Tuesday, December 11, 2018

City begins clearing "Quarry" homeless camp

Posted By on Tue, Dec 11, 2018 at 1:50 PM

Police and city workers showed up with bulldozers Dec. 11 to clean up the "Quarry" campsite southeast of downtown. - FAITH MILLER
  • Faith Miller
  • Police and city workers showed up with bulldozers Dec. 11 to clean up the "Quarry" campsite southeast of downtown.

Police and city workers began cleaning up the "Quarry" campground southeast of downtown early Dec. 11. Though police gave campers about two weeks notice to leave — far longer than the 24 hours usually required under city code — pockets of people still remained with their tents and belongings.

"I got an estimate — as of yesterday, there was like 70," says Lt. Lux, who leads the Colorado Springs Police Department's Homeless Outreach Team. "I don't think there's that many now...but there's certainly more than we had hoped."

Lux points out that because the Quarry is on private property, police technically don't have to give campers any notice before ordering them to leave. If anyone refuses to move, they could be arrested and cited for trespassing. But Lux says most were "actively trying" to pack up and leave.

"We've contacted people, they've been trying to get their stuff, and then we'll work around them best we can," he says.

Before police posted the site, Lux estimated there were more than 100 people camping. About five large bulldozers and 40 people, including police and city workers, were present Dec. 11 for the cleanup, which will probably take multiple days.

Police officers stopped by tents to speak with remaining campers, who hurried to fold tents and stuff garbage bags and suitcases with belongings.

Police officers talk to campers still present at the Quarry the morning of cleanup. - FAITH MILLER
  • Faith Miller
  • Police officers talk to campers still present at the Quarry the morning of cleanup.

For Regina, who said she'd been living in the Quarry with her boyfriend for the past few months since getting evicted, city efforts to give campers extra time and connect them with resources weren't enough to make up for kicking them off the land.

"Some people didn't have rides until today," said Regina, who declined to give her last name. She worried that police would make them leave before her mother could get there to help them load their belongings into her car.

"They make it seem like, 'Oh, we're so nice to you, we brought out DHS and the health department so let me give you some shots if you've got hepatitis A. Let me sign you up for food stamps and Medicaid,'" Regina said. "OK, that's wonderful. But what are you going to do about putting people up in houses? How are you really going to help people? Because you're not."

Regina said she didn't plan on going to a homeless shelter, even though Springs Rescue Mission had opened 150 additional low-barrier beds the day prior. Her dog, used to sleeping by her side, would have to sleep in a kennel. She also isn't sure where she would go during the day, as she doubts anyone would hire her and doesn't want to sit on the sidewalks or in the park waiting for the shelter to open.

Instead, Regina expects that she and her boyfriend will find another place to set up camp.

Nearby, Cody Gross and Josh Striker, who had each lived in the Quarry about a year in total, were more accepting as they packed up their belongings. "[The police] were actually nice this time about it," Striker said.

Neither was sure where he would go. Striker, like Regina, didn't want to go to the shelter because he'd have to put his dog in a kennel. He said he's been homeless on and off since 1996, when his family's trailer burned down.

"Definitely glad they're cleaning it up," said Gross, who's been homeless since 2015. "I do see a lot of families come through on that trail down there, a lot of people ride their bike through there."

Striker mused, "If there was more people like us that camped around here where we try to make sure it stays clean—"

"If there was structure, it'd be a lot easier," Gross said. "There was no structure, it was just pretty much come and go as you please."
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Wednesday, November 21, 2018

Senate bill could help Colorado's wildlife hit hard by brain disease

Posted By on Wed, Nov 21, 2018 at 4:44 PM

At least 37 percent of Colorado's elk herds are affected by chronic wasting disease. - COLORADO PARKS AND WILDLIFE / DAVID HANNIGAN
  • Colorado Parks and Wildlife / David Hannigan
  • At least 37 percent of Colorado's elk herds are affected by chronic wasting disease.

A fatal neurological disease that affects more than half of Colorado's deer herds is getting renewed attention on Capitol Hill.

Colorado's Democratic Sen. Michael Bennet joined Sens. John Barrasso (R-Wyo.) and Doug Jones (D-Ala.) in introducing a bill Nov. 15 that would authorize a national study on how to prevent chronic wasting disease from spreading. (A similar bill was introduced in June in the House, where it currently sits in committee.)

The disease is caused by a protein that "attacks the brains of infected deer, elk and moose, causing the animals to display abnormal behavior, become uncoordinated and emaciated, and eventually die," according to information on the Colorado Parks and Wildlife (CPW) website. It's been cited by city councilors as one reason Colorado Springs should authorize urban hunting or hire professional shooters to control the deer population.

The bill, of which Barrasso is the lead sponsor, would require the U.S. Department of Agriculture to enter into an agreement with the National Academy of Sciences to review data and best management practices from state agencies. The goal is to "give state wildlife agencies and wildlife experts information to conduct targeted research on how the disease is transmitted, determine which areas are most at risk, and develop consistent advice for hunters to prevent further spread," according to a statement from Bennet's office.

CPW calls chronic wasting disease — which affects at least 57 percent of the state's deer herds, 37 percent of its elk herds and 22 percent of its moose herds — a "significant threat to the future health and vitality" of deer, elk and moose.

City Councilors Andy Pico, Don Knight and Merv Bennett had hoped the city would be able to hire professional hunters to cull a few dozen does within city limits in January. Though allowing urban bowhunting was one option councilors had originally discussed, they concluded at an August meeting with city and state officials that it was too close to the end of the season to implement such a policy.

The city issued a request for proposals on Aug. 20 for deer management, which called for a plan to be submitted by Sept. 30. "The deer management program is intended to maintain deer as an asset to the community; prevent disease due to overpopulation of deer; reduce the public safety risks of deer-vehicle conflicts; and preserve and protect the land of private and public property owners," the RFP said.

From there, the councilors had hoped the city could issue a new RFP for a culling company to carry out the management plan.

When asked whether that timeline was still in place, Pico said in a Nov. 21 email that one firm submitted a response to the RFP for a management plan, but it recommended the city not proceed "based on several factors."

