• Colorado Springs Pioneers Museum is an historic artifact worth preserving

    Fri, March 28, 2014 by Bill Vogrin with no comments

    ARCHITECTURE

    The Colorado Springs Pioneers Museum in a 2007 photo. Mark Reis / The Gazette.

    It’s no secret that I love the Colorado Springs Pioneers Museum.

    I love the building, which opened in May 1903 as the El Paso County Courthouse.

    And I love its contents — the collection of 40,000 items ranging from Van Briggle pottery and American Indian artifacts to the personal papers of Civil War Gen. William Jackson Palmer, who founded Colorado Springs and built the Denver & Rio Grande Railroad.

    These artifacts tell the story of life in the Pikes Peak region. (In fact, a Side Streets column is one of the artifacts that has been on display!)

    The Colorado Springs Pioneers Museum boasts three styles of columns: plain Doric on the bottom right, ornate Ionic in the middle and elaborate Corinthian on the far top tower. Bill Vogrin / The Gazette

    The Colorado Springs Pioneers Museum boasts three styles of columns: plain Doric on the bottom right, ornate Ionic in the middle and elaborate Corinthian on the far top tower. Bill Vogrin / The Gazette

    So it concerns me when I climb the steps to its doors and see cracks and missing chunks from its towering columns — which vary from Doric to Ionic and Corinthian, I’m told by Matt Mayberry, museum director. I hate to see the towers’ ornate, carved stonework crumbling.

    “The columns are melting away,” Mayberry said as he ran his hand over the deteriorating, decorative carvings.

    And it bothers me to see the stains and streaks of water damage under the windowsills around the elegant old building.

    “The building needs a thorough cleaning,” Mayberry said.

    When I look closer, my concerns grow. I see large pieces missing from archways over doors. Mortar is cracked or missing between the pink granite and rhyolite lava base stones. And a growing collection of pieces have fallen off the building.

    A century of wind, rain and snow have caused significant damage to the Colorado Springs Pioneers Museum. Chunks of stone have broken off. The exterior is gashed by cracks and stained by decades of water damage. Bill Vogrin / The Gazette

    A century of wind, rain and snow have caused significant damage to the Colorado Springs Pioneers Museum. Chunks of stone have broken off. The exterior is gashed by cracks and stained by decades of water damage. Bill Vogrin / The Gazette

    It’s a comfort to me that Mayberry and his staff have been diligent in pursuing funds to restore the structure. But money is tight for things such as power washing and new mortar. People tend to want to donate for a new exhibit or something to which they can proudly attach their names.

    That’s why I’m writing a note in support of the museum’s effort to secure a $190,000 grant from the State Historical Society to help fund Phase 4 of a decade-long restoration project.

    A century of wind, rain and snow have caused significant damage to the Colorado Springs Pioneers Museum. Chunks of stone have broken off. The exterior is gashed by cracks and stained by decades of water damage. Bill Vogrin / The Gazette

    A century of wind, rain and snow have caused significant damage to the Colorado Springs Pioneers Museum. Chunks of stone have broken off. The exterior is gashed by cracks and stained by decades of water damage. Bill Vogrin / The Gazette

    In the first three phases, about $1 million was used to replace rusting metal and repair roof leaks and stones. Phase 3 is ongoing, and I watched Wednesday as a masonry magician finished work on an eroded column base near the main Tejon Street entrance.

    This is not easy or inexpensive work. Century-old mortar must be chemically analyzed for expansion and contraction rates so that matching mortar can be created. And some of the work is not easily accessible.

    Matt Mayberry, director of the Colorado Springs Pioneers Museum, inspects decorative stone carving that has disintegrated on a column on the building. He is seeking a $190,000 grant from the State Historical Society to help fund the fourth phase of restoration work on the century-old building. Bill Vogrin / The Gazette

    Matt Mayberry, director of the Colorado Springs Pioneers Museum, inspects decorative stone carving that has disintegrated on a column on the building. He is seeking a $190,000 grant from the State Historical Society to help fund the fourth phase of restoration work on the century-old building. Bill Vogrin / The Gazette

    It will be quite a trick to reach weathered and crumbling overhangs and windows.

    If Mayberry lands his grant and secures a 30 percent match from the city and private donations, Phase 4 will begin next summer on the north and south sides of the building. Then will come Phase 5, which will involve repairing and replacing doors and windows.

    “We started planning for this in 2005,” Mayberry said. “We hope to have it completed by 2016. Then the outside of the building should be good for another 100 years.”

    It’s pretty amazing to think that with a little more tender loving care the Pioneers Museum should stand for another 100 years. Consider that in 1963 the El Paso County Commission declared the building unusable and began planning a new courthouse — the rectangular monstrosity across Tejon Street.

    This building that now resides on the National Register of Historic Places serves as a 146-foot landmark in downtown with its bell tower, four-sided lighted clock, 38 carved Indian head keystones, two lion head fountains, cage elevator and more.

    A century of wind, rain and snow have caused significant damage to the Colorado Springs Pioneers Museum. Chunks of stone have broken off. The exterior is gashed by cracks and stained by decades of water damage. Bill Vogrin / The Gazette

    A century of wind, rain and snow have caused significant damage to the Colorado Springs Pioneers Museum. Chunks of stone have broken off. The exterior is gashed by cracks and stained by decades of water damage. Bill Vogrin / The Gazette

    It’s imperative that we preserve what enlightened Springs residents fought to save from demolition 50 years ago when they rallied behind a “Save the Courthouse Committee” and raised $250,000 to buy it.

    After this architectural gem was boarded up in 1972, I’m thrilled the museum was able to move in seven years later.

    And I’m happy to add my voice to those seeking grants and donations to preserve the museum.

    I’d love to see some deep-pockets benefactor step forward to transform the shuttered fourth courtroom into an exhibit space, restore the tower clock and ditch the clock’s electric motor for its historic water-pressure operation.

    A before-and-after comparison of cherubs over a doorway of the Colorado Springs Pioneers Museum. Courtesy photo.

    A before-and-after comparison of cherubs over a doorway of the Colorado Springs Pioneers Museum. Courtesy photo.

    About the museum
    • First two floors have large yellow columns, or pilasters, called scagliolia, or plaster painted to imitate marble.
    • Building materials include pink granite from Platte Canon quarry south of Denver and rhyolite tuff called cotapaxi lava from Kerr Quarries near Howard, west of Cañon City.
    • During its 60 years as a courthouse, its basement housed the offices of the courts, surveyors, county physician and coroner.
    • The 16 columns on the top of the clock/bell tower are cast iron.
    • Each of the four porticos are adorned with two cherubs holding blank shields. Original plans called for them to be inscribed with “Justitia Dedicata” or Dedicated to Justice.
    • The building has three floors. The tower is disproportionately tall because it was designed to accommodate a fourth story. The tower was centered in the building, north to south. But it is slightly off center, east to west, to accommodate a larger main courtroom.

    Lions head water fountains grace the north and south sides of the Colorado Springs Pioneers Museum. They are believed to be horse water troughs. Bill Vogrin / The Gazette

    Lions head water fountains grace the north and south sides of the Colorado Springs Pioneers Museum. They are believed to be horse water troughs. Bill Vogrin / The Gazette

    Timeline
    1899: Excavation begins
    Labor Day 1900: Cornerstone is laid
    May 1903: Opens as the ninth El Paso County Courthouse. Construction cost: $420,000. Architect: Augustus J. Smith.
    1963: El Paso County Commission starts planning a courthouse, declares old building unusable
    1966: Commission announces building will be demolished. A “Save the Courthouse Committee,” led by retired Brig. Gen. Kenneth Curtis, persuades the commission to build on a new site and preserve the old courthouse. It raises $250,000 to buy the building after a bond issue failed.
    Sept. 29, 1972: Building is listed on the National Register of Historic Places
    1972: Building is vacated by the county and boarded up
    1973: Building is deeded to Colorado Springs, which assumes ownership
    1979: Colorado Springs Pioneers Museum moves from its previous home in the gymnasium of the Knights of Columbus Hall at 25 W. Kiowa St.

