2014 Pulitzer Prize Winner
  • Trash-raiding bear in Manitou Springs signals more aggressive eating by omnivores

    Wed, July 23, 2014 by Bill Vogrin with no comments

     

    Sybil Knighten shows where a bear has pushed down a fence behind her Manitou Springs home as it routinely cruises the neighborhood searching for food. She says a bear pulled down a piece plywood and ripped two large boards in half to get to trash she had stored in a shed outside her home in Manitou Springs on Saturday. Courtesy Sybil Knighten.

    Sybil Knighten shows where a bear pushed down a fence behind her Manitou Springs home as it routinely cruises the neighborhood searching for food. She says a bear pulled down plywood and ripped two large boards in half to get to trash she had stored in a shed outside her home in Manitou Springs on Saturday. Courtesy Sybil Knighten.

    Sybil Knighten was lying in bed Saturday night when she heard a noise outside the century-old home where she lives in Manitou Springs.

    It was a smashing sound she recognized as a bear rustling through the neighbor’s trash.

    “I listened to the crashing and banging and knew he was out there,” Sybil said of the bear.

    Sybil Knighten says a neighbor routinely leaves garbage in her trash cans, attracting bears that knock the cans over and spread garbage around her Manitou Springs neighborhood. She said the neighbor, ironically, posted a sign to warn others not to leave their trash outside because bears frequently visit. Courtesy photo.

    Sybil Knighten says a neighbor routinely leaves garbage in these trash cans, attracting bears that knock the cans over and spread garbage around her Manitou Springs neighborhood. She said the neighbor, ironically, posted a sign to warn others not to leave their trash outside because bears frequently visit. Courtesy photo.

    She figured her neighbor had left trash in bins along the street creating kind of a bear smorgasbord.

    072314 Side Streets 6Except that this time, the bear wasn’t getting into her neighbor’s trash.

    The bear was feasting on Sybil’s trash.

    This was a problem because Sybil doesn’t leave her trash out. Sybil keeps her trash stored in a locked shed.

    “The bear ripped down a sheet of plywood we had nailed up and tore out two big boards,” Sybil said as she showed me photos. “He broke them in two. Then he got inside and was tearing our garage up.”

    Sybil wasn’t telling me to complain about the bear, or to get it hunted and trapped by Colorado Parks and Wildlife officials.

    Like me, Sybil enjoys having bears around, even if they get into the trash once in a while and make a mess.

    Trash was strewn across Sybil Knighten's driveway after a bear pulled down a piece plywood and ripped two large boards in half to get to trash she had stored in a shed outside her home in Manitou Springs on Saturday. Wildlife officials say it's the time of year bears start packing on calories and stress the need to secure garbage in bear-proof bins. Courtesy Sybil Knighten.

    Trash was strewn across Sybil Knighten’s driveway after a bear pulled down plywood and ripped two large boards in half to get to trash she had stored in a shed outside her home in Manitou Springs on Saturday. Wildlife officials say it’s the time of year bears start packing on calories and stress the need to secure garbage in bear-proof bins. Courtesy Sybil Knighten.

    “We had trash scattered all over the place,” she said.

    She doesn’t mind having to clean up the presents the bear left for her, either.

    “We had a big pile of bear poop and it was full of plastic bags,” Sybil said.

    She doesn’t mind even though she has to sleep with the windows closed out of fear a bear might decide to enter the house in search of food.

    Even if a bear climbs up and swats down a hummingbird feeder hung high on the house, as her Saturday night visitor did.

    “He’s just hungry and wants something to eat,” she said. “We’re in their territory, after all.”

    Sybil’s experience is a good reminder, officials say, that bears are beginning to pack on the pounds in preparation for the coming winter’s slumber.

    And it illustrates the need to secure garbage in air-tight, bear-proof cans or bins.

    “We see a surge in this kind of activity in the spring,” said Abbie Walls, spokeswoman for Parks and Wildlife, as bears awaken from their winter sleep. “Then things quiet down until the end of July and early August when bears start getting into trouble again.”

    Typically, black bears eat fruits, berries, nuts, roots and grasses. They’ll also eat insects and even small animals that they stumble upon. They are omnivores and opportunists and will turn to trash or anything that will fill their bellies.

    Sybil Knighten says a bear pulled down a piece plywood and ripped two large boards in half to get to trash she had stored in a shed outside her home in Manitou Springs on Saturday. Wildlife officials say it's the time of year bears start packing on calories and stress the need to secure garbage in bear-proof bins. Courtesy Sybil Knighten.

    Sybil Knighten says a bear pulled down plywood and ripped two large boards in half to get to trash she had stored in a shed outside her home in Manitou Springs on Saturday. Courtesy Sybil Knighten.

    Still, I was surprised a bear would tear a door apart to get to a bag of trash.

    I wondered what Sybil might have thrown away that so excited a bear to spend all that energy ripping 2-by-6 boards apart.

    “We had melons in there,” she said. “Canteloupes. And we had some chicken. And canned dog food. If our dog doesn’t eat his food, we’ll dump it in the trash.”

    Sounded like she was reading from every bear’s list of favorites. (Just below “pic-a-nic baskets). Wildlife officials routinely warn folks in bear country (That would be us) to secure their garbage, take down their bird feeders and hummingbird feeders at night, lock up their pet food and force bears to stick to their natural menu.

    Seems they have a real hankering for birdseed.

    And especially dog food.

    “Bears have really sensitive noses and they can smell food five miles away,” Walls said. “They can certainly smell trash cans full of delectables on the other side of that door.”

    Sybil Knighten has many photos of bears visiting her Manitou Springs home and garage over the years. This photo shows bear paw prints on the hood of her car. Courtesy Sybil Knighten.

    Sybil Knighten has many photos of bears visiting her Manitou Springs home and garage over the years. This photo shows bear paw prints on the hood of her car. Courtesy Sybil Knighten.

    Raiding trash cans in one thing. When a bear starts channeling its inner Hulk and starts busting down doors, it may have crossed a line.

    “That behavior definitely is concerning,” Walls said. “This bear may have come to identify humans as a food source. And bears are very powerful animals. Bears can get in houses. They can easily pop out a screen and find their way inside.”

    There’s not much difference between the door to a shed and to a house.

    “When they start breaking into homes or cars, it can lead to dangerous behavior,” Walls said.

    Typically, house-hunting bears get identified as nuisance bears and are subject to being tagged and possibly relocated to a less-urban environment.

    And if a nuisance bear is caught a second time, the bear may be euthanized, Walls said.

    But Sybil doesn’t want any wildlife officers poking around their place. She’s content torepair the door and live and let live.

    “They were here first,” she said. “He has never come into the house or banged on the windows or tried to get in the door. We’re the intruders.”

    For now, anyway. And I hope it stays that way.

    Sybil Knighten has many photos of bears visiting her Manitou Springs home and garage over the years. This photo shows bear paw prints on the gravel near her home. Courtesy Sybil Knighten.

    Sybil Knighten has many photos of bears visiting her Manitou Springs home and garage over the years. She said this photo shows bear paw prints on the gravel near her home. Courtesy Sybil Knighten.

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  • We all need tee shirts saying: “I’ve seen fire and I’ve seen rain”

    Sun, April 13, 2014 by Bill Vogrin with no comments

    Millions watched on television nationwide June 26, 2012, as Mountain Shadows was incinerated by the inferno known as the Waldo Canyon fire.

    Millions watched on television nationwide June 26, 2012, as Mountain Shadows was incinerated by the inferno known as the Waldo Canyon fire.

    Disasters are a very real part of life in Colorado Springs.  Things here burn. And flood. And they slide down mountainsides. And once in a while things shake. We even get the occasional twister.  Today’s special pull-out section of The Gazette shows how locals can prepare for the disasters that can strike in the Pikes Peak region. Please, read it carefully.

    Take heed to the warnings. There’s plenty of history that teaches us bad things do happen. And with some regularity. 

    To know this, you don’t have to be a history expert. I have learned this lesson pretty well after 20 years living in the foothills in the Rockrimmon neighborhood.

