces Group is working in Mosul. 

    But soldiers are returning. About 2,000 are expected to return by September, mostly 4th Infantry folks. 

    Then, in 2013, the post will grow some more with the arival of a new combat helicopter brigade with 2,800 soldiers. By 2014, the post will host 30,000 troops. 

    And they all gotta live somewhere. That’s where Place Properties of Atlanta comes in. Since 1995, Place has developed 33,000 beds nationwide. At first, it specialized in college housing. But in recent years it has gotten into military housing with a twist. 

    Instead of just renting apartments, Place will rent rooms — private rooms and bathrooms — targeting soldiers who are subject to quick deployments. 

    Artist's rendering of Independence Place at Cheyenne Mountain

    Now, Place wants to build Independence Place at Cheyenne Mountain, a $30 million, 240-unit complex on Venetucci Boulevard on 16 acres across from World Arena. 

    It would resemble a similar complex at Fort Hood in Killeen, Texas. 

    Entrance to Independence Place at Fort Hood in Killeen, Texas.

    About four years ago, Place began planning to spend $30 million to build Independence Place  in Fountain, on the east edge of Fort Carson. But it never got built. 

    Now it’s eyeing land that fell into foreclosure after developer Ray Marshall defaulted on it. 

    At Independence Place, most utilities are included in the rent, so there are no steep utility deposits. At the Fort Benning Independence Place project, rents range from $558 per bedroom in a four-bedroom unit up to $875 for a one-bedroom unit. 

    Floor plans for an Independence Place four-bedroom unit at Fort Hood. Each unit includes a community living area, kitchen and laundry plus a private, locking bedroom and bathroom for each resident.

    Each bedroom has its own bathroom, and the units can come furnished. The developments are gated and feature a clubhouse, fitness center, computer rooms, game rooms and swimming pools. Like most apartment complexes, it will have a clubhouse, pool, volleyball court, and basketball court. 

     Place already has built ”Independence Place” complexes for Fort Hood in Killeen, Texas, Fort Sill in Lawton, Okla., Fort Bliss in El Paso, Texas, Fort Stewart in Hinesville, Ga., Fort Benning in Columbus, Ga., and Goodfellow AFB in San Angelo, Texas. 

    Approximate boundaries of the 16-acre Independence Place at Cheyenne Mountain project.

    Folks in Stratmoor Hills are not thrilled about the prospect of Independence Place in their backyard. 

    They view it as a big party place. An “animal house” fraternity type place. 

    That’s certainly not what developer Fred Abrahamson envisioned when he bought 800 acres from Sinton Dairy Farm in 1955 and began designing his suburban utopia. 

    He wanted custom homes on big lots. Houses would be a minimum 1,400 square feet and use stone or brick in their construction. 

    To attract high end buyers, he built a nine-hole golf course and a private swimming pool for the neighborhood. And he developed a water and sanitation district to serve the area. 

    But things have change dramatically since then. Stratmoor Hills has lost its exclusivity, its golf course and its pool. The pool was filled in 1978 and the clubhouse converted to a private home in 1983. And a strip club now occupies the old golf course clubhouse on B Street. 

    The Stratmoor Hills Swimming Pool was on Catalina Circle until closed in 1978. The pool was filled in and the clubhouse converted to a home in 1983. It sits in the shadow of a water tower in this Google Earth image.

    The neighborhood plans to ask the El Paso County Commission to reject plans for Independence Place at Cheyenne Mountain when the project comes up at its Thursday meeting. 

    Read the 100-page packet of materials submitted to the El Paso County Planning Commission. 

    I wrote about the Independence Place project in 2009 when it was planned for construction in Fountain. 

    Here’s a link to the Independence Place complex near Fort Hood in Killeen, Texas. 

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  • RANCHO COLORADO RESIDENTS AFRAID OF BECOMING DESERT ISLAND

    Wed, January 12, 2011 by Bill Vogrin with no comments

     

    Tami West in her backyard in Pioneer Village in Rancho Colorado subdivision south of Colorado Springs in 2005. By Carol Lawrence, the Gazette file

     
    Tami West doesn’t mind living on a desert. After all, Rancho Colorado isn’t much different with its barren sand hills, arroyos and cactus.

    Howeer, she doesn’t want to live on a desert island. But that’s kind of how it feels to her.