    The Colorado Springs Pioneers Museum features 38 Indian head keystones over archways  around the building. Each face is unique. Bill Vogrin / The Gazette

    The Colorado Springs Pioneers Museum features 38 Indian head keystones over archways around the building. Each face is unique. Bill Vogrin / The Gazette

  • Disneyland is a goofy place for a petrified tree from Pikes Peak region

    Fri, January 31, 2014 by Bill Vogrin with no comments

    Disneyland petrified tree

    This petrified redwood tree stump is an estimated 35 million years old and is on display in Disneyland in California. It was purchased by Walt Disney in July 1956 from what is now the Florissant Fossil Bed National Monument in Teller County. Disney bought the petrified tree stump from Colorado Springs resident Jack Baker, who owned the Pike Petrified Forest Fossil business. The stump was shipped to Disneyland in California where it has been on display ever since. Photo is  courtesy of the Disney Parks Blog.

    If you’ve ever visited Disneyland in California, chances are you walked right by the little slice of the Pikes Peak region that stands as the oldest and most authentic attraction in a place devoted to all things make-believe and figments of wild imaginations.

    Several times over the years I’ve walked right past it, oblivious to this souvenir of an ancient Colorado forest of giant redwood trees that grew upwards of 35 million years ago in an area we now know as Florissant.

    Florissant Fossil BedsBut it’s there . . . a 7½-foot-tall, five-ton petrified tree stump taken from what is now the Florissant Fossil Beds National Monument west of Divide.

    The stump sits in Frontierland near the banks of the Rivers of America across from the Golden Horseshoe Saloon. (I’m being admonished to avoid saying things like: What a goofy place for a petrified tree.)

    The stump is all that remains of a tree scientists say stood 200 feet tall amid a sub-tropical forest of giant redwoods obliterated in a cataclysmic volcanic eruption that buried the trees in ash. The region flooded, experienced an algae bloom that created perfect conditions for preserving the trees, as well as insects and plants, scientists say.

    (It’s shocking to think fossils were ever private property for sale on the roadside. But remember that even the Garden of the Gods was private property for years and Balanced Rock fenced from view to protect the tourist/photography business of the owner.)

    Anyway, I wasn’t aware of it until my daughter, Anna, an employee of Walt Disney World in Orlando, Fla., saw an item about this rare geologic artifact on a Disney Parks Blog and mentioned it to me.

    Santa's WorkshopI knew Walt Disney and his wife, Lillian, had stayed at The Broadmoor hotel and that a former Hollywood artist and Disney Studios animator, Arto Monaco, had designed the Santa’s Workshop/North Pole theme park that opened in June 1956 in Cascade.

    But this was a whole new Disney connection for me to explore.

    And the recent movie “Saving Mr. Banks” about Disney’s struggle to make the movie “Mary Poppins” got me interested to dig deeper.

    Lillian and Walt Disney pose in front of a petrified redwood tree stump in Disneyland in California, in September 1957. Photo courtesy Disney Parks Blog.

    Lillian and Walt Disney pose in front of a petrified redwood tree stump in Disneyland in California, in September 1957. Photo courtesy Disney Parks Blog.

    The Oct. 22, 2009, “Did You Miss It?” Disney blog item provided photos of the petrified stump and a brief history of how it ended up in Disneyland: Disney bought it on July 11, 1956, as a gift for Lillian on their wedding anniversary. She donated it to Disneyland for display.

    Following Internet leads, I learned much more. I found Michael Ausec in the Willamette Valley of Oregon from his idareds.com website where he sells fossils from the Florissant site. Ausec also had historic photos. So I gave him a call.

    Jack Baker, photo courtesy Michael Ausec

    Jack Baker, photo courtesy Michael Ausec

    Turns out Ausec, 56, is a native of Colorado Springs whose family had a close friend, Jack Baker, who owned a tourism business in Teller County selling fossils from the Florissant beds.

    013114 Side Streets 7

    Jack Baker’s Pike Petrified Forest Fossil business in Florissant. Photo courtesy Michael Ausec

    Baker bought the Pike Petrified Forest Fossil business in the 1950s, Ausec said, and continued doing what folks had done for decades: harvesting and selling amazing fossils.

    Over the decades, tons of petrified trees and smaller rocks rich in fossilized insects and plants were hauled away. Some by the trainload.

    A man and a dog stand amid three petrified redwood stumps in what is now the Florissant Fossil Bed National Monument in Teller County. The photo is from the estate of former Colorado Springs resident Jack Baker, who owned the Pike Petrified Forest Fossil business until 1968. The man in the photo purportedly is Walt Disney during a July 1956 visit to Florissant when he purchased a petrified tree stump from Baker. The stump was shipped to Disneyland in California where it has been on display ever since. Photo courtesy Michael Ausec.

    A man and a dog stand amid three petrified redwood stumps in what is now the Florissant Fossil Bed National Monument in Teller County. The photo is from the estate of former Colorado Springs resident Jack Baker, who owned the Pike Petrified Forest Fossil business until 1968. Walt Disney visited in July 1956 and bought a petrified stump and had it shipped to Disneyland in California where it has been on display since. Photo courtesy Michael Ausec.

    Ausec shared amazing photos of 1950s trucks and cranes used to remove the tree stump Disney bought for $1,650. He even has a photo that Baker said was Disney, in a large hat, with a dog amid the massive stumps.

    “Jack was a charter member of the Colorado Springs Mineralogical Society and my dad and brother were uranium prospectors,” Ausec said, explaining the family connection. “He had an amazing collection of fossils.”

    This photo from the estate of former Colorado Springs resident Jack Baker shows men loading a petrified redwood tree stump into a truck for shipment to DIsneyland in July 1956. Baker owned the Pike Petrified Forest Fossil business. Photo courtesy Michael Ausec.

    This photo from the estate of former Colorado Springs resident Jack Baker shows men loading a petrified redwood tree stump into a truck for shipment to DIsneyland in July 1956. Baker owned the Pike Petrified Forest Fossil business. Photo courtesy Michael Ausec.

    Baker, who lived on South Institute Street near his old family dairy business southeast of downtown Colorado Springs, operated the fossil business until 1968, when the federal government took ownership to protect the fossil beds and created the monument, which opened the next year.

    Ausec said Baker had amassed a huge inventory of fossils before the government takeover.

    Here’s how Ausec described it on his website:

    “Before the U.S. Park Service took over, he spirited away his fossil bed collection and stored it at his home on South Institute in Colorado Springs. It remained there, untouched, until his death in 1994.”

    Walt Disney spelled out terms of his purchase of a 35 million year old petrified redwood in this 1956 letter to Colorado Springs resident Jack Baker, who owned the Pike Petrified Forest Fossil business in what is now the Florissant Fossil Beds National Monument. The purchase price was obscured by the owner. Photo was part of the Baker estate and is courtesy Michael Ausec.