     Like thousands of you, I found myself running for my life on June 26, 2012, when the Waldo Canyon fire collided with a thunderstorm creating a massive, swirling column of hellfire that roared down the foothills into Mountain Shadows, threatening to incinerate much of northern Colorado Springs.

    Two people died that night and 347 homes were destroyed. It was shocking. People are still rebuilding from what was declared the worst fire in Colorado history.

    Houses in Mountain Shadows burn on June 26, 2012. By Jerilee Bennett, The Gazette

    Houses in Mountain Shadows burn on June 26, 2012. Gazette file photo

    And most of you know, the fire surrendered that title a year later when the unincorporated community of Black Forest ignited last June, killing two more people, destroying 488 homes and burning 14,280 acres beyond the north border of Colorado Springs.

    Of course, these catastrophes were compounded by flash floods that swept tons of rock and debris from the charred mountainsides down U.S. 24, carrying away motorists in raging torrents of black floodwaters, wrecking businesses and homes in Manitou Springs and in communities up and down Ute Pass. The rains also caused flooding in Black Forest and across the region, leaving at least four dead.

    With this mayhem, death and destruction all around us, I’m amazed at the poor attendance I’ve seen at community meetings held to educate folks about preparing for the worst. I’ve sat in auditoriums where the emergency services experts outnumbered the members of the public in the audience.

    Thankfully, more folks have turned out at recent meetings. That’s good because people need to stay informed because it will be years before we can relax.

    These disasters were not fluke occurrences. We’ve had conflagrations going back to 1854 when a wildfire reportedly started on Cheyenne Mountain, burned about 50 miles west through Divide and Lake George to Wilkerson Pass in Park County and started burning back again before winter snow finally put it out.

    Fire destroyed much of downtown Colorado Springs when a trash fire in the rail yards ignited a railcar full of explosive powder Oct. 2, 1898.

    John Schnake walks past a sandbag wall at a neighbors house that is just above his home on the east side of Highway 24 in Cascade. The sandbags were placed there by volunteers working with the Coalition for the Upper South Platte (CUSP) and in places the sandbags are twelve high and seven sandbags wide. Schnake said he's hopeful that the sandbags will divert 98 percent of the water that might flow down from the burn scar above the homes. "Think of it as a funnel and I live at the bottom of the funnel," he said. Photo by Mark Reis, The Gazette

    John Schnake walks past a sandbag wall at a neighbors house that is just above his home on the east side of Highway 24 in Cascade. The sandbags were placed there by volunteers working with the Coalition for the Upper South Platte (CUSP) and in places the sandbags are twelve high and seven sandbags wide. Schnake said he’s hopeful that the sandbags will divert 98 percent of the water that might flow down from the burn scar above the homes. “Think of it as a funnel and I live at the bottom of the funnel,” he said.
    Photo by Mark Reis, The Gazette

    And on Jan. 17, 1950, a blaze erupted on Cheyenne Mountain and burned east through Camp Carson, killing eight soldiers and a 14-year-old boy who skipped classes at West Junior High to join the fight. The fire consumed 50 square miles of Cheyenne Mountain and Camp Carson, seriously injured more than 30 soldiers and destroyed 92 buildings.

    I heard, firsthand, some of the horror stories from that fire, which started after midnight, reportedly when wind gusts estimated at 100 mph ignited smoldering brush piles left by crews clearing the land for new golf courses at The Broadmoor hotel.

    In 2002 I interviewed survivor Charles “Bud” Burrill, then 71, who was a private at Camp Carson when the fire erupted. He told me he still had flashbacks whenever he heard news of someone burned in a fire. He was reminded of agonizing months he spent in a hospital with third-degree burns to his face, hand and legs. He was burned driving another soldier to the hospital in thick smoke and their Jeep drove into a ravine where a bridge had burned away.

    “My face went right into the fire,” Burrill told me in 2002. “I remember seeing these red ashes. It about burnt my face off. My right hand was real deep in the ashes. I pulled my hand out and all the skin fell off.”

    An estimated 5,000 firefighters, soldiers and volunteers fought the blaze, which burned hot for almost 24 hours and smoldered for weeks until a heavy snowfall extinguished lingering hot spots.

    Besides historic fires, the region has endured rains and flooding of biblical proportions, including the Memorial Day flood of 1935 that killed upwards of 18 people according to various reports, destroyed every bridge over Monument and Fountain creeks but the one at Bijou Street and did $1.7 million in damage.

    A mailbox and chimney were the only things left of Ted Robertson's home after the Black Forest fire roared through his property. Courtesy Ted Robertson.

    A mailbox and chimney were the only things left of Ted Robertson’s home after the Black Forest fire roared through his property. Courtesy Ted Robertson.

    A second major flood in 1965 killed two children, washed out roads and bridges, and caused millions of dollars in damage.

    Those heavy rains in July 1965 also sent boulders and debris cascading down on the Cheyenne Mountain Zoo, destroying the ape house and damaging the hippo house. Boulders also blocked the entrances of NORAD, the military space complex burrowed inside Cheyenne Mountain during the Cold War to watch for missile and air attacks on North America. Landslides also gashed Interstate 25 south of the city at the time.

    But there’s far more to worry about than fire and rain. There have been blizzards that buried the region including a March 11, 1909, storm that pounded Colorado Springs with 26.5 inches of snow. Locusts infested the region in the 1930s during the Dust Bowl era.

    In December 1995, a late-night earthquake measuring 3.6 on the Richter scale shook the Broadmoor neighborhood. The quake was pinpointed on the southern end of the Oil Creek Fault, one of two Cheyenne Mountain earthquake faults.

    And in the 1980s and ’90s, slowly sliding hillside land damaged homes across the city. In 2000, a warning by state geologists prompted a multimillion-dollar federal buyout and the demolition of 13 homes in an active 200-acre landslide in the Broadmoor area.

    As for tornadoes, two rated EF3 or higher, with winds in excess of 135 mph, have hit El Paso County in recent years. The first was in 1977 while the second, in 1979, dropped into Manitou Springs causing one injury and significant damage.

    A lone firefighter tries to stop the spread of the Black Forest fire. Photo by Jerilee Bennett / The Gazette

    A lone firefighter tries to stop the spread of the Black Forest fire. Photo by Jerilee Bennett / The Gazette

    Have I gotten your attention yet? The point is not to scare everyone into moving away. Instead, I urge everyone to pay attention. When experts say to avoid expansive soils, or to landscape to protect against water and debris flows, or to thin trees to protect against wildfire, please listen and act.

    Take seriously the experts’ urging to plan for evacuation. Pack a bag and keep it ready for escape. Talk to your kids about how to react, who to call, where to run in the event of disaster.

    Get a weather radio that can alert you, day and night, to imminent threats of flood or dangerous weather.

    Compile important documents and keepsakes in a fire safe or container so you can quickly grab it, stuff it in your car and run.

    I remember wishing I’d done that when the ash and embers of the Waldo Canyon fire were choking the air and floating down on our Rockrimmon neighborhood.

    Our evacuation would have been a tad less pulse-pounding if I didn’t have to take the time to videotape the contents of the house we were leaving behind. I remember wishing I’d been better prepared and cursing the things I’d forgotten when I finally reached our safe haven.

    Don’t repeat my mistakes. Be prepared.

    I’ve covered plenty of disasters. I’ve seen the heartbreak of the victims. I’ve even packed everything I could in my Jeep and run for my life. Haven’t we all learned our lessons?

    The Black Forest fire was an estimated 2,500 degrees when it reached Judy von Ahlefeldt's home. She said her home exploded from the heat. Michael Ciaglo/The Gazette

    The Black Forest fire was an estimated 2,500 degrees when it reached Judy von Ahlefeldt’s home. She said her home exploded from the heat. Michael Ciaglo/The Gazette

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  • Wagon Man’s treatment evidence of Aspenization of Manitou Springs

    Wed, April 9, 2014 by Bill Vogrin with no comments

    Lou Smith hugs her pet, Homer the duck, in a July 15, 2002 Gazette file photo.