"Also, the state has to approve such a plan and none have been approved in the state that I’m aware of," he wrote. "So culling in January isn’t going to happen."

In the meantime, Pico points out that City Council will consider a "don't feed the wildlife" ordinance for final approval Nov. 27. The ordinance would implement a $500 fine, on top of the state's $50 fine, for providing food to bears, skunks, raccoons, wolves, coyotes, foxes, deer, elk, moose, antelopes and other urban wildlife. The city contends that feeding wildlife "endangers the health and safety of both residents and animals" via vehicle crashes and wildlife's reliance on food from humans.

"And in the near term," Pico writes, "we will continue to cull using Fords, Chevys and Toyotas."

The city reports that a CPW survey counted about 2,700 deer in an area west of Interstate 25, or about 70 deer per square mile. From January to November 2017, Public Works removed 306 dead deer from roads and elsewhere, and police report about 50 traffic crashes involving deer each year.

CPW estimates about 200 does per year need to be eliminated to have an impact on herds within the city limits, the city says.

Read the full text of the Senate bill here:

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Monday, October 29, 2018

Weed-eating goats are baaaack in Bear Creek Regional Park

Posted By on Mon, Oct 29, 2018 at 8:06 PM

Lani Malmberg stands among her herd in 2014. - MATTHEW SCHNIPER
  • Matthew Schniper
  • Lani Malmberg stands among her herd in 2014.

A herd of 500 goats arrived in Bear Creek Regional Park on Oct. 26, and they'll stay there through the following weekend munching on weeds and poisonous plants.

Lani Malmberg and her son, Donny Benz, co-owners of Goat Green, are leading the eco-friendly effort in its 20th year. (We ran a profile on Malmberg, a self-proclaimed "gypsy goat herder," a few years ago.)

The herd will munch through 20 acres of the park surrounding the Charmaine Nymann Community Garden, according to a statement from El Paso County. The nonprofit Bear Creek Garden Association raises about $10,000 each year to pay for the organic weed control.

“The goats prefer the dry vegetation first—leaves, weeds and brush,” Malmberg is quoted in the statement. “They're browsers, not grazers like cows, and will only eat the green grass as a last resort. They like the dry prickly things and the herd will eat two to three tons a day. What they eat, they recycle — pure organic fertilizer — back into the soil. Plus, their 2,000 hooves work the soil, aerating and mulching as they go.”

The goats eliminate the need for harmful herbicides, and digest weeds and poisonous plants without spreading their seeds. Goat Green also does fire mitigation work in areas where dry brush poses a risk.

Planning to visit the weed eaters this week? Just keep in mind that the Parks, Recreation and Cultural Services Department and Garden Association ask visitors to keep their dogs leashed, citing a few altercations between uncontrolled canines and goats in the past.

To help bring the goats back next year, you can send tax-deductible donations for the Bear Creek Garden Association Goat Fund to P.O. Box 38326, Colorado Springs, CO 80937.
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Tuesday, October 2, 2018

Land and Water Conservation Fund faces uncertain future

Posted By on Tue, Oct 2, 2018 at 9:53 AM

The Land and Water Conservation Fund paid for more than $8 million in projects in Rocky Mountain National Park, according to the Land and Water Conservation Fund Coalition. - NATIONAL PARK SERVICE PHOTO/ WALKER HALL
  • National Park Service Photo/ Walker Hall
  • The Land and Water Conservation Fund paid for more than $8 million in projects in Rocky Mountain National Park, according to the Land and Water Conservation Fund Coalition.

Without action by Congress, a fund that's helped to pay for the conservation of public lands since 1965 is on hold.

The Land and Water Conservation Fund, which expired Sept. 30, bought and preserved land, water and recreation areas with royalty payments from offshore oil and gas money.

Since 1965, Colorado has received more than $268 million from the fund, according to the Land and Water Conservation Fund Coalition, a group advocating for its reauthorization. The money has paid for projects in Mesa Verde National Park, Canyons of the Ancients National Monument, Arapaho National Forest, Two Ponds National Wildlife Refuge, Rocky Mountain National Park, Cross Mountain Canyon Ranch and more.

As of Oct. 2, U.S. parks had lost more than $3.6 million in funding as a result of Congress' failure to reauthorize it, according to the LWCF Coalition. (The organization has an automatically updating online counter that tracks funds "lost," based on the $900 million deposited annually.)

A total of $40 billion was deposited in the fund over its 54-year lifespan, though less than half of that was appropriated by Congress. Of the $18.4 billion spent, 61 percent went to federal land acquisition, 25 percent went to the state grant program and 14 percent was spent on other purposes, according to the Congressional Research Service. The other funds were diverted elsewhere.

A measure to permanently restore the Land and Water Conservation Fund passed in the House Natural Resources Committee in September, but the measure has not yet reached the chamber floor. The Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee was expected to consider similar legislation Oct. 2.

Both bills would dedicate a minimum of $10 million from the fund each year to "projects that secure recreational public access to existing Federal public land for hunting, fishing, and other recreational purposes."

A coalition of more than 70 Colorado business owners and leaders in August signed a letter addressed to the state's representatives in Congress, urging them to reauthorize the fund.

"LWCF funding has leveraged hundreds of millions of dollars of state, local, and private
matching funds to contribute to the betterment of Colorado and well-being of its citizens,
and its reauthorization is critical to our future," they wrote. "Now more than ever, with the rapid
expansion of Colorado’s population and ever more common water shortages throughout
the Colorado River basin, Coloradans need the tool of LWCF to protect public land access,
critical drinking water supplies, and community resources."

Colorado legislators from both parties have jumped aboard the LWCF train. Republican Sen. Cory Gardner and Democratic Sen. Michael Bennet are cosponsors of the Senate reauthorization measure, while Rep. Jared Polis (D-Boulder), Rep. Ed Perlmutter (D-Arvada), Rep. Diana DeGette (D-Denver), Rep. Mike Coffman (R-Aurora) and Rep. Scott Tipton (R-Cortez) have signed on in support of the House measure. Rep. Doug Lamborn (R-Colorado Springs), serves on the Natural Resources Committee and voted in favor of advancing the legislation, the Colorado Sun reports.

