• Discovery HOA works with city, utilities, school to improve neighborhood

    Sun, April 20, 2014 by Bill Vogrin with no comments

    The entrance to Discovery Park off Pebble Way in Rockrimmon was a non-descript mess of bushes, trees and sidewalks in this Sept. 25, 2013, photo. Courtesy Jack Lundberg.

    The entrance to Discovery Park off Pebble Way in Rockrimmon was a non-descript mess of bushes, trees and sidewalks in this Sept. 25, 2013, photo. Courtesy Jack Lundberg.

    Last week, I told you about a woman who was unable to get permission to landscape her neighborhood entrance.

    Today I’ll tell you a much happier story about a neighborhood that persuaded private businesses and city agencies to collaborate and give a landscaping facelift to a city park entrance!

    For years, the entrance to Discovery Park off Pebble Way in Rockrimmon was just an overgrown bush between two sidewalks.

    It’s a busy entrance, especially on school days when it’s used by dozens of kids and their parents going to and from Rockrimmon Elementary School.

    And it’s busy after school, used by sports teams using the baseball diamond and soccer fields.

    And by people using the picnic tables or getting exercise for themselves and their dogs.
    And by parents and kids using the playgrounds.

    Discovery Park in Rockrimmon neighborhood features a baseball diamond, soccer field, playgrounds and picnic tables. Courtesy FlashEarth.com

    Discovery Park in Rockrimmon neighborhood features a baseball diamond, soccer field, playgrounds and picnic tables. Courtesy FlashEarth.com

    Despite all the traffic, the entrance is nondescript. Ugly, actually, with the overgrown bush and a long under-curb sewer draining into Dry Creek, which runs along the western edge of the park.

    I’ve driven past it twice a day for years and always wondered why it was never landscaped or the bush hacked back to open up views into the park.

    Worse, the bush created a dangerous situation. Kids on bikes or skates sometimes came buzzing down the sidewalks and around blind curves created by the huge bush and came face-to-face with strollers or folks walking dogs.

    The bush also offered a hiding place for wild animals that hunt the area, especially along the creek. Coyote, fox, bobcat and even mountain lion are commonly seen in the neighborhood.

    A few months ago, the park entrance was mentioned by neighbors to the Discovery Homeowners Association, which took a look at it.

    “That thing is really ugly,” said Jack Lundberg, HOA president. “Nobody liked the bush and we decided it was an eyesore in the neighborhood.”

    What happened next was an example for the entire community.

    Discovery HOA enlisted the help of city agencies, school children, area businesses and its own residents to coordinate a makeover for the park entrance that evolved into a public/private partnership.

    Plans for the entrance to Discovery Park off Pebble Way in Rockrimmon include walking paths, shrubs and plants grown by students at Rockrimmon Elementary School. Courtesy Jack Lundberg.

    Plans for the entrance to Discovery Park off Pebble Way in Rockrimmon include walking paths, shrubs and plants grown by students at Rockrimmon Elementary School. Courtesy Jack Lundberg.

    Construction will start in a few weeks to transform the park entrance into a professionally designed entryway complete with a xeriscaped garden, footpaths and other landscaping.

    It’s an ambitious project to which Discovery HOA committed $4,000 along with a promise to provide long-term maintenance of the garden entrance.

    Still short of funds, the HOA then went in search of help from the Colorado Springs Parks Department, Colorado Springs Utilities and others.

    “Like any remodeling project, we found we couldn’t afford it,” Lundberg said.

    The HOA learned water was available for irrigation from a city sprinkler system and the parks department had $1,000 available to help. Springs Utilities offered to donate pipe and valves and things if the neighborhood installed a xeriscape garden.

    Still short of cash, the HOA approached a neighbor who works as a landscape architect to design the entrance for half the normal rate. Then the HOA approached a nursery and landscape materials supplier for donated materials.

    The entrance to Discovery Park off Pebble Way in Rockrimmon was a non-descript mess of bushes, trees and sidewalks in this Sept. 25, 2013, photo. Courtesy Jack Lundberg.

    The entrance to Discovery Park off Pebble Way in Rockrimmon was a non-descript mess of bushes, trees and sidewalks in this Sept. 25, 2013, photo. Courtesy Jack Lundberg.

    “This project is a model of citizen/agency/business cooperation,” Lundberg said, noting the project would cost at least double what they are actually spending without all the help.

    The HOA even got the school involved.

    “We thought it was important to involve the school,” he said. “We got student input in the design. And the school has an environmental ecology program and greenhouse. The students will cultivate annual and perennial plants from their garden for use in the new garden.”

    It sounds like a great collaboration and I can’t wait to see the results when construction is finished in May.

    Lundberg is excited, as well.

    “It’s a neighborhood success story,” he said. “I’m real proud of it.”

    He should be. And it has me thinking. My front yard is a wreck. It’s 1970s version of xeriscaping: an ugly mix of bleached out river rock and lava rock.

    Maybe, if I can persuade the folks in parks and utilities and a landscape architect . . . hmmmm.

    The entrance to Discovery Park off Pebble Way in Rockrimmon is seen, left, from FlashEarth.com. On the right is the landscape architect drawing of the xeriscape garden to be built.

    The entrance to Discovery Park off Pebble Way in Rockrimmon is seen, left, from FlashEarth.com. On the right is the landscape architect drawing of the xeriscape garden to be built.

  • 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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  • Rockrimmon residents fear new apartments will create dangerous congestion

    Wed, December 4, 2013 by Bill Vogrin with no comments

    The clubhouse of the Encore at Rockrimmon apartment complex is finished in this Dec. 3, 2013 photo. The Nor'wood Development Group hopes to take possession Dec. 21 of the first building in the 260-unit complex under construction on 12 acres along Delmonico Drive near South Rockrimmon Boulevard. Rents will range from $900 to $1,450 a month.

