Saturday, March 4, 2017

Hiking while on Spring Break

Posted By on Sat, Mar 4, 2017 at 7:54 AM

March is a month when people start to get weary of winter. Although our winter here on the Front Range has been fairly mild (so far, anyways), it's still winter. March is "spring break" month with schools taking time off and families traveling. If you're a baseball fan, it's Spring Training time, with the promise of America's Pastimes' regular season starting in April.  Many people from the northern climes travel south in March and Arizona is a popular destination for those of us in the western U.S.— me included.

Last year I wrote about some of the many places to hike in the Phoenix area — here, and here. Since I try to find and hike more trails while on vacation, I thought this would be a good time to share a few more places for hiking while on spring break.

Deem Hills Recreation Area, located in a far northwest corner of Phoenix, is made up of almost 1,000 acres of hilly land. There are a number of trails in the park, the longest being the appropriately named, 5.73-mile "Circumference Trail" which encircles the park. There are four other trails in the park that eventually intersect or cross the Circumference Trail at some point.

On my visit to Deem Hills last year, I started at the main trailhead off of W. Deem Hills Parkway, and went clockwise on the Circumference Trail. Wanting to see the view from the highest point in the park, I then turned onto the Ridgeline Trail and followed it until reconnecting with the Circumference Trail and then returning to the parking lot. Total distance was just under 4 miles of moderate to moderately difficult hiking.

Far to the east of Deem Hills, in the McDowell-Sonoran Preserve, the trails available from the Tom's Thumb Trailhead vary in difficulty and length from an easy 3-mile to a more difficult 11-mile loop. On my visit, I hiked the Lookout Viewpoint trail, a rather difficult 5-mile out-and-back hike with spectacular views of the surrounding area.
View from the Lookout Viewpoint - BOB FALCONE
  • Bob Falcone
  • View from the Lookout Viewpoint

Another perennial spring break destination are the National Parks in Utah, with Arches National Park and Moab being the most popular. If you're planning on going to Arches National Park this year, take note that a major road construction project in the park will complicate matters quite a bit.

Crags Update: The ever popular Crags Campground and trails, along with Forest Service Road 383 past the Mennonite Camp has been closed for some time as contractors removed approximately 12 acres of trees infested with bark beetle. In a Facebook post, the Pikes Peak Ranger District says additional projects have been identified that are not part of the initial contract. The Forest Service says that it will be completing all related projects prior to reopening the area.

While no date for reopening has been set, the post does say they expect "... to re-open the area this summer."

Happy (spring break) Trails!

Bob Falcone is a retired firefighter, photographer, hiker, college instructor, business owner and author of Hiking Bob's Tips, Tricks and Trails, available via his website. He has lived in Colorado Springs for 25 years. Follow him on Twitter (@hikingbob), Facebook (Hiking Bob), Instagram (@HikingBob_CO) or visit his website ( E-mail questions, comments, suggestions, etc to Bob:
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Saturday, February 25, 2017

Castle Rock's example of building great parks with diverse funding

Posted By on Sat, Feb 25, 2017 at 7:49 AM

EPIC Adventure Tower - BOB FALCONE
  • Bob Falcone
  • EPIC Adventure Tower
A while back I wrote about Philip S. Miller park in Castle Rock. Promising to be a quite a jewel — completed in multiple phases with a huge budget — many of the planned amenities, including the ziplines, a kids playground and more weren't finished or even started on my first visit.

More than a year had passed before I made my most recent trip. The changes in the park are impressive. The Challenge Staircase, which resembles The Manitou Incline on a much smaller scale, was one of the few features to open with the park in 2014, along with the athletic fields and the Miller Athletic Center, which offers swimming, fitness and many other activities. The Challenge Staircase connects to 10-miles of trails leading around the park, most of which are open not only for hikers, but for cyclists as well.
The 200 steps of the "Challenge Staircase" - BOB FALCONE
  • Bob Falcone
  • The 200 steps of the "Challenge Staircase"
The new additions also include a large outdoor pavilion, an amphitheater, kids playground, and ponds.
(L-R) Amphitheater, Ponds, Pavilion, Miller Athletic Center - BOB FALCONE
  • Bob Falcone
  • (L-R) Amphitheater, Ponds, Pavilion, Miller Athletic Center
Since my first visit, 10 ziplines crossing a total of 1.5 miles from one side of the park to the other have also been installed. The EPIC Adventure Tower, with a 42-foot climbing wall, controlled descent rappelling equiptment and even bungee jumping, is also new, as is the adjacent EPIC Sky Trek — what I can only describe as a massive, 5-level, all-in-one jungle gym and ropes course.
EPIC Adventure Tower - BOB FALCONE
  • Bob Falcone
  • EPIC Adventure Tower
  • Bob Falcone
  • EPIC Sky Trek
But, as mentioned earlier, Phillip S. Miller wasn't a cheap project. The $30 million price tag of this public park is near that of the entire Colorado Springs Parks Department budget ($37 million). The town was able to fund it by using not only local tax dollars, but grants, endowments, bonds and more. In fact, the demand for this park was such that it was deemed a budget priority for the town. Although use of the trails is free to all, other parts of the park, such as the Athletic Center, do charge user fees.

Here is the beauty of the project: the ziplines, EPIC Tower and Sky Trek features are a product of a public-private partnership. These attractions, which also have user fees attached to them, were privately funded and operated by the same company. In return for the public land use, the town gets five-percent of the revenue the attractions generate.