    The late Lou Smith hugs her pet, Homer the duck, in a July 15, 2002 Gazette file photo. Smith and Homer lived in Manitou Springs. Smith was charged by the city with keeping a noisy duck. After she won at trial, Smith and Homer became local celebrities and even had a festival named in the duck’s honor.

    In December, I asked if Manitou — the mountainside tourist hamlet that embraced Homer the Duck, Emma Crawford and her runaway coffin, bizarre fruitcake-tossing contests and other quirky festivals and individuals — had grown too corporate, too Aspenized, for a man and his wagons.

    Specifically, Phillip Cargile, 56, his three wagons and stuffed cartoon dolls.
    Otherwise known as the Wagon Man.

    Phillip Cargile, Wagon Man, on Feb. 18, 2014. Bill Vogrin / The Gazette

    Phillip Cargile, Wagon Man, on Feb. 18, 2014. Bill Vogrin / The Gazette

    For the past two years or so, Cargile pulled his wagon train in a random daily trek around the region spreading a message of “BE POSITIVE” that was printed on a sign that hung around his neck. A sign on his back declared: “Where there is no vision, the people will perish.”

    Sunshine, rain or snow . . . it didn’t matter. Wagon Man was on the job in his trademark patchwork overalls and cowboy hat with his left hand on his wagon handle and his right hand stretched to the heavens, symbolically lifting up all who saw him.

    Many days he was accompanied on his wife, Cheryl, or the Wagon Lady, who typically wore her own sign: “A Happy Heart Is Like Medicine” and straw hat.

    Often I saw him trudging down West Colorado Avenue or on U.S. Highway 24, a large U.S. flag flapping behind him. Passing motorists honked, waved and yelled “Wagon Man” as he went by.

    He seemed harmless enough, spending his days fulfilling his calling.

    Phillip Cargile, 56, is known as the Wagon Man because he walks the roads and highways of the Pikes Peak region "lifting people up." He's seen on Feb. 18, 2014, outside Manitou Springs City Hall where he was on trial for four tickets for being a pedestrian illegally in the street. He faced fines exceeding $400 if convicted. But Judge J. Martin Thrasher said the law did not require pedestrians to use sidewalks and found Cargile not guilty. Bill Vogrin / The Gazette

    Phillip Cargile, 56, is known as the Wagon Man because he walks the roads and highways of the Pikes Peak region “lifting people up.” He’s seen on Feb. 18, 2014, outside Manitou Springs City Hall where he was on trial for four tickets for being a pedestrian illegally in the street. He faced fines exceeding $400 if convicted. But Judge J. Martin Thrasher said the law did not require pedestrians to use sidewalks and found Cargile not guilty. Bill Vogrin / The Gazette

    I stopped and talked to him last May. I found him friendly, quirky and interesting.

    I asked where he was going and why he was pulling three wagons, one holding a portable radio, the second filled with shirts printed with his photo, which he sells, and the third holding a large, homemade cartoon doll and a flag.

    He responded with questions.

    “Are you a Christian?” he said, pointing to a large tree and explaining how religious denominations are like the branches all tracing back to a single root: God.

    “Why do I walk?” Wagon Man said. “I walk for you.”

    I learned he and Cheryl were from Panama City Beach, Fla. He said he walked to Aurora after the theater massacre then walked to Colorado Springs following the Waldo Canyon fire in 2012. He and the Wagon Lady fell in love with the area and decided to stay.

    Cheryl, who works as a substitute school teacher, soon found work as a caretaker for an elderly woman whose daughter owns a salon on Colorado Springs’ west side. Wagon Man did odd jobs for the woman.

    They rented a cabin in Manitou Springs and seemed to settle in.

    Phillip Cargile, the Wagon Man, stands along West Colorado Avenue on May 28, 2013.

    Phillip Cargile, the Wagon Man, stands along West Colorado Avenue on May 28, 2013.

    Until winter rolled around and Wagon Man was seen pulling his wagons down the middle of Manitou Avenue in a snowstorm.

    Manitou Springs Police Chief Joe Ribeiro didn’t like seeing Wagon Man in traffic and feared he might cause a wreck. He ordered him to pull his wagons on the sidewalks.

    After several warnings, Ribeiro started writing Cargile tickets for being a pedestrian illegally in the street, first on Dec. 8, again on Dec. 9 and a third on Dec. 24.

    There would be a fourth ticket before the case reached court Feb. 18. Each ticket cited him for being a pedestrian illegally in the roadway and carried a possible $100 fine.

    After a strange 90-minute trial in which an emotional Cargile argued he was vehicle because his shoes had small wheels in the heels, Manitou Springs Municipal Court Judge J. Martin Thrasher ruled the law pertaining to pedestrians in the street was too vague and he could not convict Cargile.

    But he warned him to stay on the sidewalks. And after the trial Ribeiro told Cargile the City Council had enacted a new ordinance — I call it the Wagon Man Law — to require pedestrians to use sidewalks where they exist. (That doesn’t sound very funky to me! Maybe Manitou has gone corporate after all.)

    I spoke to Wagon Man after the trial and he was both defiant and confused. He vowed he’d continue to walk in the streets even as his wife pleaded with him to use the sidewalks until she could arrange for them to return to Florida.

    I watched as he gathered his wagons and pulled them away from the Manitou Springs City Hall, where trial was held. He stopped by Fountain Creek and stared into the water. I wondered if I’d ever see him again.

    Now, I doubt it, unless I ever visit the panhandle of Florida.

    Cheryl "the Wagon Lady" Cargile is seen in an undated photo in Manitou Springs with her red wagon as well as the three wagons pulled each day by her husband, Phillip Cargile, the Wagon Man.

    Cheryl “the Wagon Lady” Cargile is seen in an undated photo in Manitou Springs with her red wagon as well as the three wagons pulled each day by her husband, Phillip Cargile, the Wagon Man.

    On March 10, just three weeks after the trial, Phillip and Cheryl rented a car and drove back to Panama City Beach. We are Facebook friends and I’d seen a post announcing their return and the celebration of their friends in that tourist town.

    “It’s gorgeous here,” Cheryl said Monday when I reached her by phone. “Wagon Man is out walking in a storm. But it’s a rainstorm instead of a snowstorm. It’s 70 degrees here.”
    While Wagon Man is busy walking his wagons, Cheryl said she plans to return to substitute teaching to support the couple.

    Wagon Man Phillip Cargile leaves the Manitou Springs City Hall in February 2014 after charges of being an illegal pedestrian in the street were dismissed. Despite winning his case, he recently left Manitou to return to Panama City Beach, Fla. Bill Vogrin / The Gazette

    Wagon Man Phillip Cargile leaves the Manitou Springs City Hall in February 2014 after charges of being an illegal pedestrian in the street were dismissed. Despite winning his case, he recently left Manitou to return to Panama City Beach, Fla. Bill Vogrin / The Gazette

    And she downplayed my suggestion they’d been run out of the Pikes Peak region by Manitou police, who even confronted Wagon Man at the Carnivale parade, prompting parade-goers to step in and walk with him.

    “I was ready to come home,” Cheryl said. “I’m a warm-weather person. I was turning into a Wagon Lady popsicle. And we were both a little homesick.”

    She insisted they have nothing but love for the people they left behind here.

    “We fell in love with that community,” she said. “Everybody there was just precious sweet. We started out truly homeless and we ended up in a beautiful cabin in the woods with so many friends. We were so blessed.”

    While she declined to criticize police in Manitou, Cheryl said it was nice to be welcomed home by Panama City Police who, she said, were glad to see Wagon Man out on the streets again with his wagon train.

    Police there have stopped him. But with a big difference.

    “They stop him and give him water because they’re afraid he’s going to get dehydrated,” she said with a laugh.

    I chuckled, too. Until I thought about the bigger picture.

    I could understand if a unique character like Wagon Man caught flak in Colorado Springs. We’re a big city anymore. But I kind of hoped Wagon Man had found a home in Manitou.

    Maybe I’ll start calling it Aspen Springs.