    Walt Disney spelled out terms of his purchase of a petrified redwood in this 1956 letter to Colorado Springs resident Jack Baker. Photo was part of the Baker estate and is courtesy Michael Ausec.

    That’s when Ausec acquired it. And he described it as an amazing collection surpassing the best fossils on display at the national monument visitors center.

    “After he died, I bought his entire estate,” Ausec said, noting that he sold Florissant fossils for years on his own website, along with antiques and precious stones.

    It’s shocking, and abhorrent, to think we used to routinely buy and sell our prehistoric treasures.

    At least Disney put his petrified tree stump on display for millions of folks to enjoy.

    Or, as in my case, walk past in oblivion on my way to the next roller coaster.

  • Descendant of pioneering families leaving Colorado Springs with cherished memento

    Sun, January 19, 2014 by Bill Vogrin with no comments

    Anna Magee in her portrait for her 1953 graduation from Colorado Springs High School, now Palmer High.

    Anna Magee in her portrait for her 1953 graduation from Colorado Springs High School, now Palmer High.

    In a week or so, Anna Lee Magee will pack up Samson, her stuffed trophy brown trout, her easel and drawings of wolves and other animals, along with her tintype family photos and leave the only home she’s ever known.

    It’s a traumatic time for Anna, 78, because of what she’s leaving behind: her beloved Pikes Peak, the Garden of the Gods, and her lilac-lined street and her cozy little home — a nearly 150-year-old sheepherders cabin built before the founding of Colorado Springs.

    When she goes, we’ll all be losing something precious: a direct link to two of the region’s pioneer families whose members prospected for silver as a friend of Bob Womack, gardened at Glen Eyrie for Springs founder Gen. William Jackson Palmer, mined for coal, homesteaded ranches and generally left their mark from Yoder to Fountain to Cripple Creek and points across the Pikes Peak region.

    Luckily, Anna is leaving an important piece of family history behind for the benefit of us all. More on that in a minute.

    First, let me tell you about Anna Magee, who was milling about her round, oak dining room table as I came in her home north of downtown. She called out for me to duck my head as I walked through due to the low ceilings of the home.

    She pointed to the arched doorway and told how her father, Henry Magee, had opened up the wall to find split logs and a mysterious note.

    “It said: ‘This cabin was built by Louis Sanchez and his son in the year 1868,’ ” Anna said. “They were sheepherders and built this long, narrow, three-room cabin.”

    Those three rooms make up the center of her little home, which was added onto frequently over the years. She doesn’t know how long Sanchez lived in the cabin. But it’s been in her family for the better part of a century.

    This portrait of the coal-mining Elliott family from the late 1800s hangs in the home of Anna Magee. Her grandfather, William Elliott, is in the lower left of the portrait.

    This portrait of the coal-mining Elliott family from the late 1800s hangs in the home of Anna Magee. Her grandfather, William Elliott, is in the lower left of the portrait.

    Her grandfather, coal miner William Elliott, bought the house around 1900 when the street out front was known Crescent. After his daughter, Eva, married Henry Magee in 1920, the couple eventually bought the house from him and lived it the rest of their lives.

    Early on, Henry planted lilac bushes along both sides of the street. They must have been a colorful buffer from trains that frequently rolled past. The front door of the cabin is just 30 yards from where the Santa Fe Railway tracks crossed a bridge over the Rock Island Railroad line.

    Railroad mapThe lilacs became such a landmark that when the city was adjusting street names a few years later, they dropped Crescent and renamed it Lilac Street. And for decades, it was the northern edge of Colorado Springs.

    Those train figure into many of Anna’s earliest memories.

    “Every time I’d hear the train coming, I’d run to the ditch and I’d wave and wave,” Anna said, laughing at the memory and waving her hand over her head as if it was the 1940s again.

    “I saw many troop trains leave,” she said. “I’d wave and they’d all yell out the windows and wave back. Of course, I had no idea where they were going.”

    In those days, the trains were coal-fired steam engines and that had serious consequences.

    “Often, Mom would be doing the wash and have clothes out on the line,” Anna said. “We’d hear the trains and she’d holler: ‘Get the washing in.’ We’d run and take the wash off the clothes line. The smoke and soot would turn them black.”

    The marriage of Eva Elliott and Henry Magee brought together two families with deep roots in the settlement of the Pikes Peak region.

    While it was coal that brought William Elliott to the area and provided him work for years, later in his life he went to work for Palmer, gardening at the Civil War hero’s Glen Eyrie castle, where Elliott met Queen Palmer and their daughters, Anna said.

    Pioneering couple Henry and Sarah Magee were profiled in the 1985 edition of El Paso County Heritage, published by Juanita and John Breckenridge.

    Pioneering couple Henry and Sarah Magee were profiled in the 1985 edition of El Paso County Heritage, published by Juanita and John Breckenridge.

    Mining also played a big role in the life of the Magee family.

    Anna’s other grandfather, Robert H. Magee, was a prospector whose family settled in Fountain in the early 1870s. He had silver fever, which led him to spend years searching around the Mount Pisgah area.

    In fact, Anna still has a leather-bound journal, fragile from age, in which Robert Magee wrote of prospecting trips up Pikes Peak he made in July and August 1874.

    His handwritten entry from July 23 read: “Start early on our last days prospecting. Grub played out and are successful in finding what we have long been looking for — ‘Silver Mines’. Gathered some specimens of ore to take back to have tested and look at surrounding country and then start for camp. Arrive in time to get supper over before it rains.”

    Robert Magee is mentioned in several Gazette stories including a September 1874 story about his role in the formation of the Mount Pisgah Mining District. The story reported “rich ore samples sent to town are creating excitement” and described a miner meeting in August to write rules for the new district.

    Of course, silver never was a major producer. And the area didn’t take off until 1890 when Womack discovered gold in Poverty Gulch, leading to the boomtowns of Cripple Creek and Victor.

    Robert Magee and Henry Magee as seen in "Here Lies Colorado Springs." Courtesy photos.

    Robert Magee and Henry Magee as seen in “Here Lies Colorado Springs.” Courtesy photos.

    Robert Magee later owned a saloon there but it was destroyed by fire and a partner cheated him out of a mining claim, prompting him to return to Colorado Springs and look for work.

    He’s later mentioned in an 1892 Gazette story about his work as the “pioneer mail carrier” in the town. The same title was in the headline of his 1913 obituary.

    Anna’s father, Henry, was a farmer who sold milk at the Cragmor Sanitorium where he met employee Eva Elliott.

    This is a photo of Anna Magee's mother, Eva Elliott, on the family pig farm north of Colorado Springs in the early 20th century.

    This is a photo of Anna Magee’s mother, Eva Elliott, on the family pig farm north of Colorado Springs in the early 20th century.

    After they married, he would become well-known for his work driving tourists through Garden of the Gods and up Pikes Peak in the late 1920s, as well as for his own gardening work, growing flowers in a greenhouse he built on their home for city parks, the mansions along North Nevada Avenue and other customers. Henry also built rose trellises and many ended up in Evergreen Cemetery to decorate graves.

    Meanwhile, Anna graduated from Colorado Springs High School in 1953 and eventually went to work for Vicon Instrument Co. at their hearing aid manufacturing facility on 8th Street.

    Turns out she would have one more memorable passing of the trains. This time during the Korean War when her fiancé shipped out on a troop train.

    “I stood and waved,” she said, this time knowing what he might face. Although he did eventually return, they never married and she remained single all her life.

    “I wrote him so often I still remember his serial number,” Anna said, quickly reciting it.