    The clubhouse of the Encore at Rockrimmon apartment complex is finished in this Dec. 3, 2013 photo. The Nor’wood Development Group hopes to take possession Dec. 21 of the first building in the 260-unit complex under construction on 12 acres along Delmonico Drive near South Rockrimmon Boulevard. Rents will range from $900 to $1,450 a month.

    With images of their frantic escape from the 2012 Waldo Canyon fire fresh in their minds, some residents of Rockrimmon are worried their neighborhood is about to become dangerously congested as one large apartment complex opens and another is proposed.

    But officials of the new 260-unit Encore at Rockrimmon apartments on 12 acres along Delmonico Drive, and the proposed Creekside at Rockrimmon project, with 141 apartment units and 62 single-family homes on 24 acres just to the west, say their projects would not unduly add to traffic volumes.

    Premier Homes of Pueblo has proposed building a student housing complex with 141 units and 62 single-family homes to be called Creekside at Rockrimmon in this field along South Rockrimmon Boulevard. This view is looking west from Delmonico Drive. Neighbors fear the student apartments, coupled with the nearby Encore at Rockrimmon apartments now under construction, will dangerously clog area streets.

    Premier Homes of Pueblo has proposed building a student housing complex with 141 units and 62 single-family homes to be called Creekside at Rockrimmon in this field along South Rockrimmon Boulevard. This view is looking west from Delmonico Drive. Neighbors fear the student apartments, coupled with the nearby Encore at Rockrimmon apartments now under construction, will dangerously clog area streets.

    The fears surfaced in neighborhood meetings designed to alert folks to the projects and gather their input.

    Neighbor Carol Vogeney wrote me about the project after one of the meetings turned ugly and left her and others unsatisfied with the answers they received.

    “It was explosive,” Vogeney wrote of the two-hour meeting in October. “Many issues came up: traffic, crime, what to do if we have to evacuate again in the traffic.”

    She was talking about the bumper-to-bumper traffic jam that occurred June 26, 2012, when the Waldo Canyon fire exploded into Mountain Shadows neighborhood prompting the evacuation of about 30,000 residents west of Interstate 25.

    The Creekside at Rockrimmon project proposed by Premier Homes of Pueblo calls for 62 single-family homes and a 141-unit student housing complex on 24 acres. The Encore at Rockrimmon apartments will have 260 units when completed. Courtesy FlashEarth.com

    The Creekside at Rockrimmon project proposed by Premier Homes of Pueblo calls for 62 single-family homes and a 141-unit student housing complex on 24 acres. The Encore at Rockrimmon apartments will have 260 units when completed. Courtesy FlashEarth.com

    At the peak of the evacuation, looping Rockrimmon Boulevard was six lanes of eastbound cars, packed with kids, pets and personal belongings, trying desperately to avoid the inferno to the west. Delmonico was choked with southbound cars.

    The streets intersect twice, north and south, and it was gridlock at both.

    Both apartment projects are located near the south intersection, which was especially clogged due to the proximity of railroad tracks and an intersection with Mark Dabling Boulevard and I-25.

    The Encore at Rockrimmon apartments fill 12 acres between Delmonico Drive and the railroad tracks adjacent to Mark Dabling Boulevard. The complex sits behind the Mateo Spa and USA Cycling buildings. Originally, the project was call North Pointe Apartments. It will have 260 units when completed.

    The Encore at Rockrimmon apartments fill 12 acres between Delmonico Drive and the railroad tracks adjacent to Mark Dabling Boulevard. The complex sits behind the Mateo Spa and USA Cycling buildings. Originally, the project was call North Pointe Apartments. It will have 260 units when completed.

    Now, Vogeney and many folks in the Golden Hills and Tamarron neighborhoods, among other nearby neighborhoods, worry that adding hundreds of apartments will make it even harder to funnel through the intersection of Delmonico and South Rockrimmon Boulevard.

    “Can you imagine that intersection?” Vogeney asked.

    City planner Lonna Thelen said traffic engineers studied plans submitted by Nor’wood Development Group for Encore and deemed the projected volumes within reasonable limits.

    Steve Sharkey, Nor’wood Development vice president, said Encore’s apartments would generate less traffic than if the property had been developed into more retail shops, as was originally envisioned and zoned.

    “The volume of traffic will be significantly less than a retail environment,” Sharkey said, adding that Encore will appeal to “young professionals and emptynesters” who can afford rents ranging from $900 to $1,450 a month.

    As Encore prepares to open its first building Dec. 21, Creekside awaits approval of proposed changes to its concept plan in hopes of launching the first phase of its project. It calls for 38 units in six buildings plus a clubhouse on five acres west of the intersection.

    Creekside needs approval to amend its concept from multi-family to student housing, hoping to cash in on the explosive growth of the nearby University of Colorado at Colorado Springs.

    Thelen said she is awaiting analysis by traffic engineers of the plans for Creekside, submitted by N.E.S. Inc., a Springs planning firm handling the project for Premier Homes of Pueblo.

    Premier Homes of Pueblo has proposed building a student housing complex with 141 units and 62 single-family homes to be called Creekside at Rockrimmon in this field along South Rockrimmon Boulevard.  The first phase calls for 38 units in six buildings and a clubhouse with pool on five acres.

    Premier Homes of Pueblo has proposed building a student housing complex with 141 units and 62 single-family homes to be called Creekside at Rockrimmon in this field along South Rockrimmon Boulevard. The first phase calls for 38 units in six buildings and a clubhouse with pool on five acres.

    “We’ve asked for additional study in response to neighborhood concerns,” Thelen said. “We have asked the applicant to resolve questions about geological hazards, drainage and traffic.”