    She says the Army and El Paso County are turning the 50 or so homeowners in Pioneer Village, in the north section of the rural subdivision south of Colorado Springs on the Pueblo County border.

    The county, acting on behalf of the Pentagon, is buying vacant land in Rancho Colorado. Since 2005, it has bought about 120 lots and 937 acres at a cost of $4.1 million. Generally, it pays about $3,000 an acre.

    The idea is to stop development on the edges of the post and create a 1.5-mile buffer zone around Fort Carson. Here’s a look at the property purchased to date.

    Officials say 30 million old tires are buried up to 35 feet deep at a 58-acre dump in Midway, near Rancho Colorado subdivision. This is a September 2010 Gazette photo.

    Rancho Colorado sits behind the sprawling 553-acre Waste Management landfill, and the 58-acre dump where 30 million old tires are buried, as well as the 76-acre Black Hills Energy plant with its network of high-voltage powerlines and near the 200-acre Pikes Peak International Raceway track.

    And it is snug up against the southeast edge of Fort Carson. And just a half-mile from its artillery range.

    Can you say Ka-BOOM!

    Here’s another map of the neighborhood:

    Here’s a story we ran in 2005 as the county embarked on the program.

    And here’s a link to a website talking about other efforts to create a buffer zone using conservation easements and working in concert with the Nature Conservancy.

    Follow this link to an Army website talking about the buffer zone project. On the site, click on the link to “Army Compatible Use Buffers.”

  • Railroad expansion spurs criticism

    Sun, April 18, 2010 by Bill Vogrin with no comments

    Folks in Stratmoor Hills, an unincorporated  neighborhood sandwiched between Fort Carson and Colorado Springs aren’t the complaining type.

    Stratmoor Hills in a 2009 photo by The Gazette's Carol Lawrence

    They are used to living on the doorstep of the massive Army post and for decades have put up with the inconveniences of heavy traffic, payday loan and pawn shops, as well as strip clubs that cluster just outside the gates.

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    But they are unhappy about Fort Carson’s plans for a new railroad spur that will run 4,200 feet into their neighborhood, past their Stratmoor Hills Elementary School.

    Here’s a look at preliminary plans from FlashEarth.

    The spur is part of a $14 million project by the Army Corps of Engineers to expand the 70-acre Fort Carson railyard by adding five to eight spurs to quicken the deployment of troops.

    The spur planned for the neighborhood would run along existing tracks, which connect to the main line along Monument Creek. It would allow the Army to temporarily store 44 rail cars during a loading/unloading process.

    Neighbors fear the Army will store cars on the spur routinely, attracting graffiti vandals and forcing neighbors to look at the cars, which run 95 feet each in length.

    The Army promises no cars will be parked on the spur more than 24 hours and the spur will actually shorten the amount of time cars in in the neighborhood now.

    Plus, the Army said it will be safer for children going to school because it will build a new pedestrian overpass and close an existing foot path over the tracks.

    Here’s a briefing paper the Army prepared for the neighborhood. However, plans have changed significantly since it was drafted. For example, a second spur into the neighborhood, mentioned in the plan, has been dropped.

    In May, the Army is expected to begin an environmental impact assessment related to the project.

     Fort Carson spokeswoman Dee McNutt said that is the best time for neighbors to voice their concerns about the project. She said public comment is a major component of the assessment and taken very seriously.

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  • ONE PERSON CAN MAKE A DIFFERENCE

    Sun, August 16, 2009 by Bill Vogrin with no comments

    Lila Ray is proof that one person can make a big difference in a neighborhood. Here’s a photo of her taken by KOAA-TV at the Aug. 4 block party she organized as part of the National Night Out events.

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    Ray got tired of drug dealers and criminals hanging out in her modest neighborhood just off B Street at the north gate to Fort Carson.

    Below is a look at the area from www.FlashEarth.com

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     So Ray asked an El Paso County Sheriff’s Department deputy how to start a Neighborhood Watch group. She was put in touch with the Crime Prevention unit and before long, she was hosting a watch group, passing around petitions and organizing a clean up effort in hopes of establishing a neighborhood park.

    On Aug. 4, she organized a block party to coincide with  National Night Out festivities around the region.

    Here’s a video report  KOAA produced at the party.

    Here is a link to a previous Side Streets blog about Neighborhood Watch efforts in Colorado Springs.

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