    She stayed with Vicon until it closed in 1983. Then she went into business on her own repairing hearing aids, working from home so she could care for her elderly mother.

    Eva died in 1986 and Anna worked soldering hearing aids until about 1995 when she finally retired.

    Over the years, she and her sister, Lela, would retrace their grandfathers’ steps. They looked for the Elliott mine near Yoder and for the Magee silver mine on Mount Pisgah.

    But they never found much. They couldn’t even find the remains of Magee Street in Cripple Creek.

    “That’s why it’s so hard to leave this place,” Anna said wistfully. “We have so much history here.

    “And I can’t imagine life without seeing my Pikes Peak and my Garden of the Gods.”
    But the house is becoming too much to manage and she longs to be near relatives, which is leading her to relocate to Ohio.

    Which brings me to the important things she is leaving behind.

    First, there’s the lilacs. Remnants of the Magee lilacs still grow along the street. Anna hopes they always will.

    In hopes of ensuring they survive, her handyman, Jon Torley, dug up a clump and transplanted them to his home where he intends to nurture them through drought.

    This is the journal kept by Robert H. Magee as he traveled from his home in Fountain to prospect for silver around Mount Pisgah on the south side of Pikes Peak in July and August 1874. The journal includes his handwritten account of the journey.

    This is the journal kept by Robert H. Magee as he traveled from his home in Fountain to prospect for silver around Mount Pisgah on the south side of Pikes Peak in July and August 1874. The journal includes his handwritten account of the journey.

    Then there’s the historic journal.

    As a history buff, I felt a sense of awe as I lifted the journal out of its tin box where Anna has stored it. I removed it from its plastic bag and gently opened the cover, which fell apart in my hands and revealed tattered, yellowed pages.

    “It’s not in very good shape,” Anna cautioned.

    My eye immediately went to the beautifully written signature “Robt. H. Magee, Fountain City, Colorado Ter.” and the date, July 28, ‘74. There were random notes and specific, detailed entries about his mining activities.

    Deeper inside I read about a trip to Kansas City, Mo., he made in November 1874. And there were lists of groceries and prices: “Cakes, apples & pies 1.90”

    Robert H. Magee's handwritten journal from his 1874 prospecting trips around Mount Pisgah on the south side of Pikes Peak in July and August 1874.

    Robert H. Magee’s handwritten journal from his 1874 prospecting trips around Mount Pisgah on the south side of Pikes Peak in July and August 1874.

    I’ve long marveled at old cabins built high in the mountains and abandoned mining ruins on sheer cliffs. I’ve tried to imagine the lives of the men who dragged equipment and supplies on burros, dug mines by hand and risked everything to strike it rich.

    Here I was, holding in my hands, the personal thoughts of one of those prospectors. And someone who knew the famous Bob Womack, no less.

    I thanked Anna for sharing the journal with me and told her I considered it a valuable museum piece.

    Anna nodded and said she hated to take it to Ohio where it had no significance to anyone.

    Journal Inside Detail

    I mentioned that the Colorado Springs Pioneers Museum might be interested in acquiring it. She worried there wouldn’t be time before she moves to deal with it. I offered to make a call.

    Within 24 hours, the donation was arranged.

    “I’m just so happy the journal is going to be here forever,” Anna said. “It means so much to know it will be where everyone can appreciate it.”

    Having gently thumbed through the journal, I’m thrilled to know it will be available to tell future generations about the miners who settled the region.

    It’s a rare window into the daily lives of prospectors and how they dealt with “grub” and rain and ore.

    Most of all, it will be a permanent reminder of Anna Magee’s family and all it contributed.

  • Hunger is a daily challenge for many in Colorado Springs

    Sun, September 15, 2013 by Bill Vogrin with no comments

    Betty and Bill Vogrin, parents of Side Streets columnist Bill Vogrin, seen circa 1951 the year they married.

    Betty and Bill Vogrin, parents of Side Streets columnist Bill Vogrin, seen circa 1951 the year they married.

    For the next week, I’m going to survive on a food budget of just $4.50 a day.

    That’s right, I’m going to limit my food purchases to what I typically spend on a tip for a fancy dinner. (You’ve probably guessed that my idea of “fancy” is pretty modest.)

    The point is, an estimated 55,000 people in the Pikes Peak region survive on that meager amount of food every day, and I’m going to experience it for myself.

    Maybe you will join me.

    I’m doing it in response to a challenge issued by the good folks at Care and Share, the food bank for Southern Colorado. September is Hunger Action Month and Care and Share is joining a nationwide effort to raise awareness of hunger in America and find ways to end it.

    SNAP logoThey figure if folks realize how hard it is for low-income Americans to survive on the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or SNAP, more people will be motivated to donate to food banks and programs aimed at helping families in need.

    SNAP was formerly known as food stamps. Most SNAP households — 76 percent — include a child, or someone who is elderly or disabled.

    Organizers also hope folks will be motivated to support an increase in SNAP benefits, which are set to drop Nov. 1 by about $25 a month for a family of three.

    Another goal, said Shannon Coker of Care and Share, is get those who are eligible for food assistance to apply for their benefits. She said of the 55,000 El Paso County residents eligible for assistance under SNAP, just 31,600 claim their benefits.

    So today I’ll go shopping with my $22.50 and try to figure out how to stretch it five days.

    The rules of the challenge are the same for typical SNAP beneficiaries. I can buy raw food items but no beer, wine, booze, tobacco products, soaps or anything that is hot and can be eaten in the store. That means no fast food joints or takeout Thai food.

    Who could afford it anyway on $4.50 a day?

    Care and Share 2Going into the challenge, I figure I have an advantage.

    I’m a pretty light eater. I usually have coffee and a couple Fig Newtons for breakfast. I can survive on a sandwich for lunch and a pizza for dinner. With a beer.

    OK. It’s not going to be as easy as I thought.

    Still I’m confident because of my background. I grew up in a family that likely would have qualified for food stamps, if my parents had dared apply.

    My dad, Bill Vogrin Sr., was a working-class guy. He was a high school graduate and World War II veteran who returned from the Pacific Theater, got out of the Army, married and started a family in the 1950s.

    He took a job with the local utility company in Kansas City, Kan., called the Gas Service Co. Over the years, he did a little of everything, but mostly sales of natural gas appliances.

    I always liked it when he was reading meters and digging ditches because he’d drive around in a huge truck with all sorts of heavy equipment. My brothers and I fought to wear his hard hat, goggles and gloves.

    Anyway, the money wasn’t great. My mother, Betty, took in laundry to supplement the household income. And all four boys delivered the local newspaper, mowed grass in summers and shoveled snow in winters to earn cash. A buddy and I even took orders for doughnuts on Saturday mornings, went down and bought them and pulled them home in a wagon, delivering door-to-door for a small fee.

    Meals at our house were pretty predictable. Eggs and cereal for breakfast. Peanut butter and jelly or bologna for lunch. For dinner, lots of hamburger, macaroni and cheese, tuna, chicken and rice, spaghetti and potatoes.

    And leftovers. We didn’t waste a thing. My mom would throw things together, call it hash and serve it. Or call it mush and fry it. Or bake together strange assortments of ingredients with mystery broths.

    If you couldn’t stomach dinner, you went hungry. Period.

    If we went out to eat it was someone’s First Communion, confirmation or graduation. No pizza delivery driver ever rang our doorbell on purpose. And soda was rationed on Saturday night when we splurged on homemade pizza with hot dog toppings or made cheeseburgers.