    John Maynard of N.E.S. Inc., said his client has built similar student housing projects in Pueblo, east of Colorado State University there. And a similar project is planned at Mesa State University in Grand Junction.

    “There will be a pool, clubhouse, common kitchen and living area,” Maynard said. “Each bedroom has its own bath and the units are all furnished with daily trash pickup and 24-hour security patrols.”

    But Vogeney said many neighbors fear Creekside will actually be home to far more students, who will double-bunk to save money and clog the area with cars.

    “The developer insists that college kids have changed and will take good care of their dorm rooms and no one will ever have an extra roomate,” she said in disbelief.

    Premier Homes of Pueblo has proposed building a student housing complex with 141 units and 62 single-family homes to be called Creekside at Rockrimmon in this field along South Rockrimmon Boulevard. This view is looking north from Tech Center Drive. Neighbors fear the student apartments, coupled with the nearby Encore at Rockrimmon apartments now under construction, will dangerously clog area streets.

    Premier Homes of Pueblo has proposed building a student housing complex with 141 units and 62 single-family homes to be called Creekside at Rockrimmon in this field along South Rockrimmon Boulevard. This view is looking north from Tech Center Drive. Neighbors fear the student apartments, coupled with the nearby Encore at Rockrimmon apartments now under construction, will dangerously clog area streets.

    Maynard said his client is convinced the project will run smoothly, citing experienced gained in Pueblo. He said he hopes to provide Thelen soon with new traffic projections and calm neighborhood fears.

    One change might be the installation of a traffic signal where the project will intersect with Rockrimmon at Tech Center Drive.

    Creekside, if approved by Thelen, would need approval of the City Planning Commission and possibly the Colorado Springs City Council if an appeal is filed. Premier hopes to have the first phase built and open by the 2014 fall semester.

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  • Colorado Springs couple pumped life into gas station

    Fri, November 15, 2013 by Bill Vogrin with no comments

    Norma DellaCroce holds a copy of the April 12, 1968, Gazette-Telegraph showing an ad announcing the grand opening of Norma's Stop 'n' Shop the next day on North Academy Boulevard. Norma and her husband, John, sold gasoline and a wide assortment of groceries, sporting goods, soda, beer and more at their shop. They also built a small strip center behind the store. Their store became home to the Breakfast Club until they sold their gas pumps and convenience store in 1990. Bill Vogrin / The Gazette

    Norma DellaCroce holds a copy of the April 12, 1968, Gazette-Telegraph showing an ad announcing the grand opening of Norma’s Stop ‘n’ Shop the next day on North Academy Boulevard. Norma and her husband, John, sold gasoline and a wide assortment of groceries, sporting goods, soda, beer and more at their shop. Bill Vogrin / The Gazette

    Recently, I re-introduced readers to the Breakfast Club, a group of mostly retired men who gather casually six mornings a week at Oliver’s Deli in Rockrimmon to drink coffee and, as club member Frank Castle jokingly described: “solve all the problems of the world.”

    It had been 10 years since I first met them and in the years since, many new faces joined the club. It’s also bounced around since it was founded four decades ago at Norma’s Stop ‘n’ Shop on North Academy Boulevard.

    In fact, only a few club members remain from my first visit in 2003. And just two date to Norma’s time.

    After the column ran, I heard from many people who admire the men for staying active, engaged and looking forward to what each day might bring. Many praised the men for their willingness to welcome strangers. Others expressed envy for the camaraderie they share each day as they chat, work crossword puzzles, talk about hot rods and politics.

    The most surprising call I got was from 83-year-old Norma DellaCroce. She loved the column and the memories it brought back.

    You guessed it. She is the Norma of Norma’s Stop ‘n’ Shop!

    Norma's Stop 'n' Shop on its grand opening day, April 13, 1968. Courtesy Norma DellaCroce.

    Norma’s Stop ‘n’ Shop on its grand opening day, April 13, 1968. Courtesy Norma DellaCroce.

    Several readers wondered what happened to Norma and her husband, John, who in 1967 bought a vacant 1.8-acre parcel along a two-lane road that now resembles a six-lane highway.

    On the land, next to Cottonwood Creek at what is now the southwest corner of Academy and York Road, they built a four-pump gas station, convenience store and strip mall.

    They opened it in April 1968 and ran it 22 years before retiring in 1990 when Conoco bought their gas islands.

    Like many family businesses, Norma and John became friends with many of their customers. And she had fond memories of the men who became known as the Breakfast Club.

    Norma DellaCroce holds a photo of her husband, John, who died in 2007 at age 82. In 1968, the couple opened Norma's Stop 'n' Shop on North Academy Boulevard where they sold gasoline and a wide assortment of groceries, sporting goods, soda, beer and more. They also built a small strip center behind the store. Their store became home to the Breakfast Club until they sold their gas pumps and convenience store in 1990. Bill Vogrin / The Gazette

    Norma DellaCroce holds a photo of her husband, John, who died in 2007 at age 82. In 1968, the couple opened Norma’s Stop ‘n’ Shop on North Academy Boulevard. Their store became home to the Breakfast Club until they sold their gas pumps and convenience store in 1990. Bill Vogrin / The Gazette

    “I called them ‘John’s Cracker Barrel Crowd,’ ” Norma said with a laugh. “I often wondered what happened to all of them.”

    Norma DellaCroce in a 1968 Gazette-Telegraph photo.

    Norma DellaCroce in a 1968 Gazette-Telegraph photo.

    To the east of their store in 1968 was the Brookwood neighborhood. But there wasn’t much else around, Norma said.

    The couple and their four children lived not far west of the store on old Highway 85, now Vincent Drive, near his family’s farm and home between two sets of railroad tracks that ran north out of town.