This is what separates Castle Rock from the Colorado Springs and El Paso County Parks systems. While both the city and county rely heavily on tax money, grants and some user fees to operate, both systems have very few private partnerships. There are no EPIC Adventure Towers or Sky Treks or ziplines in any of the city and county parks. In fact, with the exception of some long established horse back riding enterprises, private businesses are virtually non-existent in our parks. Meanwhile, these kinds of attractions are being built on wholly-private land around Seven Falls, Manitou Springs, and the Royal Gorge, and proving to be quite successful.

What would the state of our city and county parks be if there had been enough foresight to engage in private partnerships to build our own epic attractions on carefully chosen park lands?

There's been a lot of blood, sweat and tears expended to find ways to raise the level of funding for Springs' local parks. While I believe that the amount of tax revenue our parks receive needs to increase, it's hard not to wonder what if both Colorado Springs and El Paso County followed Castle Rock's example to find more epic ways to diversify funding for parks.
Bob Falcone is a retired firefighter, photographer, hiker, college instructor, business owner and author of Hiking Bob's Tips, Tricks and Trails, available via his website. He has lived in Colorado Springs for 25 years. Follow him on Twitter (@hikingbob), Facebook (Hiking Bob), Instagram (@HikingBob_CO) or visit his website ( E-mail questions, comments, suggestions, etc to Bob:
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Sunday, February 19, 2017

Outdoor recreation and child development

Posted By on Sun, Feb 19, 2017 at 7:47 AM

You've heard it before: Hiking is good for your mind, body and soul.
In previous blogs, I've written about the benefits of outdoor recreation on your heart, your bones and joints, your skin, and mental health.  But the benefits of outdoor activity don't end there.

According to a 2016 report by the University of Missouri at Kansas City, children who engage in outdoor recreation not only reap the same benefits as adults, but also develop better mental acuity, sociability and problem solving skills. The report shows exposing kids to the outdoors as early as infancy increases brain development and the creation of neural pathways in the brain that stay with them for the rest of their lives. The more neural pathways a person develops, the easier it is for them to learn and comprehend.  A 2009 study published in Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin found that kids who engage in outdoor recreation tend to be "nicer," have better social interactions and put a higher value on community and close relationships.

But in the age of incessant non-stop technological distractions — cell phones, video games, television, and, most distracting of all, social media — social interactions have suffered, and kids spend less time outdoors. It takes some effort for parents to get their kids outdoors.

To get a little more perspective, I asked a few moms about how outdoor recreation has impacted their kids. One mom, Wendy, told me that one of the benefits of hiking for her son is that "it has made him more confident and knowledgeable". He remembers many of his hikes and feels a sense of pride over the reactions he gets when telling adults of his accomplishments, she says. Her son is most active when outdoors with the absence of modern technology. For her normally very active 4 year-old daughter, "hiking is where she found her 'Zen,'" either sleeping or, quietly taking in the sounds and sights outdoors.

Another mom, Michelle, told me that her kids play and make friends with other kids they meet outdoors that they might not otherwise meet, and they make those friends pretty easily.  Both mom's say that their hikes and outdoor activity with their kids help them learn. They can identify rocks, birds and flowers that they see on the trails, and, presumably, this may give them an edge in school.

With spring break just a few weeks away, and the end of the school year coming fast on its heels, and a so far mild winter, there's no better time to get the kids outdoors and interacting with nature and other kids. Their future may depend on it.

Happy Trails!

Bob Falcone is a retired firefighter, photographer, hiker, college instructor, business owner and author of Hiking Bob's Tips, Tricks and Trails, available via his website. He has lived in Colorado Springs for 25 years. Follow him on Twitter (@hikingbob), Facebook (Hiking Bob), Instagram (@HikingBob_CO) or visit his website ( E-mail questions, comments, suggestions, etc to Bob:
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Saturday, February 11, 2017

Waldo Canyon off limits to public for foreseeable future

Posted By on Sat, Feb 11, 2017 at 10:05 AM

Waldo Canyon turned into a wasteland after the fire - BOB FALCONE
  • Bob Falcone
  • Waldo Canyon turned into a wasteland after the fire
Want to hike Waldo Canyon? Fuggetaboutit.

It's been almost 5 years after the Waldo Canyon fire devastated more than 18,000 acres of land and destroyed 346 homes. The effects of the fire are not always easy to see, especially from the now barricaded trail head on Highway 24 just west of Manitou Springs. But local hikers want to know when the once very popular trail will reopen.

The simple answer is: no one really knows. But it likely won't be for many years.

At a recent presentation hosted by the Society for Ecological Restoration and the Rocky Mountain Field Institute, Leah Shipstead, a hydrologist for U.S. Forest Service and Carol Ekarius, Executive Director of the Coalition for the Upper South Platte, updated the public on the recovery of the Waldo Canyon fire watershed.

The Waldo Canyon fire did more than just burn down trees and scrub ground cover off of the surface of the earth, It changed how water flows down the steep slopes surrounding the canyon and eventually into Fountain Creek. Heavy rains almost immediately after the fire was extinguished inundated Highway 24 and Manitou Springs — the sight of trees, boulders and even cars floating down the highway is still fresh in many peoples minds. With no living trees and plants left in the canyon, made up of porous Pikes Peak granite and limestone, water flows unimpeded down Ute Pass. Even the usually narrow Waldo Creek grew wider and deeper in the months after the fire. Sediment from the Pikes Peak granite surrounding the area washed into the canyon, piling up to depths of 6 more feet in some places.