    My mother made bread and shopped at Save On in the warehouse district down by the Kaw River. She’d bring home expired, dented or damaged food because it saved money. It’s the same reason we all wore hand-me-downs and, for example, when I played soccer as a kid I stuffed cardboard in my socks rather than fancy store-bought shin guards.

    Care and Share 1As I’ve considered the Food Assistance Challenge, all these memories have flooded back.

    I’ve tried to explain all these experiences to my kids to convince them how lucky we are that we can afford to dine out frequently.

    It’s part of my lecture about the importance of studying hard, getting good grades so they can go to college as I did and make a better life for themselves. I point out that I made more money my first year out of college, working for The Associated Press, than my dad made in any year of his working life. I want the same for my kids.

    I guess that’s why I think I’ll cruise through this challenge. I’ve been there, done that and I have never forgotten.

    We’ll see if I’ve become soft in the 35-plus years since I left K.C.K.

    As the week unfolds, I’ll let you know how it’s going at gazette.com. And I’ll be posting about my experiences on my “Side Streets Bill Vogrin” Facebook page as well as on Twitter under my handle “@billvogrin.”

    Please consider joining me in the challenge. And let me know how you are surviving on $4.50 a day.

    I promise I will not cheat. I won’t take freebies or sneak food off the newsroom “trough” where cookies and doughnuts are routinely shared.

    Frankly, I’d be ashamed if I couldn’t last for five days. So many of our neighbors have no choice.

    The Vogrin family circa 1968. Bill Vogrin Sr. on the far left and his wife, Betty, on the far right. Side Streets columnist Bill Vogrin is on the left, sitting at his dad's knee.

    The Vogrin family circa 1968. Bill Vogrin Sr. on the far left and his wife, Betty, on the far right. Side Streets columnist Bill Vogrin is on the left, sitting at his dad’s knee.

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  • Side Streets and The Gazette reflect ‘Who We Are’ in Colorado Springs

    Sun, September 1, 2013 by Bill Vogrin with no comments

    Mary Anne Hastings, her dog Sally Rose, and Tia Price display the pink flamingo lawn ornaments they use to advertise the neighborhood's Flamingo Friday events.

    Mary Anne Hastings, her dog Sally Rose, and Tia Price display the pink flamingo lawn ornaments they use to advertise the neighborhood’s Flamingo Friday events.

    Back in a previous life, when I was city editor of The Gazette, I described my job as holding a mirror up to Colorado Springs and the Pikes Peak region.

    If I was doing my job, readers would see their reflections in the paper. My goal was for The Gazette to be the definitive place for current residents, as well as folks a century from now, to learn of life in Colorado Springs. I wanted the paper to be the authority on who we are.

    Today we further that goal in absolute terms. It’s why you see the “who we are” tag on this column and in the paper.

    It means we remain committed to getting beyond the walls of institutions like City Hall and deep inside the neighborhoods, the schools and community centers. Those are the places where people live their lives and where we reveal, often intimately, who we are.

    Sometimes folks like the reflection they see in The Gazette.

    Other times they are inspired to imitate what one neighborhood is doing by initiating their own Flamingo Friday block parties, for example.

    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

    Or they spring to action to help someone in trouble, as we’ve seen repeatedly after wildfires and flash floods knocked our neighbors down.

    Maybe they demand action from City Hall, prompting the creation of no-parking zones in Cragmor and parking permits to protect the neighborhood from being overrun by University of Colorado at Colorado Springs students and staff.

    That same goal – describing for readers who we are in all our many, complicated ways – has driven me during 11 years writing Side Streets. In my column, I tell the extraordinary stories of ordinary people in the region. I try to reflect who we are as individuals and as a community.

    Part of that involves exploring who we were.

    Regular readers know I have a passion for the history of the region and dig into it frequently. I agree with experts who profess you really can’t know yourself as a community if you don’t know where you’ve been.

    New streets, sewers, sidewalks, curbs and gutters are on display at the new Mill Street neighborhood community garden.

    New streets, sewers, sidewalks, curbs and gutters are on display at the new Mill Street neighborhood community garden.

    For example, the new Mill Street community garden, paved streets, improved sidewalks, curbs and gutters are somewhat meaningless if you don’t know the history of efforts in the late 1990s and how the neighborhood in the shadow of the downtown Drake Power Plant rallied to fight construction there of a citywide center for homeless services.

    Knowing history lends context to the issues of the day. How many would understand the current commotion over a proposed gas station/convenience store on West Colorado Avenue if they didn’t know where that neighborhood was 30 years ago?

    A centerpiece of the National Historic District created in 1982 in Old Colorado City is the old Garvin Cabin in Bancroft Park. It was around when Colorado City hosted the second Territorial Legislature in 1862. The town was annexed into Colorado Springs in 1917.

    A centerpiece of the National Historic District created in 1982 in Old Colorado City is the old Garvin Cabin in Bancroft Park. It was around when Colorado City hosted the second Territorial Legislature in 1862. The town was annexed into Colorado Springs in 1917.

    Some west-siders fear the loss of the historic character of the shopping district there, which won designation as a National Historic District in 1982.

    They cherish their history, their centuryold homes and storefronts, especially the old Garvin Cabin in Bancroft Park. They celebrate the fact that Colorado City, as it was known before being annexed into Colorado Springs in 1917, was the site of the second Territorial Legislature in 1862.

    That’s why the idea of a large gas station and convenience store across the street from Bancroft Park riles up so many.

    With an eye on the past and our roots deep in the city’s neighborhoods, The Gazette and Side Streets will continue to burrow into Colorado Springs and the Pikes Peak region and reveal, as fairly and accurately as possible, just who we are.

    And that will include looking at who we were with the “Back Pages” feature, with a new daily historic photo as well as a new “Ask Gen. Palmer” column and other revealing tidbits you’ll find inside on page B2 each day.

    At the same time, Side Streets will move to new days – Sundays, Wednesdays and Fridays. I’ll keep doing what I’ve tried to do the past 11 years and in my previous life to bring to you interesting people, tales from the past and stories that reflect who we are.

    Gen. William Jackson Palmer, founder of Colorado Springs. A new feature in The Gazette is called "Ask. Gen. Palmer."

    Gen. William Jackson Palmer, founder of Colorado Springs. A new feature in The Gazette is called “Ask. Gen. Palmer.”

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  • Fountain irrigation ditch neighbors say lawns drowning in ‘seepage’

    Mon, July 29, 2013 by Bill Vogrin with no comments

    Just below the Big Johnson Reservoir, along Fontaine Boulevard, is a gate on the Fountain Mutual Irrigation Co.'s ditch. The 35-mile ditch carries Fountain Creek water and snakes through Widefield and Security and irrigated about 2,000 acres of farmland. Neighbors say it is a leaky old ditch that floods their yards every spring and summer. Bill Vogrin / The Gazette

    Just below the Big Johnson Reservoir, along Fontaine Boulevard, is a gate on the Fountain Mutual Irrigation Co.’s ditch. The 35-mile ditch carries Fountain Creek water and snakes through Widefield and Security and irrigated about 2,000 acres of farmland. Neighbors say it is a leaky old ditch that floods their yards every spring and summer. Bill Vogrin / The Gazette

    Fountain Mutual Irrigation logo 2.2WIDEFIELD — While homeowners across the Pikes Peak region have struggled with dying, brown lawns due to the drought and water restrictions, one neighborhood in Widefield has just the opposite problem.

    Some lawns here have been swampy messes. Folks have installed sump pumps to keep the water out of their basements and homes. There’s so much water it ran through their yards and down the street, eroding the concrete curbs and gutters.