Gardner and Bennet, original cosponsors of the Senate measure, co-authored a July 24 guest editorial in the Boulder Daily Camera championing the Land and Water Conservation Fund.

"LWCF is a critical tool for fulfilling our basic responsibility to give the next generation the same opportunities our parents and grandparents gave to us. It is time for Congress to stop the serial, short-term extensions of this program and make LWCF permanent with the full dedicated funding it deserves," they wrote.

Jonathan Asher, senior representative for the Wilderness Society, called actions in the House and Senate "really great signs," but predicted that legislation reauthorizing the fund is more likely to pass as part of next year's budget than as a stand-alone bill.
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Tuesday, September 11, 2018

20-year-old hiker missing in Mount Herman area

Posted By on Tue, Sep 11, 2018 at 3:51 PM

  • Facebook

UPDATE: As of Sept. 10, the search for Kevin Rudnicki, a 20-year-old student at the University of Wyoming, was still underway a week after he went missing in the Mount Herman area.

The search continues for Kevin Rudnicki, a 20-year-old student at the University of Wyoming who went missing Labor Day weekend in the Mount Herman area.

Rudnicki was last seen around 8:45 a.m. Sept. 2, and was known to be hiking in the Mount Herman area near Raspberry Mountain, says El Paso County spokesperson Jacqueline Kirby.

At first, it seemed normal for Rudnicki to be absent — he often camps and hikes in the area while on vacation from school, Kirby says. But concerns grew when he wasn't home by late evening. Kirby says he was expected back at school Sept. 3.

El Paso, Douglas and Fremont counties' search and rescue teams, the Forest Service, and private citizens have joined in the search effort.

Rudnicki is 5'9" and weighs 140 pounds, according to a missing poster shared on Facebook. He was last seen wearing a green T-shirt, khaki cargo shorts, a Wyoming baseball cap and tan military boots.

The disappearance is all the more disturbing a year after the death of cyclist Tim Watkins, who vanished last September while riding in the Mount Herman area. His body was found three days later near Limbaugh Canyon. The case is still unsolved.

It's unknown at this time whether foul play was a factor in Rudnicki's disappearance, Kirby says.

Any tips or information need to be reported to the Palmer Lake Police Department 719-481-2934.
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Friday, August 31, 2018

Colorado Springs gains 300 acres of open space in time for fall

Posted By on Fri, Aug 31, 2018 at 6:23 PM

Looking northeast from Blodgett Open Space. - CITY OF COLORADO SPRINGS
  • City of Colorado Springs
  • Looking northeast from Blodgett Open Space.

September is looking good for Colorado Springs outdoors enthusiasts.

On Aug. 28, City Council voted unanimously to purchase about 300 acres of open space for almost $1.8 million.

The first parcel, which expands the Corral Bluffs Open Space on the east side of the city by up to 246 acres, will cost $1.1 million, says Britt Haley, the Trails, Open Space and Parks Program manager.

(City staff will move forward with that purchase though Council still needs to vote on a supplemental appropriation next month, since the total cost came to slightly more than anticipated.)
Bill Koerner, of the Corral Bluffs Alliance, highlighted the area’s value for scientific research as well as its beauty. He said expanding "the Big Kahuna on the east side" would allow for guided hikes and other recreation opportunities that "are, we hope, going to come around the corner fairly soon."

Council also voted to expand the Blodgett Peak Open Space on the west side of town by 64 acres, for a cost of $778,500. That land, just east of the Pike National Forest, is famous for its sweeping views of the city.

Trails, Open Space and Parks (TOPS) sales tax money will fund the two purchases.

“This is what TOPS was created for, and it’s so exciting to have this opportunity,” says Susan Davies, executive director of the Trails and Open Space Coalition.

Here's what the two expansions will look like:

The Corral Bluffs Open Space will expand by 246 acres, for a cost of $1.1. million. - CITY OF COLORADO SPRINGS
  • City of Colorado Springs
  • The Corral Bluffs Open Space will expand by 246 acres, for a cost of $1.1. million.
The Blodgett Open Space will gain 64 acres, for a cost of $778,500. - CITY OF COLORADO SPRINGS
  • City of Colorado Springs
  • The Blodgett Open Space will gain 64 acres, for a cost of $778,500.
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Wednesday, August 15, 2018

City worker berated after Hillside park funding pulled

Posted By on Wed, Aug 15, 2018 at 10:00 AM

Activist Victoria Stone speaks to Hillside community members at the Living Word Baptist Church. - FAITH MILLER
  • Faith Miller
  • Activist Victoria Stone speaks to Hillside community members at the Living Word Baptist Church.

About three dozen people packed into Living Word Baptist Church Aug. 10 with their young children, neighbors, friends, and — in the case of Colorado Springs City Councilor Bill Murray and El Paso County Commissioner Longinos Gonzalez — their constituents, for a Hillside neighborhood meeting fraught with tension.

They were there to discuss and defend the Leon Young Pavilion, an aging wooden structure near the corner of Corona Street and Fountain Boulevard on the southern end of the Shooks Run trail. It's named for the city's first, and only, black mayor.
We reported last month on community members' efforts to use $150,000 in community development block grant money to revitalize the pavilion. Though the Parks, Recreation and Cultural Services Department has the pavilion on a list of structures "to be addressed," meaning it's likely to be demolished at some point, and the Community Development Division was ready to give Hillside the grant money to build something new, hopes to have the structure torn down and rebuilt were rejected by Parks ostensibly on the grounds that might interfere with the decades-in-the-making Legacy Loop trail plan.

Problem is: The trail is already laid in the park, and thus it's not clear why a new structure would be in the way. And then there's the fact the city parks appears to have lavished funds on large parks or parks in wealthier neighborhoods.

In a southeast neighborhood that's long felt ignored, the change in plans made some people angry, and inspired them to rally around a piece of their neighborhood that's considered not only an integral part of its character, but also a monument to a Colorado Springs trailblazer.