    The couple had married in 1951 and over the years John had worked in advertising at The Gazette-Telegraph. He also sold insurance and even worked in the Pikeview Coal Mine under what is now Rockrimmon in his younger days, like many in his family.

    As Colorado Springs grew in the 1960s, the couple saw an opportunity to start a business, sensing a demand for services from folks building homes closer to the Air Force Academy.

    Norma DellaCroce holds a copy of the April 12, 1968, Gazette-Telegraph showing a news story and photo announcing the grand opening of Norma's Stop 'n' Shop the next day on North Academy Boulevard. Norma and her husband, John, ran the store until 1990. Bill Vogrin / The Gazette

    Norma DellaCroce holds a copy of the April 12, 1968, Gazette-Telegraph showing a news story and photo announcing the grand opening of Norma’s Stop ‘n’ Shop the next day on North Academy Boulevard. Norma and her husband, John, ran the store until 1990. Bill Vogrin / The Gazette

    Sure enough, the store became popular and soon they had regular customers.

    Many were military men. But there were developers, school teachers and many others from various professions.

    “We had a Daylight Donuts shop in our building and they congregated there,” Norma said.

    Norma recalls how developer Fred Sproul, who built the unincorporated community of Security, used to meet John at the store at 5 a.m. every morning.

    “We were open from 6 a.m. to 11 p.m. and Fred would be there waiting every day,” she said. “John would go in, start the coffee and let Fred in early. He’d get the first cup of coffee before it even made it into the pot.”

    She said the Breakfast Club was not a bunch of retirees in those days.

    “They were all younger and stopped in on their way work,” Norma said. “They were there every single day.”

    She recalled their daily routine.

    “They’d come in and buy cigarettes, coffee and doughnuts,” she said. “I heckled them all the time. I’d come in and everybody was smoking. My husband and I did not smoke. I told him to tell them to quit smoking in the store. John said they were customers. Leave them alone and open a window. He let them puff away.”

    She also recalls that most of the men liked hot rods and classic cars. And pretty soon they all started talking and befriending each other and the club was born.

    The Breakfast Club remained faithful to John and Norma even as competition from nationwide chain convenience stores and gasoline dealers siphoned off some of the Stop ‘n’ Shop’s customers.

    But the economic pressures eventually became too much to withstand.

    Norma and John DellaCroce in 1960. Courtesy photo.

    Norma and John DellaCroce in 1960. Courtesy photo.

    Norma said Conoco wanted their corner due to get its proximity to Woodmen Road. When the couple refused to sell, the company opened a store just south of them and sold gasoline at a retail price cheaper than what Norma and John paid for it wholesale.

    “We just couldn’t compete,” she said.

    So they sold their gas station in 1990, retaining the small strip center behind it.

    John retired and the couple traveled the world, including visiting their family roots in Italy.

    Meanwhile, the Breakfast Club moved on to various coffee shops until finding a home eight years ago at Oliver’s Deli.

    John died in 2007 at age 82. And most of the original club members also have died.

    But Norma was happy to hear they are still getting together each day.

    She’s even thinking about dropping in on them one morning.

    “But I’ll have to go on a Saturday,” she said with a chuckle. “You know, that’s the only day they allow women.”

    111513 Side Streets 5

    The Stop ‘n’ Shop Center had a variety of national franchise shops and small businesses.

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

  • Neighbor stood and fought for common sense over aesthetics making new Colorado Springs roof a breeze

    Thu, August 29, 2013 by Bill Vogrin with no comments

    Randy Murrish stood in front of his home at 87 Raven Hills Court in this July 14, 2000, photo.  Murrish was denied permission by the Raven Hills Homeowners Association to install fire resistant asphalt shingles on his roof.  He would have been the first of 225 homes in his subdivision to have the asphalt shingles. The Gazette file

    Randy Murrish stood in front of his home at 87 Raven Hills Court in this July 14, 2000, photo. Murrish was denied permission by the Raven Hills Homeowners Association to install fire resistant asphalt shingles on his roof. He would have been the first of 225 homes in his subdivision to have the asphalt shingles. The Gazette file

    Thanks to a hard weekend of work by a crew of six men, I have a new peace of mind.

    The crew replaced the faded wood shake roof on my Rockrimmon home with fire retardant, impact resistant, rubberized asphalt shingles made to resemble wood.

    We thanked our crew with pizza and beer for their work.

    But I also need to thank a former neighbor, Randy Murrish, who did some heavy lifting of his own that contributed greatly to my new sense of tranquility.

    For us, it was a simple process. My wife, Cary, researched all the roofing options available, selected a style and color of asphalt shingle and submitted our decision to the homeowners association, which waved it through without comment. (Waved it, that is, after they smacked down her inquiry about a smooth steel roof common in ski towns. Our HOA was having none of that nonsense!)

    A crew of six worked all weekend to strip cedar wood shake shingles from the roof of Gazette Side Streets columnist Bill Vogrin. The rotting, cracked shingles, seen in this Aug. 24, 2013, photo, were replaced by fire retardant, impact resistant, rubberized asphalt shingles made to resemble wood shake..

    A crew of six worked all weekend to strip cedar wood shake shingles from the roof of Gazette Side Streets columnist Bill Vogrin. The rotting, cracked shingles, seen in this Aug. 24, 2013, photo, were replaced by fire retardant, impact resistant, rubberized asphalt shingles made to resemble wood shake.

    The new roof is something we’d wanted to do since we bought the house. It was 1997 and the massive Buffalo Creek wildfire west of Denver a year earlier was fresh on our minds.

    But short of cash — a theme in my life — we prayed for a hail storm. But hail rarely came and when it did that dang wood shake was just too tough to destroy.