    In fact, it’s been going on for years, the neighbors say, and they are angry about it.

    The Fountain Mutual Irrigation Co.'s ditch is visible north of Fontaine Boulevard. It cross into Widefield and snakes behind houses along Metropolitan Street as well as those on Luna Vista Street and Bella Vista Lane. Residents of the two cul de sacs say the ditch is pooly maintained and leaks, flooding their yards and running down their sidewalks and streets. Image courtesy GoogleEarth.

    The Fountain Mutual Irrigation Co.’s ditch is visible north of Fontaine Boulevard. It cross into Widefield and snakes behind houses along Metropolitan Street as well as those on Luna Vista Street and Bella Vista Lane. Residents of the two cul de sacs say the ditch is pooly maintained and leaks, flooding their yards and running down their sidewalks and streets. Image courtesy GoogleEarth.

    These folks live on Bella Vista Lane and Luna Vista Street and their homes back up to part of the historic 35-mile-long Fountain Mutual Irrigation Co., ditch.

    “I had a spot six-feet-square, where water was coming straight out of the ground,” said Mark Rice, whose home sits below the ditch as it winds past his backyard. “My whole yard was a marsh.”

    It’s drying out now because the ditch gates closed a couple weeks ago. But from the time the gates on the Big Johnson Reservoir south of the Colorado Springs Airport were opened April 1, water ran hard through the clay- and soil-lined ditch and neighbors say it turned their yards into mush.

    The Fountain Mutual Irrigation Co. ditch is lined with clay and soil and is overgrown with weeds and trees as it winds 35 miles carrying Fountain Creek water to irrigate 2,000 acres south of Colorado Springs. Residents of Widefield say the ditch leaks and floods their yards. Bill Vogrin / The Gazette

    The Fountain Mutual Irrigation Co. ditch is lined with clay and soil and is overgrown with weeds and trees as it winds 35 miles carrying Fountain Creek water to irrigate 2,000 acres south of Colorado Springs. Residents of Widefield say the ditch leaks and floods their yards. Bill Vogrin / The Gazette

    They blame poor maintenance, which allowed the clay liner in the ditch to crack, trees and weeds to grow up,  and untold gallons to pour into their yards and down the streets and sidewalks.

    Fountain Mutual Irrigation logo 1It seems to come down to a question of seepage vs. leakage.

    “Legally, the ditch has a right to seep,” Rice said. “But they are required to properly maintain it and they aren’t even making an effort.”

    Ditch manager Gary Steen rejects the criticism and says the ditch is simply seeping.

    Fountain Mutual Irrigation Co. ditch manager Gary Steen

    Fountain Mutual Irrigation Co. ditch manager Gary Steen

    And it has seeped since it was dug by pioneers with horse-drawn plows in 1861 to carry Fountain Creek water to farm fields growing fruits and vegetables in the Fountain Valley.

    This gate on the Fountain Mutual Irrigation Co. ditch sends water behind homes on Bella Vista Lane and Luna Vista Street in Widefield. Residents say the ditch leaks and floods their yards. Bill Vogrin / The Gazette

    This gate on the Fountain Mutual Irrigation Co. ditch sends water behind homes on Bella Vista Lane and Luna Vista Street in Widefield. Residents say the ditch leaks and floods their yards. Bill Vogrin / The Gazette

    At its peak, it irrigated 6,000 acres. Today, it irrigates about 2,000 acres. The rest of the water, more than half the total, is owned by water users elsewhere in the Arkansas River watershed.

    Steen defended his staff’s ditch maintenance practices and said neighbors need to do a better job protecting their property from seepage.

    “We do the best we can maintaining it,” Steen said. “We mow the weeds. Spray for weeds. Cut trees.

    “But over the years people do things to disturb the ditch. Utility companies come in and dig. Tree roots grow and do a lot of damage. Rodents burrow into the banks.”

    And, he said, neighbors are to blame for not maintaining their own drain systems around their homes, allowing seepage to collect around their foundations and pool in their yards.

    The neighbors I spoke to tell a different story.

    George Stuart said he wouldn’t have bought his home had he known about all the trouble caused by the ditch.

    “They need to do a better job maintaining it,” Stuart said.

    Amanda Moore took this photo in 2012 of water pooling in her backyard and the sump pump she installed to drain it before it flowed into her basement on Bella Vista Lane.

    Amanda Moore took this photo in 2012 of water pooling in her backyard and the sump pump she installed to drain it before it flowed into her basement on Bella Vista Lane.

    Amanda Moore said she feared her basement would be flooded out last summer when the seepage was particularly bad.

    “We had to dig a giant hole in our backyard and put in a sump pump to stop the water from flooding our basement,” she said. “It was pretty frightening.”

    Moore said the problem affects most of her neighbors.

    “We have areas of the cul de sac that have significant standing water,” she said. “Our grass gets really wet. Really marshy.”

    Neighbor Ryan Medlin fears the spread of West Nile virus from mosquitoes due to all the standing water.

    072913 Side Streets 7“There is a serious health risk here,” he said, noting the water flowing out of the ditch is damaging concrete curbs and gutters.

    “We’re in a drought and they are wasting all this water,” he said. “It runs down the sidewalks and street.”

    Steen said now that the ditch is dry, his crews are attacking the weeds and trees and will begin patching the ditch. But he said the concrete that lined the ditch for years was too expensive to replace and will not return. And installing pipe to carry the water is tremendously expensive and is not being considered.

    “We maintain it the best we can,” Steen said. “We have to get after it. We’re doing that now.”

    Next spring, I’ll let you know if the patches held or whether we should rename the neighborhood the “Everglades.”

    Water pools in the Fountain Mutual Irrigation Co. ditch. The gates were closed a couple weeks ago leaving pools like this one to attract and breed mosquitoes, neighbors complain. They also protest that the ditch is overgrown with weeds and trees. They say the ditch leaks and floods their yards. Bill Vogrin / The Gazette

    Water pools in the Fountain Mutual Irrigation Co. ditch. The gates were closed a couple weeks ago leaving pools like this one to attract and breed mosquitoes, neighbors complain. They also protest that the ditch is overgrown with weeds and trees. They say the ditch leaks and floods their yards. Bill Vogrin / The Gazette

     

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  • Listening to scanners during Black Forest fire was eavesdropping on heroes

    Tue, June 18, 2013 by Bill Vogrin with 1 comment

    Scanners 002

    Last week, many of you no doubt watched on TV and read the newspaper in horror as wildfires ranged around Colorado Springs and the entire Pikes Peak region.

    I wasn’t watching much TV. I spent most of my days eavesdropping on heroes.

    Specifically I was listening to police scanners, following the sometimes intense, sometimes heartbreaking, always riveting radio traffic so I could write minute-by-minute updates for gazette.com on the Black Forest fire.

    For up to 12 hours each day,  I listened to three different scanners and heard the conversations of heroes doing battle with a monstrous wind-whipped wildfire that raged through 14,280 acres of the parched pine forest just beyond Colorado Springs’ north boundary, killing two and destroying 502 homes.

    A year ago, I had tuned in to listen as crews fought the Waldo Canyon fire. I listened in awe, often, as battles unfolded on the moutainside. Same was true in Black Forest. The scanner drama rivaled the golden age of radio.

    But there were no sound effects. This was real life.

    I could hear the sense of urgency in the voices of firefighters as they faced the immensity of their job and the danger posed by trees exploding into flames and racing through the treetops.

