Tuesday, August 13, 2019

Toxic algae closes Prospect Lake; bacteria can harm people and pets

Posted By on Tue, Aug 13, 2019 at 2:55 PM

  • Pam Zubeck
The city of Colorado Springs closed Prospect Lake in Memorial Park Aug. 9 after a water sample taken that morning tested positive for a toxin, cyanobacteria, also known as blue-green algae.

The banks of the lake are dotted with closure signs and the swim beach is roped off. Swimming, bathing, paddleboarding, boating of all kinds and other water activities are banned. No pets are allowed in the water.

Fishing areas remain open, but anglers are urged to clean fish well and remove guts.
Media around the county have reported that blue-green algae can be deadly to pets. Dogs in Georgia, North Carolina and Texas died recently after being exposed to the algae in lakes.
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Wednesday, July 31, 2019

Help for watersheds

Posted By on Wed, Jul 31, 2019 at 1:00 AM

Grasses and reeds growing by small reflecting pond in the Four-Mile Recreational Area, in the San Isabel National Forest. - SHUTTERSTOCK
  • Shutterstock
  • Grasses and reeds growing by small reflecting pond in the Four-Mile Recreational Area, in the San Isabel National Forest.
Three agencies will cooperate on projects to protect watersheds in the White River and Pike and San Isabel National Forests.

Colorado Springs Utilities, the U.S. Forest Service and the Colorado State Forest Service will spend a combined $15 million to restore areas of the forest and promote wildfire mitigation over the next five years.

“Through partnerships like this one, land managers and water providers in Colorado can help ensure clean, reliable water for present and future generations,” Mike Lester, state forester and state forest service director, said in a release.

Projects will span 11,000 acres of watersheds.
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Tuesday, July 30, 2019

Help build the Pikes Peak Summit Complex

Posted By on Tue, Jul 30, 2019 at 2:30 PM

Mayor John Suthers helps launch a fundraising campaign for the Pikes Peak Summit Complex on July 30. - COURTESY CITY OF COLORADO SPRINGS
  • Courtesy City of Colorado Springs
  • Mayor John Suthers helps launch a fundraising campaign for the Pikes Peak Summit Complex on July 30.
Want to be able to say, "I helped build that!" when the Pikes Peak Summit Complex opens next fall?

Then get out your wallet and write a check to the "My Mountain" campaign, Mayor John Suthers urged residents to do, after he was the first to make a donation.

The city said in a news release Suthers donated his loose change at Ent Credit Union's University Service Center on July 30.

“The sense of pride and ownership of this mountain that’s felt by members of our community is and always has been palpable, and now our generation has a chance to contribute to this incredible legacy,” Suthers said in a news release. “The ‘My Mountain’ campaign is an exciting opportunity for everyone who has ever felt a connection to Pikes Peak to rally together and offer their support to preserve and protect this treasured destination.”

The complex will cost $60 million and is funded in part by reserves from the city enterprise, Pikes Peak – America’s Mountain, which charges tools and collects money from concession sales.

The city set the goal for public and private donations at $15 million, of which $7 million has yet to be raised.

Hence Suthers' plea.

You can donate at any of Ent's 24 southern Colorado locations and via phone at 719-574-1100 or 800-525-6923 through the end of the year.

The project is to open in the fall of 2020, replacing the Summit House built in 1963. It's a collaboration among the U.S. Forest Service, National Park Service, State Historic Preservation Office, tribal representatives and the summit’s five major permit holders: the City of Colorado Springs, Pikes Peak – America’s Mountain, The Broadmoor’s Pikes Peak Cog Railway, the U.S. Army High-Altitude Research Laboratory and Colorado Springs Utilities.

The contractor is GE Johnson of Colorado Springs. Architects are local firm RTA Architects and GWWO Architects of Baltimore.
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Thursday, July 25, 2019

Shopping center seeks missing dinosaur sculpture

Posted By on Thu, Jul 25, 2019 at 3:45 PM

  • Courtesy of The Market at Spring Creek
Either Colorado Springs is dealing with a Jurassic Park situation, or someone (some people, more likely) was able to steal a brontosaurus named Deeno from a local shopping center — and keep him hidden for nearly two weeks, as of this writing.

Deeno was last seen July 13 at The Market at Spring Creek, a retail center at South Circle Drive and Monterey Road.