     

    Aspen, Colo. Courtesy gentryconnects.com

    Aspen, Colo. Courtesy gentryconnects.com

  • Memoir breaths life into memory of iconic black entrepreneur

    Sun, February 2, 2014 by Bill Vogrin with no comments

    The cover of "Everybody Welcome -- A memoir of Fannie Mae Duncan and the Cotton Club"

    The cover of “Everybody Welcome — A memoir of Fannie Mae Duncan and the Cotton Club”

    Mention legendary businesswoman Fannie Mae Duncan and typically you’ll hear how she helped end segregation by inviting folks of all colors to eat, drink and dance at her Cotton Club in downtown Colorado Springs.

    Now, a new memoir confirms her “Everybody Welcome” motto and reveals Duncan in all her depth, from the tragedy that led her family to relocate here in 1933 and the risks she took to start her business to the indignities she suffered due to her race and gender, and her bitter departure from Colorado Springs after the city closed and then demolished her club in 1975.

    Undated photo of the Cotton Club from Fannie Mae Duncan's personal scrapbook. Courtesy Kathleen Esmiol.

    Undated photo of the Cotton Club from Fannie Mae Duncan’s personal scrapbook. Courtesy Kathleen Esmiol.

    It’s all included, along with historic Lew Tilley photos and snapshots from Duncan’s personal albums, in “Everybody Welcome — A Memoir of Fannie Mae Duncan and the Cotton Club.”

    The memoir was self-published in October by Kathleen Esmiol, who wrote it after a 12-year collaboration with Duncan, who died Sept. 13, 2005, in Denver.

    Rather than write a biography, Esmiol, a retired Academy School District 20 English teacher, chose to present it as a memoir written in Duncan’s voice and dialect.

    “When you read it, you should feel like she told you her story,” Esmiol said.

    That was certainly the case as I raced through its 359 pages. I felt I could hear Duncan’s voice telling the story of her life.

    It’s an unblinking account that had me feeling her sorrow at the untimely deaths she endured, made me angry at the racism so routinely practiced, had me rooting for her and left me marveling at how everything unravelled.

    Esmiol drew on her long friendship with Duncan to produce a book much more rich in detail, emotion and insight than most biographies deliver.

    Fannie Mae Duncan in 1938 in her senior class photo from Colorado Springs High School. Photo is from Duncan's personal scrapbook. Courtesy Kathleen Esmiol.

    Fannie Mae Duncan in 1938 in her senior class photo from Colorado Springs High School. Photo is from Duncan’s personal scrapbook. Courtesy Kathleen Esmiol.

    There’s Duncan as 8-year-old Fannie Mae Bragg, living on a farm in Luther, Okla., in 1926, and experiencing an explosive fight between her parents, Herbert and Mattie Bragg. Then, a few weeks later, she recalls her confusion and fear when her father suffers serious injuries in a car wreck and eventually dies on Thanksgiving.

    Before the day is over, her mother would pack her seven children and their belongings and scatter to various relatives’ homes in a jarring transition. There was another abrupt move, this time from Oklahoma to Colorado Springs, after a visit from Aunt Fang Harris, who lived in Manitou Springs and urged Mattie to relocate to the resort town in the mountains.

    It was 1933 and Fannie, then 14, recalled being bewildered by the move and how her family drove straight through on the journey because there was no place for blacks to stay on the route.

    I was fascinated to read as Fannie visited her brother on his job at the Hiawatha Gardens dance hall in Manitou, got her first glimpse of “the good life” and found herself entranced by the music.

    The story follows her through North Junior High and Colorado Springs High School, now Palmer High, as her family continued to bounce from home to home, first east of downtown at 704 N. Franklin St. and 815 El Paso St., and then to 730 N. Pine St. on the west side.

    Fannie Mae Duncan's Cotton Club is seen in a 1970 photo by Norman Sams. Signs on building include "Cottom Club Presents Two Lavish Shows Nightly. Dining - Dancing. Duncan's Cotton Club." Sign in window reads "Barber Shop Yes We're Open." Photo courtesy the Pikes Peak Library District.

    Fannie Mae Duncan’s Cotton Club is seen in a 1970 photo by Norman Sams. Signs on building include “Cottom Club Presents Two Lavish Shows Nightly. Dining – Dancing. Duncan’s Cotton Club.” Sign in window reads “Barber Shop Yes We’re Open.” Photo courtesy the Pikes Peak Library District.

    Duncan talks of the struggles of her mother to raise so many children as a widow, taking in laundry and working as a maid in a Victorian home on North Nevada Avenue.

    Along with her siblings, Duncan also worked, taking a job as a waitress at Father Divine’s at 25 W. Colorado Ave., near the Antler’s Hotel.

    The building would loom large in Duncan’s life when, years later, she would buy it and build her groundbreaking Cotton Club.

    Fannie Mae Duncan in an undated photo from her personal scrapbook. Courtesy Kathleen Esmiol.

    Fannie Mae Duncan in an undated photo from her personal scrapbook. Courtesy Kathleen Esmiol.

    I was amazed at her business sense that allowed her to identify opportunities and pounce on them fearlessly. And it was heartening to learn that even in an age of overt racism there were whites willing to lend money and take a chance on a determined black woman.

    And I was intrigued by her dealings with Police Chief Irvin “Dad” Bruce, who ordered her to stop letting whites in her club after the Antler’s management complained that her club was hurting hotel business.

    “You’re letting them mix, Fannie,” Duncan quotes Bruce saying. “Gotta stop. Run it black.”

    Of course, he relented and over the years they had a good working relationship.

    Edward Roy Duncan was six years older than Fannie Mae Bragg when they married shortly after her graduation from Colorado Springs High School in 1938. He was a cook and supported her efforts to build a business, working along side her at the Cotton Club until his death at age 42 in 1955. Photo is from Duncan's personal scrapbook. Courtesy Kathleen Esmiol.

    Edward Roy Duncan was six years older than Fannie Mae Bragg when they married shortly after her graduation from Colorado Springs High School in 1938. He was a cook and supported her efforts to build a business, working along side her at the Cotton Club until his death at age 42 in 1955. Photo is from Duncan’s personal scrapbook. Courtesy Kathleen Esmiol.

    Duncan gives heartbreaking accounts of the death of her only baby during childbirth in 1946 and the death of her husband, Edward Roy Duncan. He died at age 42 in 1955 after his drinking problem led to cirrhosis of the liver, leaving Fannie Mae a widow at age 36.

    There’s plenty of name-dropping in the book because Duncan hired many of the great entertainers of the day to play her club, including Lionel Hampton, Nat King Cole, Duke Ellington, Sammy Davis Jr., Fats Domino and more.

    She also gave an early boost to a Fort Carson soldier trying to break into comedy: Flip Wilson. And I laughed at her account of baseball legend Satchel Paige and his romantic advances toward her.

    Duncan is precise about places and details such as how she paid $500 for the contents of the Kress department store lunch counter, where blacks were denied service, and used it in her Cotton Club. But she is vague on dates.

    For example, she recalls that her Duncan’s Café and Bar opened in November 1947. It later would be renamed the Cotton Club, but it’s unknown exactly when that happened.

    Newspaper accounts don’t mention the “Cotton Club” until 1957 after Duncan erected a 20-foot, pink neon sign at a cost of $4,300. It would become a downtown landmark.

    This was Fannie Mae Duncan's mansion at 615 N. Corona St. This photo was sent out as a Christmas card by Duncan, who hosted visiting black musicians, entertainers and dignitaries at the mansion. The photo was from Duncan's personal scrapbook. Courtesy Kathleen Esmiol.

    This was Fannie Mae Duncan’s mansion at 615 N. Corona St. This photo was sent out as a Christmas card by Duncan, who hosted visiting black musicians, entertainers and dignitaries at the mansion. The photo was from Duncan’s personal scrapbook. Courtesy Kathleen Esmiol.

    The story does not have a happy ending. The club ran into trouble with authorities. (Gazette archives report that in 1954 the Army made it the first Colorado Springs business ever declared off limits to soldiers because of reports of illegal activities and unsavory characters. The ban was lifted a day later.)

    Worse, it became the target of urban renewal efforts in the 1970s and eventually was acquired by the city for $168,000, according to a 1975 Gazette Telegraph interview with Duncan. Her club was closed, she drank a champagne toast to it in August 1975 and the building was demolished.