    I remember being frustrated when hail damaged neighbors’ homes and their insurance companies agreed to pay. That was the case in 2000 with my neighbor Randy.

    “My cedar shake shingles were crumbling,” he recalled. “Then we had a hail storm and I convinced my insurance company to pay half.”

    Randy was further motivated by a major wildfire in New Mexico that year and the Hi Meadow fire near Denver.

    “I saw the devastation,” he said. “I knew it was just a matter of time before it happened in Colorado Springs.”

    But when Randy researched the covenants of our Raven Hills Homeowners Association, he learned they mandated cedar shake. (It’s amazing, frankly, that no one saw the inherent risk of having kindling as the chief protection for your home. Especially in a region with so many lightning strikes and wildfires.)

    A few neighbors had persuaded our HOA’s architectural control committee, or ACC, to allow concrete tile roofing materials. But when he studied them, Randy learned they were too heavy for our homes.

    “The houses that had them, their roofs dipped in the middle because of the weight,” he said.

    So he put together a 20-page proposal to the ACC to justify using asphalt shingles. He had photos of the shingles on million-dollar homes in nearby Peregrine. And he submitted letters from real estate agents who said the shingles did not hurt home values.

    Randy even analyzed the improvements asphalt offered in fire safety, cost and durability.

    “I did a complete presentation,” Randy said. “But before I got home that night, they already voted me down.”

    (We wrote about his fight with the HOA in 2000 as he tried to install the first asphalt shingle roof in our neighborhood.)

    A crew of six worked all weekend to strip cedar wood shake shingles from the roof of Gazette Side Streets columnist Bill Vogrin. The rotting, cracked shingles, seen in this Aug. 24, 2013, photo, were replaced by fire retardant, impact resistant, rubberized asphalt shingles made to resemble wood shake..

    A crew of six worked all weekend to strip cedar wood shake shingles from the roof of Gazette Side Streets columnist Bill Vogrin. The rotting, cracked shingles, seen in this Aug. 24, 2013, photo, were replaced by fire retardant, impact resistant, rubberized asphalt shingles made to resemble wood shake.

    So he grudgingly replaced his roof with wood shingles treated with fire retardant. Randy did something else, as well. He vowed to change the rules.

    Already, Boulder had banned wood shake roofs in 1994 and other cities followed. Colorado Springs didn’t ban new wood shake roofs until October 2002, after the Hayman fire. But many HOAs were reluctant to allow asphalt shingles, forcing homeowners to install expensive cement and coated-steel roofs.

    So Randy got himself elected to the ACC. It took a couple years, but eventually rules were changed and now asphalt shingles protect houses throughout Raven Hills.

    (In fairness, our HOA was no different from many others. And wood shake roofs remain common across the region. In fact, they were mandated by covenants in Mountain Shadows and are blamed spreading the Waldo Canyon fire on several streets.)

    I called Randy, who now lives in Seattle, to tell him we were thinking about him.

    I told him he’d been right all along. As he had feared all those years ago, wildfire did visit the Colorado Springs area, horribly, last summer and again this year.

    The Waldo Canyon and Black Forest fires finally scared me enough to choke down the cost of a new roof.

    It’s such a comfort, actually, that now we’re thinking of covering our wood siding with brick or stucco.

    But without people like Randy willing to speak out and fight, I might be writing a much different column, about aesthetics clouding good judgment. It would have been a lot harder for us to finally rid our home of its rotting and cracked wood shingles.

    Instead, replacing our roof with attractive, common-sense materials was a breeze — except for writing a check with lots of zeroes on it.

    So, for that, I thank you Randy.

    A crew of six worked all weekend to strip cedar wood shake shingles from the roof of Gazette Side Streets columnist Bill Vogrin. The rotting, cracked shingles, seen in this Aug. 24, 2013, photo, were replaced by fire retardant, impact resistant, rubberized asphalt shingles made to resememble wood shake..

    A crew of six worked all weekend to strip cedar wood shake shingles from the roof of Gazette Side Streets columnist Bill Vogrin. The rotting, cracked shingles, seen in this Aug. 24, 2013, photo, were replaced by fire retardant, impact resistant, rubberized asphalt shingles made to resemble wood shake.

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  • Racial diversity grows even in ‘gotta wear shades’ white Colorado Springs neighborhoods

    Mon, May 20, 2013 by Bill Vogrin with no comments

    A map of Colorado Springs showing its racial/ethnic makeup in 2010 based on U.S. Census data. White neighborhoods are green, Hispanic are orange/red, black are purple and Asian are blue. Courtesy the Timoney Group.

    This map of Colorado Springs shows its racial/ethnic makeup in 2010 based on U.S. Census data. White neighborhoods are green, Hispanic are orange/red, black are purple and Asian are blue. Courtesy the Timoney Group.

    In my mind, I have a visual map of Colorado Springs.

    Maybe you do, too.

    In my map, I see neighborhoods in colors.

    For example, neighborhoods like the Broadmoor, Skyway, Peregrine and towns like Monument are white. Glaring, gotta-wear-shades white.

    These maps from the Timoney Group show how  the racial makeup of downtown Colorado Springs changed from 2000 to 2010.

    These maps from the Timoney Group show how the racial makeup of downtown Colorado Springs changed from 2000 to 2010.

    Others, like my neighborhood in Rockrimmon, are more off-white. Predominantly white but not starched-and-pressed white.

    That image probably is true for most of Colorado Springs, with exceptions.

    Hillside and Deerfield Hills, in my mind, were black and Hispanic. Same for the Lowell School neighborhood, Mill Street, Stratton Meadows and the Widefield/Security areas.

    Now, thanks to a cool website created by the folks at the Timoney Group in Denver, I have a new visual map of the area. And I’m surprised how different the reality is from the 20-year-old image in my mind.