According to Shipstead and Ekarius, efforts at rehabilitation and recovery of the Waldo Canyon burn scar have been successful, but the progress is slow. Detention ponds, water flow control structures, tree planting, removal of sediment and more has been done and is still on-going.  Damaged soil may be inhibiting growth, and while some ground cover efforts are taking hold, it takes natural root systems to really keep the soil in place. Tree planting is on-going, but it takes years for them to grow a big enough root system to do any good.

Further, the steep slopes of the canyon make work difficult and dangerous, and what little topsoil used to be in some parts of the canyon before the fire has been washed away, leaving just bedrock in many places.

All of this is to say that, given the state of Waldo Canyon, simply put, it's too dangerous to allow trail users back into the canyon, and human activity in the canyon can also disturb the fragile eco-systems, further inhibiting the recovery of the canyon.

Mother Nature needs more time to run her course.

Happy (other) Trails!

Bob Falcone is a retired firefighter, photographer, hiker, college instructor, business owner and author of Hiking Bob's Tips, Tricks and Trails, available via his website. He has lived in Colorado Springs for 25 years. Follow him on Twitter (@hikingbob), Facebook (Hiking Bob), Instagram (@HikingBob_CO) or visit his website ( E-mail questions, comments, suggestions, etc to Bob:
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Wednesday, February 1, 2017

UPDATE: Colorado Springs City Council election news

Posted By on Wed, Feb 1, 2017 at 5:26 PM


A couple of candidates have filed the Feb. 1 reports, which changes their totals. They are as follows:

Yolanda Avila in District 4: Raised, $6,361, spent, $3,641.

Jill Gaebler in District 5: Raised, $14,684, spent, $3,210.

——————-ORIGINAL POST 5:26 P.M. WEDNESDAY, FEB.1, 2017———————

Colorado Springs City Council campaigns are well underway, so it's time to rev up the election blog to report on forums, campaign finance and endorsements.

The election is April 4. Please register and participate.

The Council of Neighbors and Organizations will hold three candidate forums. Only the southwest District 3 and southeast District 4 races will be featured.
CONO spokesperson Sarah Poe explains via email:
CONO decided to do the Dist 3 & 4 forums only because of the work we are currently doing in the SE neighborhoods. The community centers expressed interest in having forums hosted on-site to really encourage a bigger voter turnout in the zipcodes 80916 and 80910- which are always low.

We will have people there ready to register voters on site and we will have questions regarding the concerns in those neighborhoods- transportation, safety, connectivity, parks, trails, etc.

We are only planning these 3 forums so far but will support others initiated by neighborhoods as they arise. 
The forums are as follows:

District 3: 6 to 8 p.m. Feb. 21, Hillside Community Center, 925 S. Institute St.

District 4: 5:30 to 7:30 p.m. Feb. 24, Deerfield Hills Community Center, 4290 Deerfield Hills Road.

Districts 3 and 4: 6 to 8 p.m. March 1, Meadows Park Community Center, 1943 S. El Paso St.

We took a peek at what candidates have raised so far (incumbents are marked with an *):

District 1:
Don Knight*: Raised $1,540, spent $750.
Greg Basham: No report.

District 2:
David Geislinger. No report.

District 3:
Richard Skorman: Raised, $5,000 via a loan from the candidate, spent $1,667.
Chuck Fowler: No report.

District 4:
Helen Collins*: Raised $4,766, spent $40. Over half of her money was carried forward from a past campaign. (Former City Councilor Joel Miller and his wife, Anita, donated $150.)
Yolanda Avila: Raised, $2,781, spent $1,962. No Feb. 1 report.
Deborah Hendrix: Raised, $18,225, spent $9,950. Donations are coming from developers, such as Elite Properties, which gave $2,500 this cycle. All her spending has gone to Sarah Jack, a campaign manager hired by Colorado Springs Forward.

District 5:
Jill Gaebler*: Raised $10,869, spent $2,476. Cash on hand: $8,893.
Lynette Crow-Iverson: Raised, $20,130, spent $13,817. Lots of money is flowing into this campaign from developers, such as Ralph Braden, Vantage Homes and Jeff Smith, and business people. The only expenditures have been paid to Sarah Jack.

District 6:
Andy Pico*: Raised, $1,032, spent $48. Most of his money has come from a hold-over of his last campaign. No Feb. 1 report.
Melanie Bernhardt: No report.
Robert Burns: No report.
Janak Joshi: No report.

The HBA has made its big announcement:
The Political Action Committee of the Housing & Building Association of Colorado Springs (HBA PAC) has been working the last several months to identify visionary leaders for the April 4, 2017 municipal election. All six City Council District seats are on the ballot in this election.

Members of the HBA PAC have invested many volunteer hours meeting with candidates, who were evaluated based on several criteria, including their service to the Colorado Springs community, knowledge of City government, and demonstrated leadership to the community, as well as their background, availability to devote to public service, and ability to field an effective campaign.

Among the number of impressive candidates this election cycle, six received the HBA PAC endorsement. The candidates were endorsed based on their leadership, collaboration skills, community involvement, business experience and commitment to supporting and promoting sound economic development policy. They are as follows: Greg Basham (District 1), Dave Geislinger (District 2), Chuck Fowler (District 3), Deborah Hendrix (District 4), Lynette Crow-Iverson (District 5), and Andy Pico (District 6).