The center's new owner, Western Centers — which recently commissioned Deeno and four other colorful sculptures — is advertising a $500 reward for the return of the green and purple dino.

He has very large footprints and eats a vegan diet, the missing poster notes.

Aurora-based property management group Western Centers is also working on revitalizing the center through the installation of "large art murals, new LED lighting, new paint, roof and HVAC repairs, new landscaping, food trucks and more," representative Paul Suter notes in an email.

Deeno's four companion sculptures include a multicolored giraffe, pink flamingo, blue T-rex and red rooster. They anxiously await his safe return.
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Friday, July 19, 2019

Water woes: Pricey pools, a splash pad, and a little girl with hand, foot and mouth disease

Posted By on Fri, Jul 19, 2019 at 8:10 AM

Monument Valley Pool - J. ADRIAN STANLEY
  • J. Adrian Stanley
  • Monument Valley Pool

Colorado Springs's city pools are far more expensive than those in Denver, Pueblo, Fort Collins and Boulder. How expensive? Try $35 for a family to go to the pool for a single day.

For comparison's sake, in Denver adults pay $3.50 each and kids, $1. Denver seniors and Denver Public School students get in free. I wrote about the discrepancy in prices here.

But here's a little twist: When asked about expensive pools, city officials pointed out the city has several spray grounds and splash parks that kids can go to free of charge. Then, last week, a local mom went viral on social media and made the TV news with claims that her 2-year-old, Athena, likely contracted hand-foot-and-mouth disease at John Venezia Community Park's spray ground.

Meantime, local dad Ryan Brown — who you might remember as the black man that Colorado Springs Police say they did not racially profile and then arrest with excessive force, though they paid $212,000 to settle his case — says he plans to speak to City Council on July 23 about the high fees.

Brown says he's called around since our story ran and isn't satisfied with the reasons he's been given for the high price tags. To him, city pools ought to be affordable for all families.
“It ’s discrimination," he says. "It’s not based on in the '60s, like this is white only, it’s based on class.”

Brown, who plans to bring along his 7-year-old son, says, “I would say 60 percent of the people in this town can’t afford to do that.”

Given the current heat wave, many families that can't afford pools will be heading to those aforementioned spray grounds. Which might seem a little questionable to some parents after that viral story about little Athena. (Who wants to trade a $35 pool entrance fee for hundreds or even thousands of dollars in medical bills and a suffering child?)

So, here's the deal: Hand-foot-and-mouth disease is a common childhood ailment. Considered mild, it causes a rash, blisters, and flu-like symptoms and is generally spread through feces, saliva, fluid from blisters, snot, etc.
Athena clearly contracted a severe case. Her body was covered in painful-looking blisters. "She's barely eaten, barely drinking. She's drinking enough to where she's hydrated. She's itchy, she's miserable," Molly Jenig, Athena's mom, recently told KRDO.

News outlets generally noted, and El Paso County Public Health confirms, that while it's possible little Athena got sick at the spray ground, it's unlikely.

"HFMD is most commonly spread a person-to-person via saliva, blister fluid and feces. It is possible a child/person can be exposed by swallowing recreational water, but most likely exposure would be from another person. The incubation period for HFMD is 3-6 days which means a child could come into contact with the virus days prior to infection in a variety of different locations and circumstances (especially if the child mingles with others under the age of 5)," Public Health's Matt Steiner notes.
City spokesperson Jamie Fabos says that the Venezia spray ground was cleaned with a Purell product after the reports from Jenig, in an abundance of caution, but also says that the spray grounds are regularly cleaned:

Here is our protocol:

• Water is tested initially at approximately 7:30 each morning, seven days a week. We test for free chlorine, total chlorine, Ph and alkalinity.

• The test goal is to have between 1 and 5 parts/million of chlorine. If necessary, adjustments are made. Adjustments are necessary infrequently at best.

• The filter system is backwashed twice a day.

• After the initial morning water test the water will be tested two more times during the day for free chlorine, total chlorine, and Ph.

• All protocols are performed per State Health Department guidelines.