    Fannie Mae Duncan in 1995. Courtesy Kathleen Esmiol.

    Fannie Mae Duncan in 1995. Courtesy Kathleen Esmiol.

    Ultimately, Duncan took her niece, who she was raising, and left Colorado Springs in 1981. Eventually she settled in Denver, where she spent the rest of her life. It would be years before the magnitude of her business success would be recognized, leading to her induction in the Colorado Women’s Hall of Fame in 2012.

    Duncan told Gazette reporters she was working on a book as long ago as 1975. I’m thrilled the book finally happened.

    Reading it, I really wish I’d had a chance to meet Duncan and tell her story. So it’s great Esmiol did. And because she did, it will appear in the next edition of the African American National Biography, taking her story to a nationwide audience.

    Story behind the book

    Fannie Mae Duncan and Kathleen Esmiol after the first performance of a play "Everybody Welcome" about Duncan's life as written and performed by Eagleview Middle School students in 1993.. Courtesy Kathleen Esmiol.

    Fannie Mae Duncan and Kathleen Esmiol after the first performance of a play “Everybody Welcome” about Duncan’s life as written and performed by Eagleview Middle School students in 1993.. Courtesy Kathleen Esmiol.

    The story behind the book is interesting and included by Kathleen Esmiol at the end.

    As a teacher at Eagleview Middle School in 1993, Esmiol was looking for a play that her writing club students could perform. She specifically wanted a project that would include her black students, who felt left out of most student productions. But she was unable to find an appropriate play.

    “I decided we’d write a play so our black students would have the leads,” Esmiol said. “I was searching for a character, preferably a living person we could use as the lead.”

    She happened to see a video interview with Fannie Mae Duncan on the Pikes Peak Library District cable channel.

    Esmiol had her students write Duncan in Denver and ask her for an interview. They went up to meet her and turned their conversations into a play they performed several times in the next couple of years.

    And the experience led Esmiol and Duncan to become close friends, ultimately collaborating on the book.

    _

    Expert review of the book

    Matt Mayberry, director of the Colorado Springs Pioneers Museum

    Matt Mayberry

    Matt Mayberry, director of the Colorado Springs Pioneers Museum, applauded the Fannie Mae Duncan memoir.

    “The book is an important addition to our local history,” he said. “It’s a very personal account of her life. It fleshes out Fannie Mae, who has become an icon, and adds depth to her story.”

    The book is for sale at the Pioneers Museum gift shop and at Poor Richard’s Bookstore, 320 N. Tejon St. It sell for $17.75.

    _

  • Ghosthunters probe Manitou Springs to help museums and attractions

    Thu, October 24, 2013 by Bill Vogrin with no comments

    Miramont Castle in Manitou Springs on Tuesday, May 28, 2002.  The Gazette file

    Miramont Castle in Manitou Springs on Tuesday, May 28, 2002. The Gazette file

    Want to get your Halloween spook on and maybe help area businesses struggling after tourist seasons ruined by fire and flood?

    Then sign up for a late-night tour with the Haunted Dimensions Parahistorian Team of Manitou Springs.

    Tammila and Erick Wright of the Haunted Dimensions Parahistorian Team, Courtesy photo.

    Tammila and Erick Wright of the Haunted Dimensions Parahistorian Team, Courtesy photo.

    This weekend and next, the team of Tammila and Erick Wright will lead expert paranormal investigators and members of the paying public on explorations of some famous Manitou buildings.

    On Friday and Saturday night, they will investigate the Iron Springs Chateau playhouse at 444 Ruxton Ave. beginning at 11 p.m., following performances of the play “The Restless Ghosts of Emma Crawford.”

    (Longtime residents know Emma Crawford as the woman who came to Manitou in 1889 seeking a cure for tuberculosis only to die two years later. She was buried atop Red Mountain but a 1929 storm washed her remains  down the mountain. Only her casket handles, a nameplate and few bones were found. Legend says she haunts the mountain still today and she is celebrated with an annual festival and coffin races, scheduled Saturday.)

    Emma Crawford

    Emma Crawford

    If you believe in that kind of thing, you might want to catch the play and then stick around for the ghost hunting with Tammila and Erick for an extra $25. All funds going to the playhouse, which has been struggling like most Manitou attractions following the 2012 Waldo Canyon fire and the recent devastating floods.

    “Everybody in Manitou has been hurting,” Tammila said. “We thought we could help some of the museums out by doing paranormal tours to raise money.”

    Based on preliminary research, the Wrights are confident that spirits, entities or other paranormal activity will be encountered in the chateau.

    “We’ve been researching the property for a couple years and they allowed us in three times to do preliminary investigations,” Erick said. “This is the first time we’ll be allowed to bring in a large group.”

    A thermal image taken by the Haunted Dimensions Parahistorian Team during an Oct. 19, 2013, investigation of the Iron Springs Chateau in Manitou Springs. Courtesy photo.

    A thermal image taken by the Haunted Dimensions Parahistorian Team during an Oct. 19, 2013, investigation of the Iron Springs Chateau in Manitou Springs. Courtesy photo.

    Teams will be armed with all the modern paranormal investigative tools as they hunt evidence of the afterlife.

    Paying customers will get to use electromagnetic receivers, digital and magnetic tape audio recorders, professional sound equipment and microphones, digital cameras, video and thermal imaging recorders and even good old flashlights.

    A horse-drawn carriage stands in front of wooden building with signs "Ute Iron Spring" at 444 Ruxton Ave., in Manitou Springs, and a sign says "Ute Iron Springs J.G. Hiestand, Prop." in this photo from the Stewart Commercial Photographers Collection of the Pikes Peak Library District. The Iron Springs Chateau began as a candy and cigar store in 1880 at the site of the Ute Iron Springs. Hiestand erected the original building now known as the Iron Springs Chateau Melodrama Dinner Theater. In 1964, the Chateau Players formed launching the Iron Springs Chateau melodrama.

    A horse-drawn carriage stands in front of wooden building with signs “Ute Iron Spring” at 444 Ruxton Ave., in Manitou Springs, and a sign says “Ute Iron Springs J.G. Hiestand, Prop.” in this photo from the Stewart Commercial Photographers Collection of the Pikes Peak Library District. The Iron Springs Chateau began as a candy and cigar store in 1880 at the site of the Ute Iron Springs. Hiestand erected the original building now known as the Iron Springs Chateau Melodrama Dinner Theater. In 1964, the Chateau Players formed launching the Iron Springs Chateau melodrama.

    “We’ll go to different parts of the building and people will witness for themselves what is going on,” Erick said. “We could be there several hours.”

    In preliminary ghost hunting at the chateau, the Wrights and their team believe they recorded the sound of a woman walking through singing an opera.

    “Based on our research, we believe it was Alice Crawford, Emma’s sister,” he said. “Alice worked at the chateau when it was a spa building. And its builder was a pall bearer at Emma’s funeral.”

    In fact, Erick said an old mineral spring, now capped, still sits under the floor of the main room. He said natural water features tend to “act as an amplifier for entities” in a building.

    “Besides Alice, another entity we picked up was Sid, who worked there for 35 years or so as an actor and stagehand,” Erick said, describing how his team was led by spirits to a small storage room where they found a photo of Sid, taken in 1974, hanging on the wall.

    The Haunted Dimensions team will regroup next week on Halloween and on Friday, Nov. 1, to do further research on a handful of historical properties in downtown Manitou.

    Pall bearers posed with the coffin of Emma Crawford before her burial atop Red Mountain in this 1891 photo. Courtesy the Margaretta M. Boas Photograph Collection of the Pikes Peak Library District.

    Pall bearers posed with the coffin of Emma Crawford before her burial atop Red Mountain in this 1891 photo. Courtesy the Margaretta M. Boas Photograph Collection of the Pikes Peak Library District.

    Those tours also cost $25 apiece and will begin at 9:30 p.m., lasting until after midnight.

    The group conducted its first charitable ghosthunt last week at Miramont Castle and raised about $3,500 last week hosting three nighttime investigations at the famous castle at 9 Capitol Hill Ave., in Manitou.