“We were inundated with a slew of qualified candidates,” said Kyle Campbell, HBA PAC Chairman. “We are pleased to endorse candidates with strong business backgrounds who believe in the process of city government, the principles of limited government, and allowing the private sector to work. All endorsed candidates demonstrate great leadership skills and the ability to build a consensus and will be an asset to our community as members of City Council. We look forward to working together with the newly-elected council members.”

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Coloradans conflicted on Trump's Supreme Court pick

Posted By on Wed, Feb 1, 2017 at 1:03 PM

Neil Gorsuch's nomination has been met with support and resistance. - COLORADO LAW
  • Colorado Law
  • Neil Gorsuch's nomination has been met with support and resistance.

Wednesday, while some Coloradans celebrate the nomination of Colorado’s own Justice Neil Gorsuch to the United States Supreme Court, others are adamant that Gorsuch’s track record doesn’t reflect the state’s values.

Gorsuch, a fourth-generation Coloradan, was born in Denver, but now lives and works in Boulder. He serves on the United States 10th Circuit Court of Appeals while working as a visiting professor for The University of Colorado’s law school.

CU Chancellor Philip D. DiStefano offered his congratulations in a press release yesterday, saying, “[Gorsuch’s] time spent teaching, advising and mentoring our students has been invaluable to our campus. He has embodied our goals at CU Boulder for ensuring student success and developing tomorrow’s leaders.”

Senators Cory Gardner and Michael Bennet, too, congratulated Gorsuch on the nomination, though the language of their statements differed. Gardner said in a statement, “I'm enthusiastic about the native Coloradan's nomination and will work to ensure that his confirmation process is fair, thorough and expedient.” A spokesperson for Bennet, however, said, “Michael takes seriously the Senate's responsibility to advise and consent on Supreme Court nominations. He intends to review Judge Gorsuch's record carefully in the coming weeks.”

Not all Coloradans are quite as thrilled as CU and our Republican senator. One Colorado, the state’s leading LGBTQ-rights organization, released a statement condemning the nomination yesterday evening, citing Gorsuch’s support of religious exemption cases, which would allow businesses and individuals to refuse service to someone based on religious beliefs.

“A Supreme Court that would rule in support of religious exemptions would certainly open LGBTQ Americans up to discrimination,”  Daniel Ramos, executive director of One Colorado, stated in a press release, “and open up a can of worms that could allow individuals to ignore child welfare, domestic violence or other laws that someone could contend [are] contrary to their religion.”

ProgressNow Colorado, an online progressive advocacy organization, also criticized the nomination. Executive Director Ian Silverii stated in a press release, “On the Supreme Court, Gorsuch would be a vote to roll back women's rights, environmental protections and hard-won protections against discrimination in the workplace.”

Both One Colorado and ProgressNow Colorado also mentioned that Gorsuch has been endorsed by multiple anti-LGBTQ organizations, a warning sign for progressives.

There has been national outcry against the nomination as well, coming from Greenpeace, the Latino Victory Project and NARAL Pro-Choice America, among others.

However, with recommendations on the pages of The New York Times and The Denver Post, it is hard to say whether Gorsuch’s history will call his impartiality into question enough to keep him off the Supreme Court.

In either case, his nomination comes at a tumultuous time in our political climate, and it is doubtful he will skate into that coveted seat without public resistance.

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Faith groups gather to celebrate World Hijab Day

Posted By on Wed, Feb 1, 2017 at 10:59 AM

  • Shutterstock
While not in direct response to the Islamophobic immigration ban recently enacted by our new president, Wednesday’s World Hijab Day Celebration at All Souls Unitarian Church still reads as very timely.

At 5:30 p.m., Rev. Nori Rost of All Souls will give a presentation about the importance of the hijab in Muslim traditions and discuss head coverings throughout history. Rost said in yesterday’s press release, “Head coverings have a long history in many faith traditions, including many Christian traditions. To single out the Muslim women who choose to wear a hijab is racist and Islamophobic.”

Anyone interested in joining members of the Muslim community for this celebration may do so, and women of all faiths will be invited to learn how to wear a hijab, provided they bring their own scarf.

Afterwards, there will be a candlelight vigil to remember victims of Islamophobic hate crimes and to honor those impacted by the immigration ban, with presentations by speakers of multiple different faiths and community activists.

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On sale Friday: Joy Division's Peter Hook, Jethro Tull with the Colorado Symphony, and more

Posted By on Wed, Feb 1, 2017 at 10:25 AM

Jethro Tull's Ian Anderson in trademark flamingo pose - PHOTO BY PALIS MICHALIS / SHUTTERSTOCK
  • Photo by Palis Michalis / Shutterstock
  • Jethro Tull's Ian Anderson in trademark flamingo pose

Fans of “classic rock,” circa late ‘60s and early ‘70s, will want to mark your calendars for this coming Friday, when tickets go on sale for shows by Jethro Tull (with the Colorado Symphony), Steve Miller (with Peter Frampton), and Queen (without Freddy Mercury).

You can also scroll down further for newly announced shows by equally vintage artists, including Elton John, Santana, and the original Modern Lover Jonathan Richman, as well as later-model acts like Joy Division’s Peter Hook, Ween, and Supersuckers.

Enjoy your summertime nostalgia!