• Logs are kept on site of the testing performed (we have them going back to the first day the spray ground opened).
So is that enough to keep kids safe? Maybe. Public Health notes:

• The use of chemical disinfectants in recreational bodies of water are intended to reduce the risk of disease transmission and ensure that a safe and healthy environment is available for use. Two chemicals, chlorine and bromine, are recognized as the only primary disinfectants and approved for use in recreational water. Through numerous scientific studies and data these chemicals are shown to provide effective disinfection for most pathogens of concern in recreational water. While the use of chemical disinfection is important, it really is the use of chemical disinfection in conjunction with recirculation and filtration that provide the greatest decrease in recreational water illness.
In other words, there's always a risk, but your kids are probably fine at the spray grounds. And they're certainly a cheaper choice than the city pools. 
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Tuesday, July 2, 2019

Feds propose new plan to manage millions of acres in Colorado

Posted By on Tue, Jul 2, 2019 at 9:57 AM

A federal management plan available for public comment covers the eastern half of the state. - COURTESY BLM
  • Courtesy BLM
  • A federal management plan available for public comment covers the eastern half of the state.
A federal agency that oversees issues like drilling minerals and livestock grazing on virtually the entire eastern half of Colorado has opened a public comment period for its Draft Environmental Impact Statement for the Eastern Colorado Resource Management Plan.

The Bureau of Land Management has planned seven public meetings, including one in Colorado Springs at 5:30 p.m. on July 22 at Westside Community Center, 1628 W. Bijou St.

Go to this site to access all the reports associated with the BLM's preferred alternative, which will allow development of "energy and natural resources and increasing access to minerals, renewable energy, livestock grazing, right-of-way development, and recreation," according to a news release.

In a sentence, the BLM describes the impact of its preferred alternative like this:

Overall, the Preferred Alternative would increase access to public
lands for recreational and hunting and fishing uses and by increasing areas available for rights-of-way and mineral development. In addition, it would decrease regulatory burden and improve management efficiencies by minimizing right-of-way avoidance areas and fluid mineral restrictions.
Wildlife need conservation efforts to preserve their habitat. - BLM PHOTO BY BOB WICK
  • BLM photo by Bob Wick
  • Wildlife need conservation efforts to preserve their habitat.
Take note of that phrase, "decrease regulatory burden."

In a news release, Wild Connections, an environmental watchdog group, expresses suspicion that the BLM won't be looking out for the best interest of those who can't speak for themselves, like wildlife that rely on natural settings to live and thrive.

"The low-elevation lands affected by this resource management plan are particularly important as wildlife habitat since they form crucial links in the mountains-to-plains ecology of our region, through which many of our species migrate annually," Wild Connections president Jim Lockhart said in a release. "Protecting this network of wild areas therefore must be given the highest planning priority.”

  • Photo by BLM
From Wild Connections' news release:

The BLM’s preferred alternative (Alternative D) fails to conserve the area’s wildest lands and natural resources. For example, BLM has identified 190,000 acres of wilderness-quality lands (LWCs) in the planning area. Yet, BLM only includes 1,300 acres of lands with wilderness character, and does not include appropriate management to protect their wild values, making them vulnerable to fragmentation and development. Additionally, BLM reduces other conservation management across the planning area, such as Areas of Critical Environmental Concern (ACECs). The preferred alternative would reduce existing ACEC designations by more than 20,000 acres, even while BLM found that more than 100,000 acres of public land meet the agency’s criteria for designation – meaning they have significant natural resource values that are at risk without protective management.

“If we leave these BLM public lands unprotected, we risk losing critical fish and wildlife habitat, recreational opportunities, and local wild and scenic areas, along with the sustainable tourism dollars and economic benefits that accompany these values,” Aaron and Brenda Cromer, owners of Bighorn Sheep RV Park, said in the release.

Similar planning initiatives envelop millions of acres of land in Oregon, Montana and Alaska.
Conservationists fear the draft plan will lead to opening federal lands to additional mineral mining and other issues, such as over-grazing.

The BLM's plan will replace two prior plans and bring new types of management to 658,200 surface acres and 3.3 million acres of mineral estate in 37 counties in eastern Colorado.