    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

    I caught myself sitting and listening in terror — not writing as I was supposed to be — as mini-dramas unfolded amid the chaos of the fire fight.

    They were incredible conversations between first responders trying to save lives and property from a searing, surging, roaring wildfire that generated temperatures that melted aluminum and choking smoke and ash.

    I heard supervisors snap off commands to crews to get to safety. Trees were torching overhead and they were in grave danger.

    Courtesy KKTV 11

    Courtesy KKTV 11

    At one point a state trooper was trapped on a seeming dead-end by flames, only to escape through the haze through a side road to safety.

    There were despondent calls from crews who had to back away as propane tanks ruptured or cars exploded and fire consumed another house.

    There were many conversations from firefighters relieved and celebrating when they stopped fire from spreading beyond a burning garage or shed to the nearby house.

    I heard angry conversations about cars blowing through checkpoints into the fire zone, being chased down by police.

    And I heard sympathetic talk between frustrated officers at checkpoints who had to deny access to apoplectic homeowners desperate to go home to retrieve a pet or medicine check on a stubborn neighbor who refused to evacuate.

    Worst were the repeated calls I heard from officers frantic to help terrified animals they found trapped, suffering or dead. Some were chained or locked in fenced yards. Others were simply running wildly in obvious shock.

    “Can we get animal control out here immediately?” one officer asked urgently. “This horse is burning but still alive!”

    Sundance, on left immediately after it was rescued from the Black Forest fire and on right after being treated. Courtesy Pikes Peak Area Crime Stoppers

    Sundance, on left immediately after it was rescued from the Black Forest fire and on right after being treated. Courtesy Pikes Peak Area Crime Stoppers

    I could hear the horror in his voice. It was hard not to get emotional just sitting and listening.

    Of course, when all you have is voices, the mind tries to fill in the gaps, generating images of the scene as I imagined what exactly the firefighters were facing. It couldn’t be as bad as I imagined, I told myself.

    Then I saw the helmet-cam videos taken by firefighters of trees being incinerated by towering flames raging in every direction.

    I saw the heartbreaking photo of Facebook friend Ted Robertson’s chimney amid burning trees and the smoldering foundation where his home once stood.

    I saw a powerful photo of a lone firefighter staring down towering flames consuming a barn.

    And I saw chilling shots of Sundance, a horse with gaping fire burns.

    It was probably every bit as bad as I imagined.

    After Hayman, Waldo Canyon and Black Forest, I’ve had enough catastrophic wildfire. But if I ever do cover another one, you won’t catch me in front of the TV. I’ll be the one sitting by the scanners.

    Eavesdropping on heroes.

    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.

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  • FLASHFLOOD SANDBAGGING OFF TO POOR START

    Fri, May 3, 2013 by Bill Vogrin with no comments

    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 just above his home on the east side of U.S. Highway 24 in Cascade. The sandbags were placed by volunteers working with the Coalition for the Upper South Platte (CUSP). In places the sandbags are twelve high and seven sandbags wide. Schnake hopes the sandbags will divert 98 percent of the water that might flow 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

     

    Debbie and Jesse Cisneros heard the warning about dangerous flash flooding expected below the Waldo Canyon fire scar in coming years for residents of Pleasant Valley.

    That warning goes double for folks like Debbie and Jesse, whose house fronts Camp Creek along north 31st Street.

    So when the city sponsored a sandbag giveaway recently, they made several trips hauling filled bags to their home, collecting about 110 and piling them two-high along the curb for the entire length of their property.

    “Volunteers came and helped us unload them,” Debbie said. “We’re still trying to decide where to put them.”

    Debbie and Jesse Cisneros initially placed about 110 sandbags along North 31st Street to protect their home from predicted flashflooding in Camp Creek, which runs down the middle of the street in Pleasant Valley.

    Debbie and Jesse Cisneros initially placed about 110 sandbags along North 31st Street to protect their home from predicted flashflooding in Camp Creek, which runs down the middle of the street in Pleasant Valley.

    Other neighbors also stockpiled sandbags, employing much different strategies to protect their homes from feared floodwaters.

    Some piled them against basement windows. Others propped them up along landscaping features in their yards. Others have built more elaborate sandbag walls, even using thick plastic, along the foundations of their homes.

    I wondered who was doing the best job, so I called the Coalition for the Upper South Platte, a nonprofit based in Lake George. The folks at CUSP are widely viewed as the experts in flood mitigation in wildfire zones.

    Turns out none of the sandbagging I saw in Pleasant Valley was done properly.

    Carol Ekarius, CUSP’s executive director, said the Cisneroses probably have the best idea of building a sandbag wall at the street.

    But their effort, like all the others, wouldn’t do the job if the creek jumps its concrete banks. They probably need another 200 bags for a sufficient wall.

    050213 Side Streets 4

    Experts say stacking sandbags against a house or foundation can lead to seepage and damage the structure. They recommend sandbags be places at least two feet from a structure.

    .

    Many more bags if they need to surround their entire home, which could be necessary if floodwater happened to come from behind. (An inundation analysis of specific properties in area flood zones, commissioned by the city, will give folks like Debbie and Jesse a better idea what they might expect. But it has not been released yet.)

    And Ekarius said Debbie and Jesse are missing perhaps the most important component of successful flood protection: full neighborhood coordination and cooperation.

    If neighborhoods including Pleasant Valley, Mountain Shadows, Oak Valley and Peregrine, and the communities of Manitou Springs, Cascade and others up Ute Pass are going to survive predicted flash flooding off the Waldo Canyon fire scar, residents better get serious about sandbagging and work together.

    050213 Side Streets 5

    Experts say stacking sandbags against a house or foundation can lead to seepage and damage the structure. They recommend sandbags be places at least two feet from a structure.

    “They need to build walls,” Ekarius said. “Real walls. Maybe four bags high in Pleasant Valley. And they need a continuous sandbag wall along the entire front of those houses.”

    She’s talking more than a mile of creek-front from Chambers Way on the edge of Garden of the Gods to Bijou Street on the south where Camp Creek dives underground for the last few blocks of its trip to Fountain Creek.

    The walls Ekarius is talking about are not just a line of sandbags piled four-high. They are mini-pyramids, three or four bags wide on the bottom, tied shut and pointing downstream in staggered rows.

    Tips for filling and stacking sandbags to protect against flashfloods.

    Tips for filling and stacking sandbags to protect against flashfloods.

    As the wall climbs in height, it reaches a point at the top with a single row of bags on top.

    Up in Ute Pass, CUSP is leading teams that are building walls eight bags high and more. And CUSP experts have put on free demonstrations in Peregrine and other areas to show how walls need to be built to withstand rampaging floodwaters produced by torrential downpours common in the Pikes Peak region.

    CUSP will even schedule free demonstrations for folks who want to learn. Simply call CUSP at 719-748-0033 to ask for help. You won’t find any sandbagging advice on city or county websites or distributed at meetings because they want homeowners to consult erosion experts to learn how to best protect their individual properties.

     WATCH A VIDEO DEMONSTRATION ON SANDBAG WALLS.

    Of course, a lot of people can’t afford to hire experts. I’d like to see free sandbagging demonstrations sponsored by the city at some of the big spring and summer festivals. Grab a turkey leg and funnel cake and learn how to protect your home and neighborhood!

    El Paso County Commissioner Sallie Clark said it’s crucial neighborhoods in flood zones get serious about sandbagging.

    “If people just line them up, they will wash away and actually contribute to the debris problem,” Clark said. “There is a right way and a wrong way to use sandbags. And 20 sandbags or a few dozen won’t do any good.”