On sale Friday, Feb 3
• Memphis May Fire, Black Sheep, March 5
• Highly Suspect, Black Sheep, Apr. 8
• Thursday, Summit Music Hall, Denver, Apr. 17
• The Highway Finds feat. Steve Moakler, Marquis Theater, Denver, Apr. 23
• Peter Hook & The Light, Summit Music Hall, Denver, Apr. 29
• Jethro Tull with the Colorado Symphony, Red Rocks, Morrison, May 26
• Queen, Adam Lambert, Pepsi Center, Denver, July 6
• Steve Miller, Peter Frampton, Red Rocks, Morrison, July 31

On sale Friday, Feb 10
• Government Mule, Yonder Mountain String Band,
Red Rocks, Morisson, Aug. 19

On sale now:
• Supersuckers, Feb. 24, Triple Nickel Tavern
• Vince Staples, Gothic Theatre, Englewood, March 4
• Elton John & his band, Broadmoor World Arena, March 16
• Jonathan Richman, Bluebird Theater, Denver, March 28
• The Avett Brothers, Red Rocks Amphitheatre, Morrison, July 7-9
• Santana, Red Rocks Amphitheatre, Morrison, July 10
• Ween, Red Rocks Amphitheatre, Morrison July 12
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Tuesday, January 31, 2017

Colorado Springs renames stormwater division

Posted By on Tue, Jan 31, 2017 at 11:05 AM

Sand Creek on the city's east side. - FILE PHOTO
  • File photo
  • Sand Creek on the city's east side.
I think it was Gertrude Stein who said, "A rose is a rose is a rose." Meaning that no matter what name you put on the thorny flower, it's still a rose.

But this message is lost on the city of Colorado Springs, which has suddenly decided to rename its stormwater division.

In a news release just in, the city announces the name will be changed to Water Resources Engineering, effective immediately.

One can only wonder what the goal is.

Will the new name somehow placate federal regulators, who've filed suit against the city alleging repeated violations of the Clean Water Act by the city failing to control its stormwater, uh, water resources?

Will the new name remove the evil-sounding "stormwater" label so that a stormwater fee, uh, water engineering fee that Councilor Bill Murray predicts is coming soon will be easier for citizens to swallow?

Or, is the new name, as the city contends, simply a better description of what's involved in controlling stormwater, uh, water resources.

Anyway, here's the city's release:
To more accurately reflect its role and purpose, the Colorado Springs Stormwater Division has changed its name to Water Resources Engineering effective Tuesday, January 31, 2017.

The Stormwater Division has long represented the City’s team dedicated to managing the City’s storm drain infrastructure such as channels, culverts, creeks and waterways to convey water, mitigate runoff and flooding, and preserve water quality to comply with federal clean water regulations.

However, in recent years, more comprehensive watershed approaches have been replacing the traditional stormwater management practices. The focus of stormwater infrastructure has transformed from building concrete culverts and underground storm drains to creating more naturalistic channels that convey water, but also has become a valuable natural resource people can enjoy through the incorporation of trails or other amenities.

“Ultimately, the purpose of Water Resources Engineering is for clean waterways,” said Richard Mulledy, Water Resources Engineering Division Manager. “Because the majority of stormwater (precipitation or snow melt) eventually makes its way into our waterways and to downstream communities, managing our water resources at the source with a comprehensive approach, including the planning and management of constructed facilities, community education, and the adopt-a-waterway program, is key to maintaining clean waterways for our community and our downstream neighbors.”

Stormwater infrastructure projects and programs remain a significant part of the Water Resources Engineering Division to control flooding and comply with federal clean water regulations. As part of the new name, Water Resources Engineering will launch several campaigns throughout the year highlighting the importance of clean waterways and how simple actions people take can impact our waterways.

Scoop the Poop… For Clean Waterways! Pet waste adds up! Bacteria from every mess your pet leaves behind ends up in your water.

Volunteer…For Clean Waterways! Learn about volunteer programs to help keep our waterways clean, including “Adopt-A-Waterway”.

Think Outside the Lawn…For Clean Waterways! Learn how taking simple steps in and around the home can help keep our storm drains clear from debris and protect our waterways.

Report Spills and Dumping…For Clean Waterways! Illegal spills and dumping not only pollutes our waterways, they can be dangerous to people and the environment. Be a guardian of our water resources by reporting spills and dumping.

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Monday, January 30, 2017

Pipeline protest draws hundreds in opposition to one of Trump's latest orders

Posted By on Mon, Jan 30, 2017 at 6:38 PM

  • Nat Stein

About 300 people gathered outside City Hall on Sunday to protest President Trump’s executive order to revive the stalled Keystone XL and Dakota Access (DAPL) pipelines.

His action wasn’t some final stamp of approval for DAPL, the hard-fought oil pipeline that, if built, would threaten the Standing Rock Sioux tribe’s drinking water in violation of generations-old treaties. Rather, the document instructs the Army Corps of Engineers, which is responsible for permitting the project, to “review and approve [remaining pipeline sections] in an expedited manner, to the extent permitted by law.”

  • Nat Stein

But, the action certainly signals what observers have long assumed: that the Trump administration will be dogged where the Obama administration was sheepish in its approach to fossil fuel infrastructure projects. So this executive order comes as no surprise, especially given President Trump’s own private investment in DAPL, disregard toward climate science and overall disdain for anyone who dares challenge state-guarded corporate power.

Some such people heeded a call from Unite Colorado Springs to come hear speakers from various environmental and activist groups before setting off on a short march through downtown to show local opposition to the pipeline order.

  • Nat Stein

“We are not going to let Trump steal these victories without a fight!” former state representative
Dennis Apuan of the Colorado Springs Council for Justice declared, referring to hard-won progress on energy policy and land conservation over the last eight years.