Besides the Colorado Springs meeting, feedback will be sought during these meetings, all of which begin at 5:30 p.m.:

• July 8, in Salida at the SteamPlant Event Center, 220 West Sackett Avenue
• July 9 in Cañon City at The Abbey, 3011 East Highway 50
• July 11 in Fairplay at the Foss Smith Multipurpose Room, 640 Hathaway Street.
• July 15: Walsenburg at the Washington School, 201 East 5th Street
• July 18: Golden at the Denver Marriott West, 1717 Denver West Boulevard
• July 23: Greeley at the Greeley Recreation Center, 651 10th Avenue

Citizens can comment on the management plan by going here. Deadline is September 20.
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Monday, June 24, 2019

Bike to Work Day is June 26

Posted By on Mon, Jun 24, 2019 at 5:30 PM

Mayor John Suthers and police officers were among those to participate in the 2018 Bike to Work Day. - ALLEN BEAUCHAMP
  • Allen Beauchamp
  • Mayor John Suthers and police officers were among those to participate in the 2018 Bike to Work Day.

Colorado Springs' Bike to Work Day is June 26, and there are plenty of reason to press your feet the pedals — starting with your stomach. The event, for which the Independent is a sponsor, features over 30 locations for cyclists to get a free breakfast including local businesses with yummy offerings. (Find yours on the map!)

You don't have to register to get breakfast, but you are encouraged to: It's a way for the city to judge how many people are getting out on their bikes and that factors into a lot of decision-making on how best to accommodate cyclists. You can register as late as the morning of Bike to Work Day!

Feeling nervous about your route? Check the city's bike map to figure out the safest way from home to work.

By the way, Bike to Work Day is just one of many events for Bike Month. So be sure to check out the other happenings.

Here are some tips to keep you safe on the road:

Under state law bicyclists are considered vehicles, however, they are much more vulnerable on the road. Please consider the following safety suggestions to help make for a pleasant ride to work that morning.
• People get around our city on foot, in car, by bus, on bikes and wheelchairs. Let’s be mindful so that we all arrive safely.
• Always wear a helmet.
• Always signal when riding on the road and obey all Colorado traffic laws.
• Be visible and alert to surroundings.
• Respect and be considerate of others on the roads and trails.

Want to hit a Happy Hour on the ride home and get a special deal? Here's the list:

Stop at any one of the local breweries listed below for a special deal as you bike home from work:
• Brass Brewing Co. (318 E. Colorado Ave), $1 off beer all day, $2 off beer during Happiest Hour (4-7 p.m.)
• Brewer’s Republic (112 N. Nevada Ave), $1 off beer all day, $2 off beer during Happiest Hour (4-7 p.m.)
• Cerberus Brewing Co. (702 W. Colorado Ave), $1 off beer all day, $2 off beer during Happiest Hour (4-7 p.m.)
• FH Beer Works Downtown (521 S. Tejon St), $1 off pints for riders
• FH Beer Works East (2490 Victor Pl/ Rock Island Trail & Powers), $1 off pints for riders
• Goat Patch Brewing Co. (2727 N Cascade Ave, #123/ Lincoln Center), BOGO for riders
• Local Relic (320 S. Weber St), ½ off first flight or full pour, plus BOGO select bottles
• Peaks N Pines Brewery (4005 Tutt Boulevard 80922), BOGO for riders
• Phantom Canyon Brewing Co. (2 East Pikes Peak Avenue 80903), free pint with purchase of an appetizer ($10 minimum)
• Storybook Brewing Co. (3121A, N El Paso St), BOGO for riders on BTWD, 10% off for riders all year
• Tap Traders (3104 N Nevada Ave #100), BOGO for riders on BTWD
• Trails End Taproom (3103 W. Colorado Ave), 15% off beer pours for riders
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Tuesday, March 26, 2019

Gov. Polis unveils new state logo

Posted By on Tue, Mar 26, 2019 at 11:44 AM

Gov. Jared Polis unveiled a new state logo to replace the one implemented by his predecessor, John Hickenlooper, at a press conference March 26.

The new logo features a green pine tree to the left of a blue and red letter "C" with blue mountains and a yellow background in the center.

The former state logo, which features the white letters "CO" overlaying a green, snow-capped mountain, was implemented in 2013 following a campaign by Hickenlooper's office. A team of designers created three possible logos, which were displayed on a public website.

The redesign ultimately cost $1.1 million in private donations and $1.5 million in pro-bono work, the Associated Press reported at the time.

The winning logo proved to be a tough sell.