    It reminds me of all the Firewise efforts coordinated by the city in recent years to get neighborhoods to thin urban forests, remove combustible scrub oak, shrubs and needles. The goal is to create a defensible space to allow firefighters to protect a home and prevent the spread of wildfire.

    Firewise techniques work, Ekarius said. But those efforts were wasted on some streets during the Waldo Canyon fire because some didn’t participate, allowing fire to penetrate and burn the homes of folks to who tried to mitigate the risk.

    Experts say stacking sandbags against a house or foundation can lead to seepage and damage the structure. They recommend sandbags be places at least two feet from a structure.

    Experts say stacking sandbags against a house or foundation can lead to seepage and damage the structure. They recommend sandbags be places at least two feet from a structure. Experts warn only a solid sandbag wall built along neighborhood frontage to Camp Creek can protect homes against flashflooding.

    Ekarius said the same will occur if everyone at risk of flashflooding doesn’t get with the sandbag program.

    “If there are gaps in a sandbag wall, the water will go right around the sandbags,” she said. “And you have to be prepared to close your driveway, as well.”

    If a continuous sandbag wall can’t be built along Camp Creek, Ekarius said individual homeowners or groups can build walls around their properties, turning their homes into islands.

    However, she cautioned against piling sandbags against a house or foundation.

    WATCH A VIDEO DEMONSTRATION OF HOW TO BUILD A SANDBAG WALL

    “Water seeps through sandbags,” she said. “When they are against a foundation, they get wet and seep right through the foundation. You need a gap of at least a couple feet between the bags and your house to prevent seepage.”

    The best solution is large-scale cooperation by neighbors.

    “If groups of neighbors can work together, there’s a better chance of protecting their property,” Ekarius said. “Working together is better than one person trying to protect it alone.”

    Debbie Cisneros was surprised to hear what Ekarius was recommending. Debbie said she believes Pleasant Valley residents would gladly unite behind a coordinated sandbagging effort. And she wondered if the Pleasant Valley Neighborhood Association might organize the effort.

    “We’ve always been a real tight-knit neighborhood,” she said. “I think people would want to come together for something like that.”

    050213 Side Streets 3

    Some Pleasant Valley residents are stacking sandbags on landscaping features. Experts warn only a solid sandbag wall built along neighborhood frontage to Camp Creek can protect homes against flashflooding.

     

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  • HOA BOSS: COMPLAINTS NOT TRIVIAL

    Sat, March 2, 2013 by Bill Vogrin with no comments

    HOA 2012 regions.

    Are residents of the Pikes Peak region just a bunch of complainers or what?

    For the second consecutive year, Colorado Springs ranks No. 1 in the number of complaints registered with the state HOA Information and Resource Center.

    The news was contained in the recently released annual report of Colorado’s homeowners associations by Gary Kujawski, an attorney who was appointed in late October as the new state HOA Information Officer.

    Kujawski said he doesn’t view the region as whiners.

    “In Colorado Springs, the number of complaints is up there,” Kujawski said. “There could be a number of reasons and it might be a simple case that people there are more aware of this office.

    HOA 2012 pie chart.

    “I’m not sure a lot of people statewide are as aware as people in Colorado Springs.”

    Kujawski’s office is responsible for registering HOAs in Colorado and gathering information for a database on HOAs.

    (I use the HOA abbreviation to describe all covenant-controlled communities whether they are single family neighborhoods, condo and townhome associations, voluntary improvement associations, or property owners associations. And covenants are rules governing everything from house design, landscaping, paint colors, roofing materials, parking that homeowners voluntarily agree to follow when they buy their homes.)

    HOA 2012 complaints.

    Since launching operations in 2011, the HOA office has registered 8,347 HOAs covering 853,542 units, or homes. An estimated 2 million Coloradans live in HOA communities.

    Colorado Springs and the Pikes Peak region are grouped in the South Central region in which 664 HOAs are registered.

    In 2012, the office fielded 2,873 inquiries, of which 576 were complaints lodged by 309 people.

    They range from handling of elections of the board of directors to meeting procedures to conflicts of interest as well as covenant enforcement complaints, fines, liens and foreclosure issues.

    HOA 2012 All Complaints.

    “Of particular concern is the serious nature of many of the complaints received and the inability of homeowners to resolve their issues without resorting to legal channels,” Kujawski wrote in the annual report.

    While some might view the complaints totals as low, given the number of HOA residents in Colorado, Kujawski said he takes them seriously.

    “You can see in the report you don’t have trivial complaints,” he said. “They are serious matters and they affect many people.”

    Repeated complaints of rogue HOA boards and managers led leaders of the Colorado General Assembly to introduce bills aimed at reforming HOA operations. They want to make HOAs operate more professionally and with greater transparency. Some want to restrict the ability of boards to impose large fines and lien homeowners for minor violations.

    There’s even a push to expand Kujawski’s role to police HOAs and enforce state laws on boards found to be violating the law.

    But for now, he is focused on collecting data, listening to complaints and dispensing information about the rights of HOA residents and board members.

    HOA complaints pie.

    And he sees part of his duties as educating the public about the very existence of his office.

    So he’s scheduling a series of town hall meetings around the state to listen to homeowners and discuss issues they are facing.

    “I’m working on some educational materials and refining our system here,” he said. “I want to get input from homeowners directly to find out what they need from our office.”

    In fact, he has scheduled a three-hour public meeting at 9 a.m., Saturday, March 23 at the Penrose Library, 20 N. Cascade Ave. in downtown Colorado Springs.

    “I really want to get thoughtful input and get a good discussion going,” Kujawski said. “If necessary, I’ll come down more often, every month or so.”

    So mark your calendars and get to the library early to be sure you get a seat.

    Follow this link to my Jan. 27, 2012, column about the first HOA report.

    To read the associated blog, click here.

    Here’s a link to the full 2012 Annual Report of the HOA Information and Resource Center.

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  • R.I.P. HEINS FOR SIGNS

    Sat, February 23, 2013 by Bill Vogrin with no comments

    Ray Older

    Ray Heins, the longtime Colorado Springs sign painter, died Wednesday morning after a long illness. He was 92.

    Heins was the subject of a recent Side Streets column  and blog about his life and career as the man behind Heins for Signs.

    Heins For SignsDuring his 50-year career, Heins painted signs for just about every business in the Pikes Peak region, from Calhan to Cripple Creek.

    The discovery of his photo library, documenting the signs he painted, excited officials at the Pioneers Museum.

    They say Heins was a valuable local historian and his photos will be acquired for the museum collection for research purposes and for display.

    Heins’ daughter, Elaine Heins Foster, said he died in the company of his other daughter, Lynette Heins Kemp, as well as his step-daughter, Judy McCombe-Gandolf. He’d been in hospice care for several weeks.

    Heins was born Jan. 30, 1921, in Loup City, Neb. He joined the Army in 1942 and served four years, largely in China, during World War II. After the war, he returned to Colorado Springs, where he had been stationed at Camp Carson.

    In Colorado Springs, he looked up Alma Buckley, the fiance’ of an Army buddy who had died during the war. He and Alma were soon wed and remained married 44 years until her death in 1989.

    He took a job with a sign painter, learned the trade and started his own company, Heins for Signs.

    Besides his daughters, he is survived by his wife, Ethel, whom he married in 1990.

    “He was the best Dad in the world,” Heins Foster said. “He was a wonderful guy. We did everything together.”

    Funeral arrangements are pending.

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