    Brian Timoney, a demographer and social analyst, plugged in U.S. Census data from 2000 and 2010 to allow viewers to easily see how cities along the Front Range changed in their racial and ethnic makeup during the decade.

    Timoney said the website was helpful as Denver was redrawing its city council districts and trying to ensure minority neighborhoods were represented.

    These maps from the Timoney Group show how the racial makeup of the Broadmoor neighborhood changed from 2000 to 2010.

    These maps from the Timoney Group show how the racial makeup of the Broadmoor neighborhood changed from 2000 to 2010.

    “Oldtimers have a mental map that is often 20 to 30 years out of date,” Timoney said. “In Denver, many think of the Five Points neighborhood as predominantly black. But it hasn’t been for 25 years.”

    Similar changes have occurred in Colorado Springs, if not on the same scale.

    For instance, the Broadmoor remains solidly white. But from 2000 to 2010 the diversity of the neighborhood was slowly changing, as evident in Timoney’s maps.

    More dramatic change is evident in the southeast part of Colorado Springs. Take Hillside, long a racially diverse and predominantly black area. According to the map, Hillside experienced a surge of white and Hispanic residents by 2010.

    An interesting neighborhood to look at is around the Lowell School south of downtown. In 2000, it was predominantly Hispanic. Then came the townhomes and condos of redevelopment and suddenly it shows up as mostly white in 2010.

    These maps show how the racial makeup changed after the development of the Woodmen Vistas neighborhood in 2007.

    These maps show how the racial makeup changed after the development of the Woodmen Vistas neighborhood in 2007.

    Then there is the interesting case of the development in the Woodmen Heights region northeast of Powers Boulevard and Woodmen Road. The Cumbre Vista neighborhood is being developed there along with Woodmen Vistas, a 10-acre subdivision where the Habitat for Humanity and Rocky Mountain Community Land Trust are partners in building low-income homes.

    The two agencies launched the project in 2007 and when finished it will have about 70 homes.

    Look at the map and see what Woodmen Vistas has done to the racial makeup of the area. It’s gone from bleached white to predominantly Hispanic.

    It’s actually a little unusual to be able to clearly identify minority neighborhoods in the Springs, said Kee Warner, a sociology professor at the University of Colorado at Colorado Springs.

    “Colorado Springs, in comparison with cities across the United States, is not extremely segregated,” Warner said. “Racial minority populations are more evenly distributed here, than even in Denver. It’s not easy to identify certain neighborhoods as strictly African American or Latino.”

    There is no “Chinatown” or Irish or Italian neighborhood, as you commonly find in other cities.

    These maps show how the racial makeup of neighborhoods in southeast Colorado Springs changed from 2000 to 2010.

    These maps show how the racial makeup of neighborhoods in southeast Colorado Springs changed from 2000 to 2010.

    And based on the maps, the city’s predominantly white neighborhoods are trending toward eggshell, if you will.

    “These maps tell us something about how the community is evolving over time,” Warner said. “We’ve got significant diversity in our population below age 21 and we’re going to see that work its way into our broader population. We’re going to have an increasing diversity of our population.”

    Still there will be enclaves or concentrations of racial populations and they can be attributed to economics, whether it’s a public housing project in South Shooks Run or Hillside, or among the mansions of the Broadmoor neighborhood.

    “You’ve got to remember that the city is arranged by income levels as well,” Warner said, adding that while slight shifting is expected, don’t look for dramatic change in the racial makeup of wealthy neighborhoods any time soon.

    But as for the rest of the city . . .

    “Other neighborhoods will continue to shift,” Warner said, noting the folks seeking out specific schools can drive huge population shifts. “It’s part of the aging process of neighborhoods.”

    Check out the maps and tell me what you think you see.

    These maps show how the racial makeup of the Old Colorado City neighborhoods changed from 2000 to 2010.

    These maps show how the racial makeup of the Old Colorado City neighborhoods changed from 2000 to 2010.

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  • Please don’t hate Gazette for revealing Great Horned owlets location

    Mon, May 13, 2013 by Bill Vogrin with no comments

    Snow flies as baby Great Horned Owls peer from their nest in the Mountain Shadows area Wednesday, May 1, 2013. Hundreds of people have been stopping to view the owlets at the corner of Centennial Boulevard and Flying W Ranch Road but Colorado Parks and Wildlife spokesman Michael Seraphin is cautioning viewers to keep their distance. "The parents can be protective of the nest and may dive-bomb pedestrians," he said. The tree is adjacent to the parking lot of a Walgreens and store employees there are also concerned about activity around the nest and are suggesting viewers not get closer than 100 feet to the owlets. Photo by Mark Reis, The Gazette

    Snow flies as baby Great Horned Owls peer from their nest in the Mountain Shadows area Wednesday, May 1, 2013. Photo by Mark Reis, The Gazette

    Did we mess up by telling the Pikes Peak region about the Great Horned owlets in Mountain Shadows?

    Some Gazette readers think so and are telling us, sometimes in harsh terms, via letters and phone messages.

    I don’t think we did and I’ll tell you why.

    Photo by Mark Reis / The Gazette

    Photo by Mark Reis / The Gazette

    First, a recap.

    On May 2, we ran a beautiful photo of snow swirling around three baby Great Horned owls huddled in their nest in a Mountain Shadows tree.

    The photo, by Mark Reis, our director of photography, also took another showing a woman standing under the tree, holding a child to get a better view. Two other children stood by her.

    In his photo caption, Reis reported hundreds of people had been stopping to view the owlets.

    And he quoted Colorado Parks and Wildlife spokesman Michael Seraphin warning people to keep a safe distance because the owlets’ parents might attack anyone getting too close to the nest. They are capable of doing serious injury with their sharp talons.