Critics complained that it looked like the warning sign for carbon monoxide, and mourned the loss of the former accepted logo — the ubiquitous red and yellow "C" on Colorado's state flag. Republicans even lodged an effort in the state Assembly to refer the logo to voters, but a Democrat-led committee defeated it.

Despite protests, the logo soon adorned the state government's department websites and official messaging.

Will Polis' new logo pass muster? That remains to be seen.

Here's some thoughts from Twitter so far:

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Wednesday, March 6, 2019

Panorama Park in the Southeast set for makeover

Posted By on Wed, Mar 6, 2019 at 4:13 PM

Panorama Park will get a facelift next year. - COURTESY CITY OF COLORADO SPRINGS
  • Courtesy City of Colorado Springs
  • Panorama Park will get a facelift next year.

City Councilor Yolanda Avila tells us this via voice mail:
I’m excited about the Panorama Park. So many of the parks in southeast don’t even have shade or trees, and that park has zero. So we got feedback from little kids to seniors walking with canes. People are really excited about having the park there. I think that’s a great place to start. It’s going to be a large community park."

—————-ORIGINAL POST4:13 P.M. WEDNESDAY, MARCH 6, 2019—————————

The long-neglected southeast part of the city will get an infusion of cash to spruce up 13.5-acre Panorama Park, thanks to a $350,000 grant from Great Outdoors Colorado, the city said in a news release.

The release called the project "the largest neighborhood park renovation in city history."

The Parks Department will seek more community feedback about the park's renovation this spring and summer, with construction beginning in 2020. So far, the city reports, concepts for Panorama Park, located southeast of Fountain Boulevard and Jet Wing Drive, include a new playground, walking paths, lighting and a community gathering space.

Parks Director Karen Palus said in the release:
We have heard from residents about how much they value Panorama Park and look forward to the final stage of planning for new amenities. The upgrades will not only improve safety at the park, but make it a wonderful destination for our community to gather, play and enjoy the outdoors.
Additional support for the renovations comes from the Trust for Public Land and the Southeast RISE Coalition. Colorado Health Foundation will award a $935,000 grant over three years to The Trust for Public Land for work on the park. Go here for more about the project.

Panorama Park is adjacent to Panorama Middle School. More than 3,000 people live within a 10-minute walk to the park. More information about the park renovation can be found at www.coloradoSprings.gov/panoramapark.

Great Outdoors Colorado has given $54.7 million for projects in El Paso County, including the Legacy Loop and John Venezia Community Park. It is funded by the Colorado Lottery.

We've asked City Councilor Yolanda Avila, who represents southeast District 4, and will update when we hear from her. Avila, elected in 2017, has lobbied for more park projects in her district.
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Tuesday, March 5, 2019

Fisher's Peak in Trinidad will open to the public, thanks to land purchase

Posted By on Tue, Mar 5, 2019 at 5:52 PM

Crazy French Ranch, which contains Fisher's Peak, is a 30-square-mile area south of Trinidad. - COURTESY OF THE NATURE CONSERVANCY/LAURYN WACHS
  • Courtesy of The Nature Conservancy/Lauryn Wachs
  • Crazy French Ranch, which contains Fisher's Peak, is a 30-square-mile area south of Trinidad.

Just east of Interstate 25, a few miles north of the New Mexico border, 9,600-foot-tall Fisher's Peak is a hidden gem in plain sight.

The Trinidad landmark has long been closed to the public. But thanks to a land purchase completed Feb. 28, the peak and the ranch it sits on will open for as-yet-undefined public use within a few years.

The Nature Conservancy and the Trust for Public Land, two nonprofit organizations focused on conservation and land access, bought Crazy French Ranch and will spend the next two years or so working with the city of Trinidad, Colorado Parks and Wildlife, Great Outdoors Colorado, and Trinidad State Junior College to develop a management plan for the peak-containing property. That could include opportunities for hiking, mountain biking, horseback riding and education, says Matthew Moorhead, director of business development and strategic partnerships for The Nature Conservancy.

"We can make sure that this is a well-managed, a properly-managed natural area that protects everything living there that makes it special," Moorhead says. "At the very same time ... we’re able to provide for the kind of public recreational access that’s going to bring a cultural and economic and educational value to the citizens of Trinidad, Las Animas County and Colorado."