  • Nat Stein
Protesters carried a diverse array of messages about respecting indigenous rights, protecting the environment and resisting the new administration. Without a parade permit, marchers kept to the sidewalks, chanting slogans like, “Resist, rise up, keep the pipeline down!” and “the people, united, will never be divided!”

The Army is preparing an environmental impact statement (EIS) relating to Dakota Access LLC’s request for an easement to build the pipeline under a contested section of the Missouri River near the Standing Rock reservation in North Dakota. You can send your opinions to Mr. Gib Owen, Office of the Assistant Secretary of the Army for Civil Works, 108 Army Pentagon, Washington, DC 20310-0108 or email them to until public comment closes on February 20.

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Colorado Springs Urban Renewal Authority chooses director

Posted By on Mon, Jan 30, 2017 at 4:52 PM

Walker: from acting to executive director. - FILE PHOTO
  • File photo
  • Walker: from acting to executive director.
Jariah Walker, who ran unsuccessfully for El Paso County commissioner and Colorado Springs City Council and then went to work for the city, has been promoted.

The city announced Monday that he will become executive director of the Colorado Springs Urban Renewal Authority as of February 1. He's been acting in that role for several months.

His salary is $82,000 a year.

This will be a high profile position, because the CSURA is the vehicle through which money will flow to the city's City for Champions tourism projects.

From the city's release:
“Serving in the acting role these last two months, Jariah has provided excellent leadership and has displayed his own passion for and commitment to the betterment of our city,” said Peter Wysocki, the city’s planning director. “Jariah is a collaborative and dedicated leader and I am very pleased that the Board and City have selected him to continue to lead this effort.”

"Jariah is one of Colorado Springs’ most talented young executives,” said Wynne Palermo, CSURA Chair. “The board is excited to have him and we are confident he will accomplish our expectations to take us to a new level."

Most recently Walker served as a senior economic development analyst for the City of Colorado Springs.

“I’m honored that the CSURA board presented me with this opportunity and I look forward to working together on a number of great projects ahead,” said Walker. “Words cannot describe how much it means to me to be able to play an active role in the positive redevelopment of a number of areas in my own hometown.”

Prior to joining the city, Walker spent seven years as a senior partner with Walker Asset Management Realty, Inc. Walker serves on a number of committees, including the newly-formed Plan COS steering committee, charged with the two-year development of the city’s comprehensive plan. In addition, he is the economic team lead on the city’s sustainability committee and serves on committees with the Urban Land Institute, Strategic Plan, Business Climate Task Force and Renew North Nevada Plan.

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Lamborn calls Trump's immigration order "prudent"

Posted By on Mon, Jan 30, 2017 at 1:08 PM

Lamborn: Trump acted prudently. - FILE PHOTO
  • File photo
  • Lamborn: Trump acted prudently.
Rep. Doug Lamborn, R-Colorado Springs, terms as "prudent" President Donald Trump's travel ban on people entering the United States from seven specific countries.

But Colorado's Senators Cory Gardner, a Republican, and Michael Bennet, a Democrat, were more critical. The Denver Post reports that Gardner said the ban “goes too far” and called on the White House to fix “this overly broad executive order.”

Here's Lamborn's statement, as posted on his government website:
The safety and security of America is a primary constitutional function of the federal government. President Trump's recent Executive Order is consistent with H.R 4038, a bipartisan bill that passed the House in the last Congress and called for a temporary halt of refugees from nations torn apart by terrorism until the implementation of increased security and screening measures. By taking steps to temporarily stop refugee admittance from nations that are hotbeds of terrorist activity, the President is taking prudent action to ensure that his national security and law enforcement teams have the strategies and systems in place that they will need to protect and defend America.

While I do not support the broad, misinformed, and inflammatory criticisms of the Executive Order, it is important that the privileges of law-abiding Green Card holders are not abridged. I appreciate the White House Chief of Staff clarifying this point over the weekend.

Rather than being influenced by one-sided media narratives, it is important to remember that President Obama also implemented temporary refugee and visa restrictions for national security purposes. Now is not a time for division fueled by dishonesty and partisan politics, now is a time for our nation to come together and work diligently to find lasting and sustainable solutions to the national security challenges of the 21st century.

For a more complete explanation of Obama's ban of Iraqi refugees, check this out.
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UPDATE: AFA agrees to pay $25,000 to settle FOIA lawsuit

Posted By on Mon, Jan 30, 2017 at 10:08 AM

We just received this statement from Lt. Col. Timothy Herritage at the academy:
The Air Force Academy recently entered into a settlement agreement with MRFF regarding FOIA and agreed to pay $25K in attorney's fees. Attorney's fees are not an uncommon expense for defendants in FOIA litigation, even when the parties settle without attributing fault or liability. This money is not paid directly by USAFA, but rather comes out of a general Air Force Litigation fund used in instances when the Air Force is sued.

The Academy respects the settlement agreement and intends to comply with it. We'd like to emphasize that each FOIA case is unique and USAFA makes every effort to process FOIA cases as promptly as possible.

FOIA requests are processed in the order that they are received. When MRFF made their request in 2011, USAFA was dealing with a large backlog of FOIA requests. USAFA was able to provide an initial response to MRFF in 2012, followed by a supplemental response in 2015 and another in 2016. The release to MRFF consisted of over 8,000 pages of documents, all of which had to be reviewed by numerous people page by page, making the review and production a time-consuming undertaking. 