    Three Great Horned owlets captured from a tree in Mountain Shadows are living at the Ellicott Wildlife Rehabilitatoin Center where they will be taught to hunt and fly before being released back into the wild in September. Photo courtesy Donna Ralph / Ellicott Wildlife Rehabilitatoin Center

    Three Great Horned owlets captured from a tree in Mountain Shadows are living at the Ellicott Wildlife Rehabilitation Center where they will be taught to hunt and fly before being released back into the wild in September. Photo courtesy Donna Ralph / Ellicott Wildlife Rehabilitation Center

    Despite the warnings, people kept showing up at the corner of Centennial Boulevard and Vindicator Drive in large numbers. Reportedly, some climbed the tree and even prodded the nest with a long pole.

    Police were called. Barriers erected. Warnings issued.

    Finally, the owlets were removed last week by wildlife officials who feared for the safety of the owls and the public.

    Today, the owlets are rehabbing at the Ellicott Wildlife Rehabilitation Center where founder Donna Ralph and her staff are caring for the trio. Donna reports the birds are thriving, eating on their own mice left for them, and socializing with Hootie, an adult owl and permanent center resident. Hootie serves as a foster mom to owl babies routinely brought to the center.

    Some readers criticized folks who harassed the owls, expressing disgust for their lack of respect for nature.

    Others, however, ripped The Gazette for revealing the location of the owls.

    So I asked Mark why he thought it was important to photograph the owls and publish their location.

    He said wildlife photos are among the most popular features in The Gazette.

    “Wildlife is part of the reason many of us live here,” he said. “Most of us love the fact we interact with wildlife nearly every day, all year long.

    “By photographing them and reporting their location, we were just offering readers an opportunity to come and see them.”

    The owls were not a secret. Hundreds in the area already had seen them. Mark said 30 or so people came by in the time he was there taking photos.

    It was the same thing with the injured mule deer with the spectacular antlers that perched for weeks on a ledge in Rockrimmon earlier this winter. Hundreds of people were coming to see the deer and ignoring wildlife officials’ warnings to keep a safe distance from the injured wild animal.

    Photo by Mark Reis, The Gazette

    Photo by Mark Reis, The Gazette

    Our readers depend on us to tell them what is going on in the community. Not protect them from information. Our job is to hold us a mirror to the community, whether you like what you see or not.

    Had we withheld the location of the owls or deer, we’d have been bombarded with angry callers demanding to know. We’re in the information business, after all. And you trust us to tell you the truth.

    If you can’t trust us to tell you something as simple as the location of a nest of owls, what other information might we be “protecting” from our readers?

    Certainly it’s disappointing some people abused the privilege we enjoy of living so close to nature.

    But it’s not the job of the daily paper to withhold information from readers. Just the opposite.

    If we stumble on a great restaurant, we’re going to tell you. Or we find an obscure trail that readers might enjoy, you better believe we’ll write about it. Know a great spot to encounter big horn sheep? We’ll spread the word.

    That’s what readers expect and demand from us. We do so with the expectation folks will be responsible and take official warnings to heart.

    Sadly, some won’t. And if they do it with the wrong animal, they might get bitten or mauled or injured.

    We’ll write about that, as well.

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    TO SPONSOR THE OWLS

    The three hungry Great Horned owlets are stretching the budget of the non-profit Ellicott Wildlife Rehabilitation Center mighty thin, said founder Donna Ralph.

    She would welcome tax-deductible donations from interested sponsors. Learn more at http://ellicottwildlife.com

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    Barriers and warning signs did not stop people from harassing a nest of Great Horned owlets in a tree in Mountain Shadows. Photo by Kassondra Cloos / The Gazette

    Barriers and warning signs did not stop people from harassing a nest of Great Horned owlets in a tree in Mountain Shadows. Photo by Kassondra Cloos / The Gazette

     

  • SPARRING BUCKS IN ROCKRIMMON

    Sun, March 10, 2013 by Bill Vogrin with no comments

    Early Sunday morning, eight young bucks and one old buck gathered in the open space behind my home in the Rockrimmon neighborhood of Colorado Springs.

    After a day of high winds and blizzard conditions, the bucks seemed to be enjoying the warm sunshine. They were feisty, engaging in group sparring.

    IMG_1462

    The old buck with a broken antler stayed away from the group and relaxed behind my fence.

    IMG_1466

    Meanwhile, the young bucks took turns locking antlers and pushing each other around.

    IMG_1470

    A couple of them were particularly rambunctious, even pawing the ground and driving each other into trees and bushes.

    IMG_1472

    The winner of that bout then went over and challenged the old buck, who had been relaxing under a pine tree.

    IMG_1473

    They went at it for several minutes. We heard the clacking of antlers as they pushed back and forth.

    IMG_1480

    Eventually, the old guy drove the young buck into a bush and shook his head vigorously and it was over.

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  • RSVP FOR HOA BOSS AND BRING YOUR QUESTIONS

    Sat, March 9, 2013 by Bill Vogrin with no comments

    Longtime neighborhood activist Jan Doran has a few things she wants to ask the new state HOA boss at his public town hall meeting in two weeks.

    Bud Stringfellow also wants to meet Gary Kujawski, HOA Information Officer, to ask about his homeowners association at Park Vista Estates.

    Ditto for many other Side Streets readers who perked up at the news Kujawski will hold a town hall meeting at 9 a.m., Saturday, March 23, in the Penrose branch of the Pikes Peak Library District at 20 N. Cascade Ave., in downtown Colorado Springs.

    Gary Kujawski

    Gary Kujawski

    .