Great Outdoors Colorado — which invests a portion of state lottery proceeds into state parks, trails, wildlife, rivers and open spaces — has awarded a $7.5 million grant for the Fisher's Peak Project, and Colorado Parks and Wildlife has pledged an additional $7 million.

After the management plan and financing is in place, the two nonprofits will turn over the property to a local or state entity, such as Colorado Parks and Wildlife or the city of Trinidad, Moorhead says.

The project could have widespread appeal to Coloradans who might not otherwise visit Trinidad. Colorado College's 2019 State of the Rockies poll showed 90 percent of Coloradans believe the outdoor recreation economy is important to the future of their state and the Western U.S. And the town doesn't have other recreation opportunities nearby that compare with what Fisher's Peak offers, Moorhead says.

In fact, he adds, the only way the public can currently access the state land adjacent to Fisher's Peak is by first crossing into New Mexico and undertaking a difficult hike.

“The ranch embodies the amazing history of this area, we look forward to conserving that for future generations,” Trinidad Mayor Phil Rico was quoted in a statement from The Nature Conservancy. “We are also excited about the economic opportunities that public lands and recreation can bring to our community.”
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Wednesday, February 27, 2019

Jill Gaebler apologizes for comment at bike lane debate

Posted By on Wed, Feb 27, 2019 at 2:50 PM

Suthers emailed us the following statement in response to Gaebler's comment on how he viewed older people moving to Colorado Springs:
Gaebler’s choice of words is unfortunate. What I’m sure she has heard me say is that the current workforce development needs of our high tech companies in Colorado Springs requires us to attract about 4,000 millennials a year to fill software engineering, cybersecurity and other high tech positions. We’re competing with San Fransisco, Boston, Austin, etc. Four years ago we weren’t attracting millennials. Today we are. The retirees moving here cannot fill those workforce needs. I’ve noticed that the bike lane debate is largely a generational one. Many of the older folks contacting me think of us as a retirement community. They don’t seem to understand that to keep really good employers here, we have to be attractive to young people who will fill their jobs. Thanks for the opportunity to clarify.

——————————ORIGINAL POST 2:50 P.M. WEDNESDAY, FEB. 27, 2019——————————

Jill Gaebler represents District 5. - GRIFFIN SWARTZELL
  • Griffin Swartzell
  • Jill Gaebler represents District 5.
City Council President Pro Tem Jill Gaebler, who represents District 5 northeast of downtown, seems to have ruffled some feathers with a comment she made at the Gazette's Battle of the Bike Lanes forum Feb. 25. Gaebler's just issued an apology for the comment, which singled out older people, on her personal Facebook page.

Here's what she said at the forum: "The city of Colorado Springs believes implementing safe bike infrastructure is what is best for this community. It is what is safest for this community, and as the mayor has said many times now, and I will just speak his words, it is important for this city to add 3 to 4,000 35-year-olds every year for the next who knows how many years. Because we need them to be our workforce, to take our tech jobs, take those software designer jobs. The mayor will actually go further and say, I don’t care if one more 65 or older person moves to this city, but I need those 3 to 4,000...I’m not quite done. We need those folks to move to our city, and those folks, those younger folks, want bike amenities."

On Feb. 26, Gaebler posted the following on Facebook:

I want to apologize for my recent statement regarding the workforce needs of Colorado Springs and hope to clarify. To continue the City's successful economic growth we need to attract 4,000 millennials a year to fill medical and high tech jobs (which make up the highest amount of job openings in the City). I was referencing workforce needs for the City and had no intentions of downplaying Colorado Springs as a one of a kind retirement destination.

I helped form the City's Commission on Aging and serve as its City Council Representative; the purpose of the Commission is to provide "ongoing and embedded advocacy for older adults in the municipal government of Colorado Springs." I've made it known throughout my six years on Council that my passions for Colorado Springs are a connected community and an accessible, livable community for all.

The Indy has reached out to Mayor John Suthers for comment and will update if and when he responds.

Unlike Suthers, Gaebler is not up for re-election this year. Her term ends in 2021.
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Tuesday, February 26, 2019

"Battle of the Bike Lanes" draws large, noisy crowd

Posted By on Tue, Feb 26, 2019 at 5:41 PM

About 300 people crowded Studio Bee to hear panelists speak about bike lanes. - FAITH MILLER
  • Faith Miller
  • About 300 people crowded Studio Bee to hear panelists speak about bike lanes.