——————ORIGINAL POST 10:08 A.M. MONDAY, JAN. 30, 2017———————-

In what might be a first, the Air Force Academy has settled a Freedom of Information Act lawsuit, and agreed to pay the plaintiff's lawyers $25,000 in legal fees.
Air Force Academy chapel - FILE PHOTO
  • File photo
  • Air Force Academy chapel

The plaintiff is the Military Religious Freedom Foundation, founded by academy grad Mikey Weinstein.

Weinstein says in a release the settlement is a "splendid MRFF legal victory" and "a landmark win."

The case dates to Weinstein's 2011 FOIA request for records pertaining to himself, MRFF and his family. After four years of "processing delays," MRFF says, it filed a lawsuit to compel disclosure.

Under the settlement, which is explained further below, the academy agreed to conduct new searches and broaden the time period for the searches.

It also will pay $25,000 for MRFF's attorney fees.

We've asked the academy for a comment and will update when we hear something.

Meantime, here's the news release from MRFF:
Late last week the Military Religious Freedom Foundation (MRFF) and the United States Air Force Academy (USAFA) reached an agreement to resolve a longstanding legal dispute over USAFA's handling of a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request submitted in 2011. The FOIA request sought records related to Mikey Weinstein, MRFF's Founder and President, the organization, and individual members of the Weinstein family. After four years of processing delays, MRFF filed a lawsuit in federal court in New Mexico to compel the Air Force Academy to finalize the FOIA response. The settlement calls for USAFA to conduct new searches for documents, broaden the time period of the searches, and pay MRFF's attorneys' fees.

Mikey Weinstein: Wins settlement in FOIA case. - PAM ZUBECK
  • Pam Zubeck
  • Mikey Weinstein: Wins settlement in FOIA case.
Vincent Ward and Amber Fayerberg, attorneys in Albuquerque, New Mexico, represented MRFF in the litigation. In a joint statement released by Mr. Ward and Ms. Fayerberg, they stated: "This is a big victory for MRFF, for active, veteran and retired military members and civilians who support MRFF's cause, and for everyone who believes in the importance of government transparency and accountability. The Academy gave MRFF the run around for over four years, probably hoping it would go away. Not MRFF. We couldn't be more pleased with the outcome of the case. It is a true testament to MRFF's will and of course the determination of its founder, Mikey Weinstein."

MRFF Founder and President, Mikey Weinstein praised the result stating,

"Today is a glorious day of victory for justice and liberty! MRFF effusively thanks its fantastic and tenacious litigators, Vincent Ward and Amber Fayerberg, for prevailing for MRFF in this long federal court legal battle against the Air Force Academy's intransigent and ignoble efforts to nefariously thwart public disclosure of thousands of pages of important internal documents. Tragically, the only thing that USAFA is even worse at than following federal disclosure requirements via FOIA is USAFA's universally deplorable record of miserably failing to adhere to the Constitutionally-mandated separation of church and state. Today's splendid MRFF legal victory is a landmark win in MRFF's continuing fight to rebuild and buttress the shattered church-state wall at USAFA, in the Air Force at large and throughout all of the Department of Defense."
The Weinsteins are a legacy family at USAFA, with six of the family members alumni of the Air Force Academy and one other a graduate of the Naval Academy. The Weinsteins are also, however, active supporters and participants of MRFF and regularly take the Academy to task over its espousal and promotion of fundamentalist Christian Evangelicalism. MRFF's history with the Academy has resulted in a vitriolic campaign against Mikey Weinstein, his family, and many MRFF supporters as well as the production of thousands of documents, found in the form of emails, memoranda, and directives. MRFF requested that USAFA provide those records as part of its continued effort to hold USAFA and other military agencies accountable for their practices.

However, when MRFF lawfully sought these records under the FOIA in 2011, USAFA ignored the request for nearly one year. After producing only a fraction of the documents generated by the request in 2012, the USAFA spent the next three years delaying and refusing to produce records in accordance with the federal transparency law. After four years of obfuscation, MRFF filed suit on November 5, 2015 to compel the agency to provide the responsive records. The suit alleged specific violations of the FOIA, which requires government entities to make most types of records available to the public upon request, as well as alleging that USAFA engaged in a pattern and practice of deliberately violating the law with regard to MRFF. After over one year of litigation, the USAFA has produced nearly 8,000 additional records to MRFF and has agreed to perform supplemental records searches for those years during which the USAFA unlawfully delayed in responding to MRFF's request. USAFA has also agreed to pay MRFF's lawyers, Vincent Ward and Amber Fayerberg, $25,000 in legal fees.

MRFF anticipates that USAFA's supplemental records searches will turn up thousands of additional and important documents. This result is a victory for MRFF, a victory for the Constitution and a victory for government transparency. MRFF will continue to insist that military agencies open their files to the public and will continue to shed light on USAFA's violations of the constitutional guarantee of freedom of religion and freedom from the establishment of a government religion. 

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Saturday, January 28, 2017

Do you have "secret" trails?

Posted By on Sat, Jan 28, 2017 at 7:58 AM

  • Bob Falcone
I'm often asked what my "favorite" trails are, and to be honest, I don't have a single favorite. I may have a favorite trail when I'm wanting a better view, or for when I don't have much time, or want to go a long distance trail. You get the picture. I'm also often asked about my "secret" trails — those that only I know and don't tell anyone about. My answer to that is similar to my answer about favorite trails. I really don't have any secret trails.

Well, sort of.

As any reader of this blog, or anyone who I've had a conversation with knows, I love to share information about our local parks and trails. If I know of a trail, I'll be happy to tell you all about it. I don't believe in keeping secrets out of a need to keep things just for myself. But, there are some trails that I won't publicly discuss.