For many neighborhood residents, Parks' offer to revisit the structure for the next grant cycle, looking at minor beautification projects such as adding picnic tables instead of replacing the pavilion, wasn't enough.

The Leon Young Pavilion is near the southern end of Shooks Run trail. - MATTHEW SCHNIPER
  • Matthew Schniper
  • The Leon Young Pavilion is near the southern end of Shooks Run trail.
"$150,000 would make that park something that we could honor," activist June Waller said. "If we had the $150,000 we could take care of that now. Our babies could play in that park now."

Tilah Larson, a representative from Parks who fielded protests from community members, reiterated that the project "was not something we could accommodate at this time" because of two "pending, very large infrastructure projects": the Envision Shooks Run and Legacy Loop plans.

The Legacy Loop, a planned trail system that incorporates the Shooks Run Trail, and circles the greater downtown area, was first envisioned a century ago. There is no timeline for completing it, and the project is complicated by steep costs and stubborn landowners.
The Leon Young Pavilion sits near the Loop’s southern end and, as previously noted, already has a wide, smooth trail in place that goes around the structure. And Catherine Duarte, a representative from the city’s Community Development Division who worked with the city to identify the pavilion as a space for federally funded improvements, says she looked at the city’s plans and didn’t find any reason to believe the project would interfere.

Since they didn't think the pavilion would get in the way of the city's plans, said activist Mia Ramirez, community members didn't approach the Parks and Recreation Advisory Board until it was too late to work out a solution.

Replacing the pavilion, Larson says, is "not something [Parks is] comfortable with because when this planning process [for the Legacy Loop] comes to fruition, you’re going to see the possibility of adding a ton of new park elements down there... What we don’t want to do is put a new structure and then in a few years from now sit there and go, 'I wish it would have been here,' or 'If only we would have done this,' because that’s not a good use of federal funding."

But that argument didn't hold water for some neighbors at the meeting, frustrated that grant money was going to Memorial Park instead of Hillside's aging, splintering pavilion named for Leon Young.

Several women took turns raising their voices at Larson, who stayed on the defensive, backing up Parks' actions at every turn.
"The funds are there," said Hillside resident Sharon Dickerson. "It sounds like [improving the pavilion] could be done right away, but I’m getting that the city is saying, 'No, we can’t do anything about what you want to do until we decide what we’re gonna do.'"

One resident, Deborah Harvin, held up the neighborhood's damaged sidewalks as an example of why Hillside feels neglected. She says that although people visiting downtown walk through the neighborhood regularly, the city won't pay to fix the sidewalks.

"Thousands of people...come down our streets, use our neighborhood to get to that park or to get to that park, and you’re not gonna buy us sidewalks?" she said.

Joan Clemons, the director of Hillside Community Center, intervened to say that if people were upset, they should come to the city's public meetings and speak their opinion about development projects at every opportunity.

"The community needs to find out what’s going on in their community," she said. "You can’t beat somebody up for something that you’re finding out about now."

But Stephany Rose Spaulding, an outspoken attendee and the Democrat running against Rep. Doug Lamborn in the 5th Congressional District race this year, said the city wasn't making enough effort to solicit input from Hillside, a neighborhood known for poverty and high crime rates as well as racial diversity.

"(Outreach) might look very different in the way that we reach out to this specific community about what is happening," Spaulding said. "It might not be, 'come to our stuff,' it might be, I need to show up at your house to have this conversation so that you all don’t feel left out of the process....to make sure that the most vulnerable of us are brought into the conversation."

The city has scheduled an open house Aug. 21 from 5:30 to 7:30 p.m. at the Hillside Community Center (925 S. Institute St.) to discuss current and planned Parks projects, CDBG grants and applications, and homelessness issues. City Councilors Richard Skorman and Tom Strand will attend along with city staff.
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Thursday, August 9, 2018

Cheyenne Mountain Zoo: Two more animals dead after hailstorm

Posted By on Thu, Aug 9, 2018 at 12:54 PM

  • Cheyenne Mountain Zoo
The Cheyenne Mountain Zoo continues to suffer from the consequences of a freak hailstorm Aug. 6, announcing the deaths of two additional animals that fell victim to baseball-sized hail that shattered skylights and pelted outdoor exhibits.

A meerkat pup, which had recently been born and wasn't yet named, went missing underground after the storm and has not been recovered. The zoo has assumed it passed away. The second new casualty is Snoop, one of the zoo's prized peacocks.

On Tuesday, the zoo had confirmed the loss of a rare cape vulture, Motswari, and Daisy, a Muscovy duck.

Among the injured animals is Twinkie, a Rocky Mountain goat who suffered an eye injury. She's improved since Monday, the zoo says, and an external veterinary team from the James L. Voss Veterinary Teaching Hospital at Colorado State University will visit her Friday. Other animals are improving or stable, and some have been removed from the zoo's list of medical concerns.

Many zoo guests and employees were injured during the storm, some rushed to the hospital. And vehicles in the uncovered parking lot were rendered undriveable by smashed windshields. The zoo says there's still about 100 cars waiting to be towed, down from more than 200 on Tuesday afternoon.

"Zoo security will continue to monitor the cars through 5 p.m. Aug. 9," reads an Aug. 8 statement. "At that time, if a vehicle is still in the lot, it will be towed to the south corner of the Zoo's parking lot without security monitoring...If vehicles are still not claimed by Tuesday at 8 a.m., they will be towed to a monitored facility at the owner's expense."

The zoo plans to reopen this Saturday, Aug. 11, at 8 a.m. for members and 9 a.m. for the general public. It will close at the regular time of 5 p.m. After that, the zoo will return to its normal schedule: seven days a week, 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. EdVenture programs for kids and teens (including birthday parties, ZOOMobile appearances, WildNights, Kids-Only WildNights, Zoo exploration tours and teen programs) are canceled until Monday, Aug. 13.

Cheyenne Mountain Zoo is one of only nine zoos with accreditation from the Association of Zoos and Aquariums that doesn't have tax support. Instead, it operates on admissions, membership dues and donations, the zoo says.