Bike lanes are currently one of the most controversial topics in Colorado Springs, at least in terms of the number of comments and letters-to-the-editor that local media receive on the subject.

So, we stopped by a free public event called "Battle of the Bike Lanes," hosted by the Gazette at the Pikes Peak Center's Studio Bee on Feb. 25. Billed as a "Community Conversation," the event had five panelists debate the pros and cons of the new bike lanes and striping changes that arrived downtown this year. Gazette readers and audience members were invited to submit questions for the panelists to answer.

Around 300 people crowded the room, dozens standing in the back when seats were quickly filled. Bike lane supporters cheered and rang bicycle bells when their ideological counterparts — City Council President Pro Tem Jill Gaebler, Cory Sutela of Bike Colorado Springs and city traffic engineer Tim Roberts — defended the lanes that have some residents feeling safer and others fretting that their tax money was misused.

Opponents applauded bike-lane skeptics Edward Snyder of Restore Our Roads, and Rick Villa of SaferCC.com, when they challenged the city's traffic priorities.

The Gazette published a recap here, and posted a video of the forum on its Facebook page.

We reached out to Gaebler and Snyder for comment on the event.

"I appreciate the Gazette offered a forum for citizens to speak about why they do or don't support bike infrastructure," Gaebler said via text. "But I'm disappointed they did nothing to find common ground, and instead asked questions that promoted discord and anger. The forum could have brought all of us together and instead it only fueled the fire."

Gaebler said a group of people in the front row "heckled and booed me the entire time."

"There was at least one comment about finding common ground and I am hopeful we can find some agreement toward understanding each other better," she added. "I also think there are ways for the city to work with citizens to get better data that informs how we build our roads to meet the needs of all users."

Don Ward, a KKTV 11 News anchor, doles out questions to the panelists. - FAITH MILLER
  • Faith Miller
  • Don Ward, a KKTV 11 News anchor, doles out questions to the panelists.

Snyder told the Indy he was grateful for a platform to express his organization's views, but thought that in the end, it may not do much to change the city's way of operating.

"The city has made pretty clear what they think and what they want to do," he said. "They’re not acting in the best interest of either bicyclists or cars, and more importantly they’re ignoring the majority of the public who are actually opposed to (bike lanes) by any measure."

However, Snyder said he received "a lot of responses" after the panel from people who "finally heard someone express what they’ve been thinking and waiting to hear for some time."

"The public is getting increasingly irritated that the city’s not taking them seriously — the majority opinion or, you know, the data," he added. "I’m not pretending that (the mayor and City Council have) got an easy job, but I do think it could be done a lot more effectively that it’s being done now."

This story has been updated to reflect the correct spelling of Edward Snyder's name.
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Wednesday, February 13, 2019

Senate votes to reauthorize Land and Water Conservation Fund

Posted By on Wed, Feb 13, 2019 at 10:22 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.

The U.S. Senate has passed a massive public lands package that includes legislation to permanently reauthorize the Land and Water Conservation Fund.

The package, Senate Bill 47 — which encompasses more than 100 bills addressing land exchanges, national parks, wildlife conservation, recreation and more nationwide — soared through on a vote of 92 to 8. It now goes to the House for consideration.

Colorado Republican Sen. Cory Gardner issued a statement championing the legislation's passage. Gardner, like his counterpart, Democratic Sen. Michael Bennet, has been a vocal supporter of reauthorizing the Land and Water Conservation Fund. The fund, which expired in September after legislators failed to reauthorize it, had been used since 1965 to buy and preserve land, water and recreation areas with royalty payments from offshore oil and gas money.

"The [Land and Water Conservation Fund] has a direct impact on public lands in Colorado and will be used to protect our state’s natural beauty for future generations," Gardner said in the statement. "I’m thrilled we were able to finally permanently reauthorize this commonsense program supported by Coloradans across the political spectrum."

Gardner sponsored or cosponsored several Colorado-related bills that were included in the package.

Bennet also issued a statement praising the public lands package. He led or co-led several of the bills, including some that were collaborations with Gardner.

“It’s rare that a bipartisan lands package moves in Congress, so this bill is a significant accomplishment for communities across Colorado,” Bennet said.