It may be because they're in places that are sensitive to over use, or on private land (with legal public access) that I don't want people to abuse and risk public access being shut down. Even then, though, I'll usually  tell someone about them in private, or take a hiker there — as long as they swear to secrecy.

In between the well known trails or parks and the somewhat "secret" trails there are "insider" trails. These are the trails that don't come up at the top of Google searches for trails in our area, but aren't really a secret, either. They're kind of just below the radar, so to speak.

The Independent will be publishing the annual Insider guide later this year, where you'll find some of my favorite "insider" trails.  Want to share some of yours?  Leave a comment below, or e-mail me, and maybe I'll use one of yours, too.

Happy (insider) trails!

Bob Falcone is a retired firefighter, photographer, hiker, college instructor, business owner and author of Hiking Bob's Tips, Tricks and Trails, available via his website. He has lived in Colorado Springs for 25 years. Follow him on Twitter (@hikingbob), Facebook (Hiking Bob), Instagram (@HikingBob_CO) or visit his website ( E-mail questions, comments, suggestions, etc to Bob:
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Friday, January 27, 2017

Warhammer 40k, El Grande: two obscure games that consumed our 2016

Posted By on Fri, Jan 27, 2017 at 5:54 PM

I’ve been loath to highlight our “most played” of 2016 because they’re both out of print. So I guess if you like what you’re reading about here, you’ll keep your eye out for used copies online (or pray for a reprint).

El Grande
I’ve never had so much fun pushing wooden cubes around in my life. El Grande throws you into an abstract — but still highly cutthroat — struggle for power in 16th Century Spain. The game's beautiful board depicts the country's nine regions. You command a “Grande” (a boss cube) and a bunch of little cubes (your faithful caballeros) that you must distribute across the nine regions to score points.

Scoring happens three times during the game, the points based on the value of each region and how many caballeros you’ve managed to send there.

But it quickly gets tricky and nasty. You’ve got to bid for your starting position each turn with cards that can only be used once. Furthermore, those cards determine not only the turn’s starting order, but how many caballeros you can bring in to help your cause.

Starting order also determines when you get your pick from a shifting menu of power cards (which also dictate how many dudes you can deploy to the board). The power cards all have unique effects, like being able to double-score a region where your caballeros are most numerous, shove other people’s caballeros to worthless regions, or alter regions’ scoring.

See that foreboding structure in the foreground of the photo? That’s the castillo. Each turn, you can hide caballeros in that thing. Three times during the game, you lift up the castillo and the caballeros come flooding out to inundate regions that players secretly target with a dial. The moment when the castillo is raised and everybody reveals the target regions on their dials is high on my list of Great Moments in Gaming. Figuring out where to send your dudes while trying to second-guess your opponents is excruciating fun, as is almost every other decision you have to make in El Grande.

One day they may reprint this game. Online sets are quite expensive. Or you may stumble across it at a secondhand store, in which case you should buy it immediately and run howling into the parking lot, pumping the box over your head like a crazed child on Christmas morning.

Warhammer 40,000: Conquest
Let’s get the bad news out of the way first. The two companies that teamed up to design and produce this game divorced last fall. (I panic-bought stacks of base sets and warpacks when I heard about it. The picture at left suggests I’m OK with that decision.)

Now, a bit of good news: Some hardcore players dumped their sets on the market when they heard no new cards were coming out, so unless you’re a highly competitive deck-builder, you can have years of fun with a secondhand collection.

The last time I wrote about this game, we were still figuring out how the basic mechanics and strategy worked. Things have changed. Play has deepened to obsession as the players to whom I’ve evangelized left behind the vanilla armies in the core set and jumped down the rabbit hole of deck customization.

“There’s so much to think about!” said my last opponent said as he looked at his hand and tried to figure out which of his Space Marine units he could afford to deploy against my marauding Orks — and where he should deploy them. I can relate: As you’re battling for supremacy across five planets at once, you’ve got to think about where you can win battles, where you can keep income (money and new cards) coming in and where you should cut bait to spare resources for more important objectives.

Each skirmish funnels you to a grand finale as your warlord gets beat up, your hand changes and the number of available planets diminishes. It’s wholly engaging in flavor and experience. Win or lose, I savor each game.

Add the customization factor and you’ve got a new dimension to fret about: Subtly engineering a custom army. A few weeks ago I had one of those weird nights where I woke up at 3:30 a.m. and couldn’t get back to sleep. So, trying not to rouse my wife, I crept downstairs, broke out a mixed Eldar/Dark Eldar force I was working on, and sat there until nearly dawn with my LED headlamp figuring out which four cards I wanted to swap out of the deck. Four. Cards.

Once you tweak a deck, you tremble to see how it performs next. If this sounds like grand fun and not the symptom of a mental disorder, then you may join me among the handful of players across the globe who kneel at the altar of this moribund masterpiece. (Caveat: This game only seats two and the rules will feel extremely crunchy to people who don't have experience with other head-to-head strategy card games like Magic: The Gathering. We're still arguing about action sequences and card effects in month six.)

In my next post, I’m going to talk about two other games that have grabbed our fancy recently — that are actually still in print and available at reasonable cost.

Play on, friends.

Nate Warren is a Colorado Springs-based copywriter who offers both the veteran gamer and the uninitiated a local window into the burgeoning and wildly creative world of hobby and designer board games enjoyed by fanatics and connoisseurs — around the corner and and across the globe.
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