"Although the Zoo is fully covered by insurance, the revenue lost during these high-season days will still be a hit for our non-profit budget," the statement reads. "Our employees are also stretched financially, due to personal vehicle losses."

Those wishing to help the zoo and its employees recover from the storm can donate at https://bit.ly/2OYtInY.
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Tuesday, July 10, 2018

Cross-country cyclist stops in Springs to hear refugees' stories

Posted By on Tue, Jul 10, 2018 at 2:30 PM

Alana Murphy, front right, with Lutheran Family Services staff in Colorado Springs. - COURTESY OF ALANA MURPHY
  • Courtesy of Alana Murphy
  • Alana Murphy, front right, with Lutheran Family Services staff in Colorado Springs.

Alana Murphy's not your typical 25-year-old. In the past two months, the former Fulbright scholar, world traveler, nonprofit worker and government intern has biked more than 1,800 miles through ten states, and clocked in about 50 interviews with refugees and refugee families.

She calls her journey "The Beautiful Crossing," and hopes, through the stories of the people she interviews — from New York City to Portland — to educate her online followers about the value of the United States' refugee admissions program.

(Read our recent reporting on refugees here.)

Murphy has only been able to upload a handful of interviews to her website so far because of limited access to internet. In August, she plans to have all 75 to 80 interviews from her trip online, where viewers can scroll through a state-by-state archive of photos, text and audio clips.

The trip is funded by a couple of private donors and Murphy’s personal savings, and she says she’d rather have supporters take the time to listen to the interviews than donate money.

Murphy stopped in Colorado Springs on July 6 and 7, speaking with five refugees through Lutheran Family Services Rocky Mountains, a local resettlement agency, before departing for Denver on July 8.

The Independent spoke to Murphy about what she's learned on the trip so far. (This interview has been edited slightly and condensed for clarity.)

How did you come up with the idea for this project?

I've worked with refugees and migrants for the last eight years of my life. I went overseas when I was 17, and I was learning Arabic, and I started working with a group of Syrian and Iraqi women who were waiting for resettlement. That kind of got me interested in international resettlement and what it was like for people who came from refugee backgrounds. From then on I started working with World Relief in Chicago, first as a volunteer, then as a full-time intern and then as staff, and I also had several other experiences working overseas in response work other than resettlement, direct response work in either refugee camps or with refugees who are living in urban city centers. I was able to intern full-time with the Bureau of Population, Refugees and Migration, which is the bureau within the State Department that manages the Refugee Admissions Program, and saw from that end kind of a policy side, and then I also was able to work here in resettlement, welcoming refugees to my home city, which is Chicago. So I’ve actually been able to see a lot of different sides and positives and negatives, and just really fell in love with being part of a team that’s welcoming people here to the U.S.

Murphy, right, leaves New York City with friend Joy Bitter, who accompanied Murphy for the first six weeks of her journey. - COURTESY OF ALANA MURPHY
  • Courtesy of Alana Murphy
  • Murphy, right, leaves New York City with friend Joy Bitter, who accompanied Murphy for the first six weeks of her journey.

How long are you expecting the whole journey to take?

I started on May 12 and the entire journey’s about three months. So it’s 95 days, and I travel about 4,300 miles. So now I’m on the second half of the trip and after Colorado I go up through Wyoming and Idaho, Montana and I go over to Spokane, Washington, and then Seattle and then Portland. And that will be the end of my project.

Is there anything that's surprised you?

The best part of this project has definitely been doing the interviews. And I’ve been, I feel really blessed to meet the people that I’ve been able to talk to. Some of my questions are focused on American culture, living in the United States. And I think it’s always interesting to learn about your own country and your own culture from someone who can see it from the outside. I’ve had some participants say some really interesting things. So kind of like a funny one, for example is one participant talked about how he was shocked when he realized how much money Americans spent on dogs and pets, he was like, they have these pet stores, all pet supplies for dogs, and that was so surprising to him, he could never really kind of get over that — 'Wow, so much money on these pets!'

Then another participant, he was from the Congo, and he had started doing talks in schools where he would go into public schools in Lancaster, Pennsylvania, where he’s living now. He would speak with schoolchildren about his experience, coming from the Congo and what that was like. And he had kids asking him, 'So do all Africans live in trees?' And at the time when he got this question, actually, I believe it was President Bush had been in Africa doing a diplomatic tour, doing some official visits with different countries and different presidents. And his response to these kids was, 'Well, I guess if all the Africans live in trees, then President Bush is in the trees with us.' For him of course, he knew it was kids, he wasn’t really offended, but he was concerned that in a day and an age when we have the internet and we have access to so much information, why are these children growing up — if they’re part of what some people consider the most powerful nation on earth — why are they growing up and they have no concept of what it’s like in modern-day Congo or modern-day Ghana or these other countries in Africa?

So those have been, it’s been really interesting to hear that from participants, and also just to hear how much they value living here in the United States and the things that we might take for granted. Another participant talked about how he was shocked when he realized you could return things here in the U.S. I know that sounds like a silly thing, you know, like not an important thing, you’re fleeing a conflict zone, that’s not the No. 1 thing you’re going to value. But he was saying he had bought something and it didn’t work. And he brought it back to the store and they gave him his money back. He was just shocked that that was even possible, that kind of freedom. He just thought that was really cool. And other people, of course, have talked more about, they really value that there are laws here that apply to everyone, and not just people of a certain class — that even though we have obviously people that are from a higher class or lower class, they still feel that people are expected to follow the laws and follow the same rules, and to them that really meant a lot.

Refugee admissions are way down right now, because the cap has been lowered and then the whole process has just kind of been slowed down from the top. What's your reaction to that? And do you think that getting these peoples' stories out there can help maybe create some change?