    Demand was so great they had to expand from two nights to three to accommodate everyone, said Jennifer Walters, spokeswoman for the castle, a four-story, 14,000-square-foot structure built in 1895 by Father Jean Baptiste Francolon. It was bought by the Manitou Springs Historical Society in 1976 and now operates as a family-friendly museum featuring 30 rooms filled with Victorian-era artifacts.

    “It was a big success,” Jennifer said. “It’s something we, as a historical society, don’t normally do. We’ve turned away many groups and individuals who wanted to investigate the castle. But the Wrights are members of the society and they wanted to help us, knowing we’ve had a pretty rough time the past two summers.”

    So the society approved the investigations. The Wrights are now studying their hours of audio and video to see if they can confirm what they believe may be paranormal activity.

    The Wrights have done similar investigations since 1985 but never charged people to join them in the past.

    Turning their ghost-hunting into fundraising events helped everyone.

    “We are helping organizations that are struggling,” Erick said. “And we are getting to investigate some incredible historic properties.”

    To join the Iron Chateau event, call 685-5104.

    To join the investigations on Halloween and Nov. 1, call 685-1454. 

    Follow this link to a video produced by Haunted Dimensions about their investigation of Baby Doe Tabor and her haunted cabin in Leadville.

    This link takes you to a video investigating the Elkhorn Lodge in Estes Park.

    The Haunted Dimensions Parahistorian Team films historic research during a recent investigation of paranormal activity. Holding the book is Tammila Wright and her husband, Erick Wright, is on the far right. Courtesy photo.

    The Haunted Dimensions Parahistorian Team films historic research during a recent investigation of paranormal activity. Holding the book is Tammila Wright and her husband, Erick Wright, is on the far right. Courtesy photo.

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  • ‘Cursed’ Iron Mountain house bedevils Manitou Springs until the end

    Wed, October 2, 2013 by Bill Vogrin with no comments

    An excavator hauled up Iron Mountain above Manitou Springs to demolish Tom McGee's controversial house broke down Oct. 1, 2013, about 50 feet short of the 7,131-foot summit, delaying the project for a day.  Manitou Springs purchased the house and property for $1.1 million in 2010 for open space from McGee after a two decade battle.  Christian Murdock / The Gazette

    An excavator hauled up Iron Mountain above Manitou Springs to demolish Tom McGee’s controversial house broke down Oct. 1, 2013, about 50 feet short of the 7,131-foot summit, delaying the project for a day. Manitou Springs purchased the house and property for $1.1 million in 2010 for open space from McGee after a two decade battle. Christian Murdock / The Gazette

    Tom McGee’s house on the summit of Iron Mountain isn’t exactly an Amityville house of horrors possessed by evil spirits.

    But I believe it is cursed.

    I was convinced on Tuesday when the modest two-bedroom house, perched defiantly overlooking Manitou Springs, avoided a date with a wrecking crew.

    Tom McGee in a 1997 file photo

    Tom McGee in a 1997 file photo

    It was scheduled for demolition at 10:30 a.m. But the excavator hauled up the mountain to crush the little house mysteriously broke a steel track on the driveway, about 50 feet from the summit. There it sat for hours, paralyzed beneath the house it came to destroy.

    Eventually, crews called off the demolition and planned to resume efforts early Wednesday.

    It’s a fitting final chapter for this house, which has been avoiding destruction virtually since McGee, an accountant, built it in 1991.

    Manitou officials and residents were enraged that he put the house smack on the 7,131-foot mountaintop, marring the scenic backdrop of the tourist village.

    Of course, McGee did it out of spite and didn’t hide that fact.

    He owned 99 acres atop Iron and Sheep mountains and sought annexation into Manitou, which would give him access to streets, sewer and water service and allow him to develop upwards of 30 homes on the land.

    9/25/97 - TOM MCGEE - Tom McGee's home on Tom McGee enraged Mantiou Springs officials in 1993 when he bulldozed a road down the face of Iron Mountain. He was stopped midway and barred by a court order from proceeding. Gazette file photo.

    9/25/97 – TOM MCGEE – Tom McGee’s home on Tom McGee enraged Mantiou Springs officials in 1993 when he bulldozed a road down the face of Iron Mountain. He was stopped midway and barred by a court order from proceeding. Gazette file photo.

    Manitou declined annexation and barred him from building roads linking to city streets, forcing him to buy a $12,500 membership in the adjacent Crystal Park private community and pay expensive annual dues so he could reach his land.

    McGee retaliated by building the house, defying the wishes of his wife and sons, who urged him to build the house lower on the side of the mountain so it wouldn’t be as obvious. He even tried to bulldoze a road down the face of the mountain to reach city streets, further enraging townfolk and resulting in a court-issued restraining order and demands for expensive engineering studies and design work that killed his plan.

    Consider the toll it has taken on all involved.

    For more than 20 years the haunted McGee and his family and the stress it generated contributed, he told me years ago, to the breakup of his marriage.

    It certainly has haunted Manitou Springs, which spent thousands on attorneys over the years trying to stop McGee and defend against his legal challenges and appeals.

    Trails advocates also have suffered because the conflict between McGee and Manitou left a  gap in the popular nearby Intemann Trail.

    McGee house 1997Of course, the house will come down, barring some supernatural intervention on Wednesday. It will take only an hour for the wood frame structure to collapse. By Friday, crews from Baldwin Demolition will have the parcel scraped back to granite.

    But it likely will be years before this ugly episode is forgotten.

    The emotional, personal attacks on McGee sound like something you’d see posted today on Facebook, not lobbed about by elected officials in a property rights debate. But it’s all part of the record.

    Tom McGee had a view of the Garden of the Gods and Colorado Springs from the living room of his home atop Iron Mountain.

    Tom McGee had a view of the Garden of the Gods and Colorado Springs from the living room of his home atop Iron Mountain.

    Consider that McGee was labeled the “troll on the knoll” at the time by then-City Councilman Bill Koerner, and in 1991 then-Mayor Chris Daly declared the house “scud bait” in a reference to Soviet-made missiles fired on Israel during the 1980s and ’90s.

    Of course, McGee’s stubborn determination to build in the worst possible location and to block the trail won him no sympathy in Manitou.

    Nor did his wavering on his frequent declaration to sell his place.

    Current Manitou Mayor Marc Snyder said he negotiated a sale in January 2000 with McGee for $1.2 million and won approval of the purchase from the City Council only to have the agreement mysteriously unravel when McGee simply changed his mind a few days later.

    Tom McGee had a panoramic view of Manitou Springs, Williams Canyon and Ute Pass from the deck of his home atop Iron Mountain.

    Tom McGee had a panoramic view of Manitou Springs, Williams Canyon and Ute Pass from the deck of his home atop Iron Mountain.

    In 2006, McGee told me in an interview he wanted to sell and was just waiting for an offer from Manitou officials. But he again changed his mind, leaving officials frustrated and perplexed.

    Finally, in 2010, McGee signed a contract to sell to Manitou for $1.1 million. Snyder called it the “signature piece of property” and necessary to preserve Manitou’s picturesque setting on the slopes of Pikes Peak.

    Snyder wasn’t around in the early years of the dispute, when McGee accursed Manitou of illegally trying to “regulate my property rights out of existence.” Snyder said all his dealings with McGee were transparent, well-publicized and legal attempts to buy his land. He said Manitou didn’t prevent McGee from developing his land. It simply wanted him to follow all proper El Paso County codes and procedures.

    Tom McGee had a panoramic view of Red Rock Canyon Open Space and downtown Colorado Springs from the living room of his home atop Iron Mountain.

    Tom McGee had a panoramic view of Red Rock Canyon Open Space and downtown Colorado Springs from the living room of his home atop Iron Mountain.

    Further evidence of the curse is the fact the purchase won’t allow immediate completion of the missing trail link so coveted by the community.

    Snyder said deed restrictions enacted by McGee must be untangled before it can happen and he’s not sure how long that may take.

    Maybe you are thinking, as I was, that at least McGee finally got his payday and is laughing all the way to the bank.