    Now, here’s an important detail for folks who want to attend the scheduled three-hour meeting: you must reserve one of the 100 seats available. That means sending an RSVP email to the HOA Information Office and Resource Center, cynthia.aguilar@state.co.us, or calling 303-894-2292 to reserve a seat.

    The event is free but Kujawski is limiting attendance to allow for more give-and-take between himself and the crowd.

    “One of my goals is to have a more outreach from this office,” Kujawski said. “I want to get out and speak with people, see what they are thinking, see what they would like from this office in terms of legislative changes and education efforts.”

    Larger groups make meaningful conversation difficult.

    Doran hopes to get a meaningful answer to her question about why all HOAs are treated the same under state law regardless of size.

    Doran is administrator for the Discovery neighborhood in Rockrimmon where dues are $30 a year for 329 homeowners. By comparison, some HOAs in the Broadmoor neighborhood, Peregrine and other areas charge upwards of $300 a month in dues and fees.

    Jan Doran

    Jan Doran

    .

    She said it’s unfair for the state to impose mandates for record-keeping and document disclosures, for example, and other time-consuming chores on HOAs like Discovery when there is no paid staff or professional property management.

    “They’ve lumped everybody together — condos, townhomes, patio home complexes, large single-family developments,” Doran said. “What about little HOAs like ours? One size doesn’t fit all. It’s not fair.”

    Doran would like to see Kujawski ask the General Assembly for an exemption for small, low-budget HOAs that existed prior to 1992 when lawmakers first enacted the Colorado Common Interest Ownership Act, which governs HOAs. Small HOAs built after 1992 were exempt from it but not older HOAs like Discovery.

    It’s important to know that if you aren’t able to attend the March 23 town hall meeting, you aren’t completely out of luck.

    Kujawski said he intends to make regular visits to Colorado Springs and hold more town hall meetings.

    “I really want to get a good, thoughtful discussion going,” he said. “We’ll have larger groups down the road.”

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  • WALDO CANYON FIRE: Hell in the rearview mirror

    Fri, June 29, 2012 by Bill Vogrin with 4 comments

    This was the view from Chapel Hills Mall when the Waldo Canyon Fire exploded down into Colorado Springs' foothills neighborhood of Mountain Shadows on Tuesday, June 26, 2012.

    .

    On Tuesday, June 26, I said goodbye to my house and my neighbors and started my life as a Rockrimmon refugee.

    My heart was pounding as I made one last sweep through our little house in Raven Hills. I wondered if my family would ever celebrate another birthday here. I paused at the window where we saw so much wildlife in the woods outside. Where we always put up our Christmas tree.

    In the garage, I stopped at the wall where we traced our kids’ profile, measuring their heights to document their growth over the years. I took one last picture of the shark mural in my youngest son’s bedroom, grabbed my oldest boy’s high school letterman’s jacket, took a photo of my daughter at Disney World and began our escape.

    I’d fought bumper-to-bumper traffic on my way home from downtown after a 4 p.m. briefing on the Waldo Canyon fire had been interrupted by a stunning mandatory evacuation order for the Mountain Shadows and Peregrine neighborhoods just west of my ‘hood.

    My 12-year-old, Ben, was home with Nugget, our beloved dog. My wife, Cary, knew evacuation would mean chaos and began an urgent trek from her west-side store to reach them and get them to safety. I wasn’t far behind as I left downtown.

    Neither of us could believe what we saw: a hurricane of fire had erupted in the foothills. Cary called me describing menacing flames along 30th Street and Centennial Boulevard. I figured she must be exaggerating. Then I got closer and faced the otherworldly orange glow of the swirling clouds and winced at the ash-filled, 101-degree winds.

    I joined a line of cars backed up along Rockrimmon Boulevard and Delmonico Drive like I never could have imagined.

    Intersections were blocked by panicked drivers trying to escape. Sirens wailed all around. I felt trapped in a horror movie.

    A friend called and described houses ablaze in Mountain Shadows and urged me to join the exodus. And we did as soon as we grabbed mementos, photo albums, computers, even a cribbage board my father-in-law made.

    Cary, Ben and Nugget left as I gathered all I could. Before leaving, I checked on my neighbor across the street. He refused to evacuate with his invalid wife. It was a sickening feeling to give up my pleas and get on with my own escape.

    By then, embers were falling on my shake roof and I knew it was time to jump in my Jeep and flee. If only it would start. It had choked on the smoke on the drive from downtown and wouldn’t turn over.

    My head exploding, I finally coaxed it to life and headed toward Woodmen Road. Except I couldn’t get near it. Panicked evacuees had turned it into a parking lot. I had to go west, toward the flames, to escape. But that route was blocked as well.

    Finally, I went into four-wheel-drive, hopped a curb, blasted down a hill, across a soccer field and over a trail to reach Rockrimmon Boulevard where six lanes of traffic were headed east on both sides of the median.

    And there I sat in traffic. It’s a memory I’ll never forget. I teared up as I scanned the surrounding cars. Everywhere were children, scared and crying, their parents looking deathly afraid and, in my rearview mirror, a view of the gates of hell.

    Overwhelming relief rushed over me as I reached Interstate 25 and I started putting miles between me and the apocalyptic wildfire that was consuming the foothills.

    I felt guilty about abandoning my home, my neighbor who refused to evacuate and all the others still sitting, petrified, in traffic.

    I was one of the lucky ones. My family was safe and we had generous friends who took us in, fed and comforted us. By Wednesday morning, it seemed our neighborhood had survived. But it’s small comfort because so many neighbors have lost so much. And this catastrophe isn’t over.

    To all the victims, I can only say I’m so sorry.

    Homes in Mountain Shadows burn as the Waldo Canyon fire explodes down the foothills of Colorado Springs. By Jerilee Bennett, The Gazette

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