My project is independent, but in my opinion and from talking to different resettlement agencies and kind of reading a lot and being really interested, I do think that it’s very clear that very few refugees are arriving right now to the United States through the admissions program. The first cause of that is probably the cap, but then of course there’s a list of countries that are still banned, but then I think the third kind of indirect cause, that maybe isn’t really being seen or talked about as much, is that President Trump decided that there was a need for new processing procedures in order for people to come here. But there was not a lot of direction or clarity given in terms of how the procedures and interview process could actually be approved, and so then at this point I believe that for a lot of people, even who might be coming from the Congo for example, a country that’s not banned, the processing has actually been significantly slowed down, and very few people are even being admitted from countries that aren’t per se banned, simply because the Refugee Admissions Program has kind of been put on hold until new procedures can be put in place.

I believe at this point just over 13,000 people have come in fiscal year 2018, and the cap for this year is set at 45,000. And that cap of 45,000 is actually the lowest number of people that would be admitted to the U.S. Refugee Admissions Program since it was started in 1975. So 45,000 might sound like a big number to some people, but it’s actually less than 0.5 percent of people who are displaced internationally because of conflict. So it’s a very small percentage of actually the need globally.

Murphy at Union Station in Denver. - COURTESY OF ALANA MURPHY
  • Courtesy of Alana Murphy
  • Murphy at Union Station in Denver.

And in terms of whether this project or other advocacy measures can help with raising numbers again, I do think it’s really important to show support for the Refugee Admissions Program and show that our country historically has welcomed refugees. The Refugee Admissions Program started after World War II, and actually it was started by citizens and local faith-based organizations that wanted to open up doors to people fleeing Hitler and other regimes in World War II. So it was a citizen-based initiative which then was formalized by the government and became the Refugee Admissions Program. It's a huge part of the image that we’ve kind of shown to the world overseas. And I think it’s important to show that we continue to support and value that, but it is true that it’s within Trump’s constitutionally given powers to set a cap on the program and grant special immigrant visas. And so I don’t believe that, necessarily, advocacy efforts can change the restrictions that have limited the program at this time, but I do believe that the program will survive the current situation and the current political environment, and I hope that more people, hopefully through my project and other advocacy efforts come to learn more about the program, and value the program and the impact that it’s really had here in the United States. I hope that when things change and the political environment changes there will be more support and more people that are trying to welcome refugees to the United States.

Do you see yourself continuing to do work like this in the future?

Yes, I definitely do. I feel very passionately about working with refugees, especially here in the U.S. in resettlement. My field is actually international migration policy, so that’s what I study and what I pursue. My next step is, actually, I will be going to Beijing and I’m going to do a master’s program in China, and I'm studying government response and government policies to respond to internal migration within the country.

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Tuesday, July 3, 2018

Pikes Peak region draws $1.6 billion in tourism spending in 2017

Posted By on Tue, Jul 3, 2018 at 4:10 PM

Last year was a good year for tourism in the Pikes Peak region, according to a study commissioned by the Convention and Tourism Bureau, and this year might prove even better.

The Lodgers and Automobile Renter's Tax (LART) is up 4 percent through April, the CVB reports, compared to the same period in 2017.

The study, conducted by Longwoods International, which CVB says is a leader in tourism research, found the region welcomed 23 million people. Of those, 13 million came for day trips and 10 million stayed at least one night. Those visitors infused some $6.3 million per day into the local economy and accounted for $1.6 billion in total spending for those who have overnight stays, a 7 percent rise over 2016.

The CVB notes in a release that while the total number of visitors was essentially flat in 2017 compared to the prior year, spending increased in the overnight category.

"Two main goals of our Destination Master Plan are to increase the length of stay and total visitor spend," CVB President and CEO Doug Price says in the release. "With higher demand for our area’s attractions and natural landmarks, increasing the length of trip and amount of money infused into our destination is the best way to maximize economic impact in a sustainable and responsible way.”

The Destination Master Plan is a long-term roadmap on how to improve the visitor experience for Colorado Springs and the Pikes Peak region.

Of note is the breakdown of where overnight visitors stayed, as depicted in the chart above.

The largest percentage (24 percent) rented hotel rooms, but nearly as many stayed with friends or relatives (23 percent).

With the city in the throes of writing regulations for Airbnb-type lodging, it's interesting to note that only 6 percent chose one of those types of accommodates, says the CVB's Chelsy Offutt via email. "We suspect if someone stayed in an AirBnB, VRBO, HomeAway, etc., it would be included in the 'rented home/condo/apartment' and 'rented cottage/cabin' categories, but haven’t confirmed this," she notes.
Garden of the Gods is a popular tourist attraction, drawing 6 million people in 2017. - FILE PHOTO
  • File photo
  • Garden of the Gods is a popular tourist attraction, drawing 6 million people in 2017.

Other findings from the Longwoods study:

• Almost eight in 10 overnight visitors used a smart phone during their stay for travel/activity planning purposes.
• Overnight visitors to the Pikes Peak region spent an average of 2.8 nights in the region, up slightly from 2.6 nights in 2016.
• The average travel party size in 2017 was 3 persons, a slightly larger party than the national average of 2.8 persons.
• About six in 10 overnight Pikes Peak region travelers arrived by personal vehicle, while most of the remainder flew into Denver International Airport or Colorado Springs Airport.
• In 2017, the five most popular activities and experiences on an overnight trip to the region were shopping, visiting a national or state park, hiking/backpacking, visiting a landmark/historic site and fine dining.
• About one-third of overnight visitors indicate that historic places were of specific interest on their trip, while one in four said their trip was focused on cultural attractions and experiences.

Also from the release:
According to CVB Chief Innovation Office Amy Long, knowing how visitors are inspired and what they like to do in the region is an important component to craft the organization’s marketing messages. “This detailed profile guides our advertising strategy, annual media mix, timing and creative development. We are positioning Colorado Springs as Olympic City USA, a year-round inspirational destination for families, outdoor enthusiasts, arts and culture travelers and those who plan meetings and events. Based on the goals of our Destination Master Plan, we are working on tactics to attract visitors from farther away who will stay longer and spend more.”
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Celebrate Bike to Work Day winners with Mayor John Suthers

Posted By on Tue, Jul 3, 2018 at 2:05 PM

The city's PikeRide bike share program launched last month. - TYLER GRIMES
  • Tyler Grimes
  • The city's PikeRide bike share program launched last month.