    Consider my conversation Tuesday with Marilea Chambers, his ex-wife.

    Tom McGee had this view of Pikes Peak from his master bedroom and kitchen in his house atop Iron Mountain.

    Tom McGee had this view of Pikes Peak from his master bedroom and kitchen in his house atop Iron Mountain.

    She sounded tired and sad when I called and started asking about Tom. It was true, the rumor I’d heard, that she had taken him back and they were living together again.

    “But we’re still divorced,” she said. “Tom is sick. He has cancer. I’m taking care of him.”

    What was it like living in the house, I asked.

    “It was windy,” she said. “But it was pretty up there. The views were beautiful. Tremendous. On the Fourth of July you could see fireworks from Woodland Park to Colorado Springs.”

    In fact, she enjoyed a view of Pikes Peak from her kitchen and bedroom window and Garden of the Gods and Colorado Springs from her living room. And the decks offered a spectacular panorama of the entire Ute Pass.

     What memories does it evoke? What does she think of its pending demolition?

    “It was a hard 20 years,” she said in a quiet voice. “It caused a lot of stress.”

    She stopped, measuring her words carefully.

    “I think Manitou has its problems with the way it deals with people and the way they do things,” Marilea said. “It’s a small town. It’s just so political. And some of what they did was very immature on their part.”

    Tom McGee's house as photographed by Steve Garufi.

    Tom McGee’s house as photographed by Steve Garufi.

    ========

     

  • IS PLEASANT VALLEY COUPLE ON DOORSTEP OF DISASTER?

    Sun, January 27, 2013 by Bill Vogrin with no comments

    .

    Since 1976, Frank and Barbara Sanders have lived quietly on the northern edge of Pleasant Valley along the banks of Camp Creek, giving them a front-row seat to Rock Ledge Ranch and Garden of the Gods.

    Last June, the Sanders had a front-row seat for the Waldo Canyon fire. They watched in horror as the hills above the valley became choked in billowing black clouds of smoke and the forest glowed a sickening orange at night as trees torched in the spreading wildfire.

    Now, the Sanders may have a front-row seat to the aftermath of that disaster.

    Experts fear the Sanders and much of Pleasant Valley could face devastating flooding from ash and debris-laden water with the next hard rain.

    The inferno that killed two people and burned about 350 homes in Mountain Shadows also scorched upwards of 18,250 acres in the Pike National Forest, especially in Queens Canyon and the headwaters of Camp Creek.

    Experts agree it’s not a question of “if” a hard rain will bring flooding. The question is “when” and “where” the flooding will occur. There are several drainage basins where rainfall, especially a notorious Colorado microburst, could unleash a raging black torrent.

    Flooding could occur in Woodmen Valley, below Peregrine, where Dry Creek runs. Or in Mountain Shadows and surrounding neighborhoods along Douglas Creek. Certainly Manitou Springs and the communities up Ute Pass already have suffered and remain vulnerable from Williams Canyon and Waldo Canyon flooding.

    But perhaps no neighborhood is more at risk than Pleasant Valley,  a 1950s-era subdivision of about 800 modest homes. It’s a likely target because it’s the first neighborhood below Queens Canyon, where the fire raged for days before exploding down the foothills and into Colorado Springs on June 26.

    Any significant rain is expected to carry tons of sterilized soil, rocks and burned timber down the mountainside, through Glen Eyrie and Garden of the Gods before it slams into Pleasant Valley.

    A photo by Frank Sanders shows the washed out culvert and portion of Chambers Drive damaged in a 1999 flood near his Pleasant Valley home.

    The Sanders’ tidy little home would be swamped by the first wave.

    “We are very apprehensive about the next summer or two,” Frank Sanders said. “I don’t know how much mitigation they can do, really.”

    The couple bought federal flood insurance. And they have a new weather radio so they’ll hear any storm warnings.

    But they keep thinking back to April 1999 when a wet spring and late snow caused Camp Creek to jump out of its banks and into their driveway and lawn.

    “The water coming down the street and flowing through our driveway like a river,” Frank said. “It was calf-deep and very swift.

    “It gives you a really helpless feeling. All you can do is watch the water rise. It was pretty bad.”

    Frank ordered a pallet of sandbags from a hardware store and the city arrived with a long rubber bladder that workers filled with water to create a dike to divert floodwaters around the house.

    In this photo courtesy of the Sanders family, Frank Sanders, right tries to remove water from his Pleasant Valley property during a 1999 flood.

    “We had an inch of water in the basement,” he said. “We’d have had it a lot worse if the city hadn’t showed up.”

    That relatively small flood was bad enough to wash out two corrugated steel drainage pipes that carried the creek under the intersection of 31st Street and Chambers Way. Asphalt hung like a rolling, black tablecloth across the void.

    The road was closed nearly a year as crews rebuilt a concrete culvert to carry the creek under the intersection.

    “You just wondered how it would ever get back to normal again,” Barbara Sanders said.

    Already, they’ve had a frightening hint of what they might expect. Last July, a moderate rain brought swirling black water choked with ash and gravel down Camp Creek.

    “It was black as tar,” Frank said. “And it smelled like fire.”

    Fortunately, city crews had cleared dead trees at the mouth of the culvert before the rainfall so there was no repeat of 1999. In fact, Kurt Schroeder, of the city parks department, said crews removed hundreds of dead trees and even more live New Mexico locust trees from the creek as it winds through Garden of the Gods.

    In addition, he said city engineers are looking for ways to slow any floodwater as it pours through the city park, reducing its possible impact on Pleasant Valley.

    El Paso County Commissioner Sallie Clark said the Sanders were smart to buy insurance and get a weather radio.

    And she urged the Sanders and their neighbors to attend public meetings like one scheduled Tuesday being sponsored by the city to discuss flood risks and mitigation efforts.

    “I don’t mean to scare people, but they need to be aware that this could be very serious,” Clark said.

    The Sanders are sufficiently aware, if not downright scared.

    “We’ve gone to several meetings,” Barbara said. “We’ve gotten maps of the floodplain and read everything we can.”

    In addition, they volunteered their house for taping of a video to teach volunteers how to fill and place sandbags as the city and county trains for possible flooding.

    They’d prefer to return to enjoying their quiet old life. But they are preparing for the worst, with a scrapbook full of Waldo Canyon fire photos handy to remind them why they need to worry.

    “Our only saving grace,” Frank said, “is that it is going to be a dry summer. There’s not much more to say. We just sit and wait. The more mitigation work they can do on the burn area, the better. We just hope it doesn’t rain hard.

    Last August, Camp Creek ran black with ash and soot from the Waldo Canyon fire burn area far above the Pleasant Valley neighborhood in Queens Canyon.

    ===================

  • SUMMER CAMPERS CONVERGE DOWNTOWN, LEAVE ART IN THEIR WAKE

    Fri, June 8, 2012 by Bill Vogrin with 2 comments

    Lizzy Butts, 10, of Green Mountain FallsManitou Springs artist Steve Wood and his Concrete Couch nonprofit group created SCAMP, a summer camp program that lets volunteers of all ages create public art in downtown Colorado Springs.Manitou Springs artist Steve Wood and his Concrete Couch nonprofit group created SCAMP, a summer camp program that lets volunteers of all ages create public art in downtown Colorado Springs.

    Manitou Springs artist Steve Wood and his Concrete Couch nonprofit group created SCAMP, a summer camp program that lets volunteers of all ages create public art in downtown Colorado Springs.

    .

    Lizzy Butts, a small mason’s trowel in hand, eased a ceramic tile into a dab of concrete.

    She was oblivious to cars zooming past on East Pikes Peak Avenue downtown or the folks coming and going from the CenturyLink office building.

    Lizzy, 10, was simplly enjoying a week at SCAMP — the Concrete Couch version of summer camp. Her group was transforming a large sidewalk vent into a piece of art.

    And she was loving it.

    “I always have a lot of fun doing this,” Lizzy told me as the mosaic “Tapestry Road” took shape atop the vent.

    This wasn’t her first time working on a project with Concrete Couch, a Manitou Springs nonprofit founded by artist Steve Wood dedicated to creating a better community by working with kids and others to create public art.