Bike Month may be over, but let's not forget about the stars of this year's Bike to Work Day.

Mayor John Suthers will announce the winner of the Corporate Challenge, the best breakfast station, the 2018 Commuter of the Year, and the winners of head-to-head competitions on Monday at Trail's End Taproom.

The Corporate Challenge offered businesses the chance to prove their commitment to health and the environment, as measured by employee participation. Companies were separated into “classes” based on the size of their workforce and given a score.

This year, 45 companies and organizations ranging in size from 2 to 5,000 employees went head-to-head, according to a statement from the Bike to Work Day Steering Committee.

The suspense is mounting: Initial calculations of the corporate winners were incorrect, due to an error in the formula that counted participants who'd registered in two or more breakfast locations. The city will update its website with the correct winners in coming days, according to the announcement.

The Bike to Work Day Awards and Recognition Celebration will be held Monday, July 9, from 5:30-7 p.m. at Trail's End Taproom. Bike parking will be available, and organizers encourage guests to ride.

In other cycling news: The city just launched PikeRide, a bike share program that allows riders to check out a pair of wheels for free. Brave reporter Bridgett Harris tested them out for last week's cover story.
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Monday, July 2, 2018

Fireworks: All you need to know about fire and fun on the Fourth of July

Posted By on Mon, Jul 2, 2018 at 2:50 PM


As wildfires rage across Colorado, several cities and towns have decided to call off their public fireworks displays this year. But there's still places to get your Fourth of July fix:

Summer Symphony: Memorial Park 
All of the streets in Memorial Park and many of the surrounding streets are closed from 2 to 10 p.m. July 4. - CITY OF COLORADO SPRINGS
  • City of Colorado Springs
  • All of the streets in Memorial Park and many of the surrounding streets are closed from 2 to 10 p.m. July 4.

The Colorado Springs Philharmonic headlines this annual free event, also featuring activities, concessions and a 5:30 p.m. performance from Air Force Academy band Wild Blue Country to kick off the night. The Philharmonic plays at 7 p.m. and fireworks start at 9 p.m. Get there early to snag a prime spot.

Rollin' on the Riverwalk

The Historic Arkansas Riverwalk of Pueblo hosts its 15th annual show on the AMR Confluence Plaza, proclaiming that "the show will go on" despite a 217-acre fire this weekend in Pueblo County (now 100 percent contained). Gates open at 5 p.m., with a 7 p.m. performance by rock 'n' roll band Doctor Fine and fireworks at 9 p.m. Admission is $3, but military and kids under 3 get in free. Vendors will have food for purchase.

Sky Sox vs. New Orleans Baby Cakes

The first 1,000 fans participating in this great American pastime — baseball — get mini flags, and everyone can enjoy a fireworks display following the game. Tickets start at $12.

Fireworks have been canceled in Cripple Creek, Manitou Springs and Woodland Park.

That's due to dry, windy conditions fueling fires across Colorado. The Spring Creek fire west of Walsenberg has burned over 50,000 acres and was 5 percent contained as of July 1, the Denver Post reports. Northwest of Cripple Creek, the Chateau fire has burned more than 1,500 acres and was 0 percent contained. And north of Buena Vista, the Weston Pass fire has burned over 4,000 acres and was also 0 percent contained, according to the Post.

Then there's the Sugarloaf fire west of Denver, the Badger Creek fire on the Wyoming border, and the 416 and Burro fires in southwestern Colorado.

So remember, leave lighting up the night to the experts this year. The El Paso County Sheriff's Office reminds residents that unincorporated parts of the county are under Stage II fire restrictions, meaning it's against the law to light campfires, sell or use fireworks, smoke outside an enclosed vehicle or building, engage in public prescribed burning, or cook outdoors on private property (propane and gas grills are allowed).

All fireworks are prohibited, and burn restrictions are in place, in Colorado Springs, Monument, Fountain, Manitou Springs, and all of Teller County.
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Wednesday, June 27, 2018

North Cheyenne Cañon master plan appeal denied

Posted By on Wed, Jun 27, 2018 at 4:46 PM

  • File photo
Colorado Springs City Council turned away an appeal of the North Cheyenne Cañon master plan on June 26, allowing the plan to go forward as written. The plan currently allows for shuttle studies in certain circumstances and lays out other controversial steps.

Here's a link to the plan.

Jim Bensberg and the Cheyenne Cañon Conservationists appealed the Park Advisory Board's approval on May 10 of the master plan, which didn't require Council approval. But the appeal did require Council action.

Council Voted 6-3 to deny the appeal, with Council President Richard Skorman and Councilors Bill Murray and Yolanda Avila voting in the minority.

After the vote, the city sent out this notice:
In a six-to-three vote in favor of denying the appeal, City Council also included in the motion the removal from the Plan of the word “minor” in reference to any future amendments to the Plan.

You Will See Changes in the Park this Year

The Parks, Recreation and Cultural Services Department will begin implementation of the Plan this year. Park improvements will include:
Design and engineering of Powell Trailhead improvements;
Continued coordination on night closure gates at both entrances to the Park;
Installation of traffic counters in the Park; and
Trail improvements in the Helen Hunt Falls Interpretive Area, including the Silver Cascade and Buffalo Canyon Trails, a new trail connecting Columbine Trail and the Powell Trailhead, and trail connection improvements to the Bruin Inn picnic area.

In addition, the City will work collaboratively with the Friends of Cheyenne Cañon on:
Construction of an accessible trail loop connected to the Starsmore Center; and
Initiation of development of the Interpretive Plan as called for in the Master and Management Plan.
According to Director Karen Palus, “The Department greatly appreciates all of the work area residents put into developing the Plan. Our staff is excited to begin implementation and to continue to partner with the community to protect, restore, and enjoy this wonderful Park.”
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City Council approves creekside camping ban in initial vote

Posted By on Wed, Jun 27, 2018 at 3:59 PM

Trash piles like this one, near the confluence of Shooks Run and Fountain Creek, aren’t uncommon along the Springs’ waterways. That waste can end up polluting water. - MATTHEW SCHNIPER
  • Matthew Schniper
  • Trash piles like this one, near the confluence of Shooks Run and Fountain Creek, aren’t uncommon along the Springs’ waterways. That waste can end up polluting water.

In a first vote, City Council members approved by 7-2 an ordinance that bans camping within 100 feet of creeks. Councilors Yolanda Avila and Bill Murray were opposed.

The ordinance, pushed by City Councilors Tom Strand and Merv Bennett, would specifically ban all municipal camping within 100 feet of a public stream. Violations would be punishable by a fine of up to $2,500 and/or up to 189 days in jail.

The ordinance targets homeless camps along creeks, which proponents say pose risks to health and public safety. It cites the above-standard presence of E. coli in the Fountain Creek watershed, indicated by a September study by the U.S. Geological Survey (though scientists haven't determined whether human waste was a significant factor in the contamination).

Colorado Springs has had a camping ban on public property for years, but police currently have to give camp occupants 24-hour notice (under department policy, not city code) and ensure there’s shelter space available before dismantling camps. The new ordinance, Strand says, would make the ban easier to enforce by doing away with those requirements.

Councilor Andy Pico spoke out at the June 26 City Council meeting in support of the ban. In response to concerns of other councilors that the ban ignored the broader issues of pollution and homelessness, Pico said the ban was a necessary first step on the path to solving them.

"A journey of a thousand miles starts with a broken fan belt," Pico said. "And [creekside camping] is our broken fan belt and we need to fix this right off the step."

Councilor Murray questioned whether the ordinance would survive a legal challenge. (The American Civil Liberties Union of Colorado has voiced concern about the ban, and in the past, courts have found that cities cannot outlaw homeless people’s basic survival — which could be at issue if law enforcement doesn't ensure there's shelter space available before forcing campers to move.)

Murray pointed out two reasons the ordinance might not pass legal muster: It wouldn't keep campers from walking down to the creek to dump waste, and the city doesn't have solid data to prove that campers caused contamination.

"How do we sustain a court challenge that says we actually targeted these people instead of attempting the resolution, which we understand is [shelter] beds?"

Councilor Bennett responded by saying the ordinance could save people living in creekside camps from flash floods and would protect the general public from the risk of contaminated needles left by campers, as possible reasons a ban would be defensible.

Dee Cunningham, executive director of Keep Colorado Springs Beautiful, works with the police department’s Homeless Outreach Team to clean up camps after officers have told their occupants to move on. For years, she's seen campers dump waste into the creek, she said, and her reaction to the ban's initial approval was positive.

"I’m really pleased with some forward momentum," she said.

Shawna Kemppainen, the executive director of Urban Peak, a nonprofit that serves youth experiencing homelessness, said her agency will remain focused on helping people get out of homelessness regardless of whether the ordinance becomes law.

"Anything that's going to make it more difficult for people to find a place where they can be when they don't have a place inside to be is just going to make their walk out of homelessness more challenging," Kemppainen said. "It's not to say that [issues such as creekside camping] are not important issues, but we have to put our focus and attention on the places where we can really make some headway that helps clear the path for people."

A final vote is expected for July 10.
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Wednesday, June 20, 2018

Big events close roads in June

Posted By on Wed, Jun 20, 2018 at 5:46 PM

During the Pikes Peak International Hill Climb Fan Fest, there will be closures on Tejon Street, Pikes Peak Avenue, Kiowa Street and Bijou Street. - CITY OF COLORADO SPRINGS
  • City of Colorado Springs
  • During the Pikes Peak International Hill Climb Fan Fest, there will be closures on Tejon Street, Pikes Peak Avenue, Kiowa Street and Bijou Street.
Between the June 20 Western Street Breakfast, the Pikes Peak Hill Climb this weekend and the U.S. Senior Open Championship next week, the city may seem a bit like a maze this month.

To minimize road rage, here's some closures to keep on your radar for the next couple of weeks:

Friday, June 22:
Pikes Peak International Hill Climb Fan Fest

Closed from 1:30 to 10 p.m.:
  • Tejon Street, from Colorado Avenue to Platte Avenue
  • Pikes Peak Avenue, from Nevada Avenue to Cascade Avenue
  • Kiowa Street, from Nevada Avenue to Cascade Avenue
  • Bijou Street, from Nevada Avenue to Cascade Avenue
Sunday, June 24:
Pikes Peak International Hill Climb
  • The Pikes Peak - America's Mountain Highway will be closed to visitors.
The U.S. Senior Open Championship will cause a web of road closures. - CITY OF COLORADO SPRINGS
  • City of Colorado Springs
  • The U.S. Senior Open Championship will cause a web of road closures.

Monday, June 25 - Sunday, July 1: U.S. Senior Open Championship

Closed from 12 a.m. to 12 p.m. (June 24-July 1):
  • West Cheyenne Mountain Boulevard, from Mirada Road to Penrose Boulevard
Closed from 6 a.m.-8 p.m. (June 24-June 29) and 7 a.m.-8 p.m. (June 30-July 1):
  • El Pomar Road, from Penrose Boulevard to Mesa Avenue
  • Pourtales Road, from Beech Avenue to Mirada Road
  • Mirada Road, from Pourtales Road to West Cheyenne Mountain Boulevard
  • First Avenue, from Lake Avenue to Broadmoor Avenue
  • Second Street, from Lake Avenue to Broadmoor Avenue
  • Second Street, from Lake Avenue to Elm Avenue
  • Third Street, from Lake Avenue to Elm Avenue
  • Fourth Street, from Lake Avenue to Elm Avenue
  • Berthe Circle, from Lake Avenue to Elm Avenue
  • Berthe Circle, from Lake Avenue to Broadmoor Avenue
  • Briarwood Place, from Lake Avenue to Broadmoor Avenue
  • Tanglewood Drive, from Lake Avenue to Broadmoor Avenue
  • Hutton Lane, from Lake Avenue to Broadmoor Avenue
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