    SCAMP is a perfect example of what Wood and Concrete Couch are about.

    SCAMP stands for Summer Community Art and Mural Project. Over the next three months SCAMPers like Lizzy will create a series of public art projects in the downtown area — benches, murals and a circus-style performance.

    Already, the group built a concrete, ceramic and stone bench on Nevada Avenue in front of City Rock Climbing Gym. The CenturyLink bench is its second project. Six more are planned through August.

     

    The Concrete Couch SCAMP program is transforming a sidewalk vent into a mosaic artwork.

    Best of all, it’s free to participate and all are welcome. The crew Thursday included kids like Lizzy, teens and adults.

    The city asked Wood to host SCAMP and is helping him secure permits and providing free parking at project sites. But it is giving no financial support.

    The Pikes Peak Habitat for Humanity’s ReStore is contributing ceramic materials and area concrete companies are giving reduced-price materials.

    Still, Wood is seeking sponsorships, such as contributions he received from City Rock and CenturyLink, to cover the costs of each project, which total about $2,000 apiece.

    “But we’re going ahead with this whether we get the sponsors or not,” Wood said. “That’s just how we work.”

    Concrete Couch teachers and volunteers with the SCAMP program worked on a mosaic art bench Thursday, June 7, 2012, outside the CenturyLink building on East Pikes Peak Avenue.

    All are welcome and sign-up is easy. Go to his website: www.ConcreteCouch.org and look under the “What’s New” tab. Or call program coordinate Lisbet Rattenborg at 347-1142.

    The website also has details of coming projects including one starting June 18 in the Middle Shooks Run Neighborhood where a mural will be built alongside the creek.

    “Kids like it because you get to work with tools,” said Jennifer Hanson, a professional potter who also teaches at Concrete Couch. “They get to use tile cutters and nippers, tile saws, do mortar and grouting. We even fire up the kiln sometimes and do glazing.”

    Lizzy nodded agreement.

    “I’ve been cutting tile,” she said. “But I’m not so good with the nippers.”

    Concrete Couch volunteers in its SCAMP program built this rock and concrete bench, with a planter, on Nevada Avenue outside City Rock Climbing Gym.

    The Concrete Couch website has information on the SCAMP program.

    Click here to read a Side Streets column I wrote April 27, 2011, about Wood and Concrete Couch.

    To read the associated blog entry, follow this link.

    Click this link to see another cool Concrete Couch project.

    ======================================================

  • GET A LOOK AT A PET THAT BRINGS YOU BREAKFAST

    Fri, May 18, 2012 by Bill Vogrin with no comments

    Some are two story with panel doors and wood windows. One is solar-powered. Another is adobe. Several are split level. Virtually all are fenced.

    And all of them are open for visitors this weekend if you want to take a peek!

    It’s not a springtime Parade of Homes. It’s the third-annual 2012 Take a Peak Chicken Coop Tour.

    This weekend, about 20 coops from Black Forest to Manitou Springs to downtown Colorado Springs will be open for viewing.

    Anyone interested in raising chickens is invited to take the free, self-guided tour and learn how to start your own coop.

    The tour was the idea of “chickenman” John Conner.

    “A couple ladies I worked with got interested in keeping chickens and came over and saw my coop,” John said. “Then they said they’d like to see more.”

    So he arranged for a dozen or so folks with chickens to allow folks to see their coops. That was 2010.

    “The first year, we had 80 people show,” he said. “Last year, I lost count after 120.”

    And that was with mininal advertising.

    This year John’s not sure what to expect. He hopes people will learn how easy it is to raise chickens.

    “They are pets that give you breakfast,” John said with a laugh.

    He started raising them about five years ago and now has five birds. He said they are quiet and no more work than a big dog.

    “You have to clean up after them and feed them,” he said. “But they don’t go outside and start barking. They may cluck, but you won’t hear them.”

    John created a CoopTourDirectory_2012_draft_2 for tour. It’s 22 pages of photos and tips about raising chickens.

    I was intrigued at elaborate coops some build.

    John’s coop, at his Shooks Run neighborhood home, is solar-powered with panels on the roof.

    Another fellow made his coop out of “cob.”

    “Basically, it’s mud and straw,” John said. “And tree limbs and things.”

    Then there’s a coop in Black Forest on wheels.

    Coops on the tour range from basic plywood to elaborate structures disguised as small cottages or playhouses.

    There are a few rules for tour-goers. Don’t bring pets. Don’t scare the chickens. And some coops will only be open for limited times during the weekend.

    John also provides information on Colorado Springs codes. For example, residents can have 10 chickens but no roosters in the city. And chicken coop poop must be picked up every few days and kept in a sealed container.

    Basic stuff.

    Follow this link if you want a  CoopTourMaps_2012, of print one off at John’s website. Or just drop by his house 712 N. Cedar Street east of downtown.

    A pet that gives you breakfast, huh? My dog won’t even get me the morning paper!

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  • AVID HIKER PROTESTS PROPOSED TRAIL: NIMBY

    Fri, April 13, 2012 by Bill Vogrin with 3 comments

    The Ute Pass Regional Trail will pass through meadows and also along steep, winding, rocky passages west of Manitou Springs as it climbs toward Cascade. Courtesy El Paso County Parks Department

    The Ute Pass Regional Trail west of Manitou Springs will travel along a Colorado Springs Utilities service road for a stretch.

    David Johnson is a retired teacher and an avid hiker. Brags he’s done all the area trails and many more.

    “I’ve hiked all over the country,” Johnson said. “I enjoy it.”

    I figured he’d be the last guy trying to block construction of a trail connecting Manitou Springs with Woodland Park.

    But Johnson is campaigning loudly against efforts by El Paso County to complete the Ute Pass Regional Trail.

    To rally his neighbors and convince the county it shouldn’t build a 3-mile stretch of trail that includes a frontage road along busy U.S. Highway 24 in Cascade,

    Historic trail marker. Courtesy El Paso County Parks Department

    Johnson is using scare tactics, painting one extreme scenario after another.

    “I’ve seen a lot of cigarettes thrown into the brush,” Johnson said. “I’ve seen fire rings where they’re not allowed. Booze bottles.

    “There are so many idiots using public facilities. If they build this trail, we’ll have all these people coming in and it only takes one.”

    You’ve probably figured out the trail would run past Johnson’s home, one of a half-dozen or so on the frontage road.

    Johnson insists he doesn’t want to stop people from enjoying their public land.

    “I’m not against anybody hiking or learning about nature,” he said.

    But he said the frontage road is private land. A trail would violate his privacy.

    “I’m objecting to them being on my property,” Johnson said, though county officials say it’s public and a utility easement gives them the right to build the trail.

    He also suggests upwards of 30,000 people a year will tackle the steep, twisting trail officials hope to build between Manitou Springs and Green Mountain Falls, where the trail now ends.

    Eventually, Johnson gets to the heart of his opposition: “Our goal is to re-route the trail away from our neighborhood.”

    He doesn’t care where it goes as long as it’s not in his front yard.

    His wailing has achieved some success.

    This is the view from GoogleEarth of the frontage road where neighbors are fighting a stretch of the Ute Pass Regional Trail.

    The county abandoned an idea of building a trailhead at the end of the frontage road, easing fears of traffic and parking.

    “The trailhead has been completely ruled out at this time,” said El Paso County Commissioner Sallie Clark, “because of the concerns of the neighbors.”

    But the frontage road remains a possible link in the trail, depending on the outcome of upcoming meetings to gather opinions.

    “We’re going to do a more robust public hearing process and get input from all residents and stakeholders on that leg of the trail,” Clark said.

    She noted there aren’t a lot of options for threading a trail through the steep, narrow terrain of Ute Pass.

    Here's the approximate route of the trail from Ruxton Canyon in Manitou Springs as its heads west of Ute Pass.

    And, frankly, she believes it will attract only a fraction of the volume Johnson predicts.

    Still, it’s an important link and the county is committed to completing it.

    After all, even boozing, pyromaniacal idiots deserve to hike!

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