Bennet tried to get his Colorado Outdoor Recreation and Economy Act, which combined four previously introduced bills to protect 400,000 acres of public land in Colorado, included in the package, but that amendment did not pass.

Conservation groups in Colorado and beyond applauded the public lands package, especially the fund's reauthorization.

“Today’s vote is a big step toward ending the cycle of uncertainty that has plagued this amazing and incredibly important conservation program," Carlos Fernandez, state director for the Nature Conservancy, said in a statement. “Thank you, Senators Bennet and Gardner, for championing this effort. Your leadership and stalwart support has helped get this legislation to where it is today."

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.
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Tuesday, January 29, 2019

Democrats introduce bill to protect 400,000 acres of public land in Colorado

Posted By on Tue, Jan 29, 2019 at 5:52 PM

Two Democratic lawmakers have introduced a bill in Congress they say would safeguard 400,000 acres of public land in Colorado.

The 82-page Colorado Outdoor Recreation and Economy Act, or CORE Act, would create about 73,000 acres of new wilderness areas, preserve nearly 80,000 acres for outdoor recreation, expand access to existing protected lands and prohibit new oil and gas development in some areas. Sponsored by Sen. Michael Bennet and freshman Rep. Joe Neguse, the legislation "unites and improves" four bills spearheaded by Bennet and other Colorado legislators — including now-Gov. Jared Polis and former Rep. John Salazar — in previous years.

"This bill is the result of years of hard work from local leaders, businessmen, sportsmen and conservationists across Colorado," Bennet said in a Jan. 25 conference call announcing the legislation.

Not since 1993, when Congress passed the Colorado Wilderness Act, has this much Colorado land been preserved at once, Bennet told the Denver Post.

Should Congress pass the CORE Act this year, Bennet's likely to leverage it if he runs for president — which he told MSNBC he was "thinking about" just a day before announcing the new legislation, after an uncharacteristically emotional speech on the Senate floor had catapulted him into the national spotlight.

(Does Bennet's verbal takedown of Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Tex., pass fact-checking muster? Check out this analysis from PolitiFact.)

Proposed Porcupine Gulch Wildlife Conservation Area. - MASON CUMMINGS, THE WILDERNESS SOCIETY
  • Mason Cummings, The Wilderness Society
  • Proposed Porcupine Gulch Wildlife Conservation Area.

Anyhow, here's a quick summary of each section of the CORE Act (formerly separate bills):

Continental Divide Recreation, Wilderness and Camp Hale Legacy Act

Last year, Bennet introduced this bill in the Senate, and Polis sponsored its counterpart in the House. Neither got a vote.

This section of the CORE Act would create three new wilderness areas totaling 21,000 acres in the Tenmile Range west of Breckenridge, Hoosier Ridge south of Breckenridge, and Williams Fork Mountains north of Silverthorne. In the Tenmile Range, a new 17,000-acre recreation area would protect access to hiking, hunting and mountain biking. The bill would also expand three existing areas — Eagles Nest, Ptarmigan Peak and Holy Cross — by a total of 20,000 acres. Two new wildlife conservation areas, Porcupine Gulch and Williams Fork, would comprise a total of 12,000 acres.

Under this bill, the 29,000-acre area surrounding Camp Hale, where Army troops trained in skiing and mountaineering during World War II, would become the first ever National Historic Landscape. This section creates a $10 million fund for "activities relating to historic interpretation, preservation and restoration" in the Camp Hale area.

The bill would also adjust boundaries around the Trail River Ranch in Rocky Mountain National Park to ensure continued public access, protect water rights for Minturn, a town southwest of Vail, and grant several parcels of land in Grand County to the U.S. Forest Service.

Proposed Sheep Mountain Special Management Area. - MASON CUMMINGS, THE WILDERNESS SOCIETY
  • Mason Cummings, The Wilderness Society
  • Proposed Sheep Mountain Special Management Area.

San Juan Mountains Wilderness Act

Bennet introduced this bill last spring. Subcommittee hearings were held in the fall, but it never reached the Senate floor.

The CORE Act's version of the bill designates new wilderness areas and expands others — including Lizard Head and Mount Sneffels — near Telluride, Norwood, Ouray and Ridgway in southwest Colorado. It also creates two special management areas where roads and most motor vehicles would be prohibited: the 22,000-acre Sheep Mountain area between the towns of Ophir and Silverton, and 790-acre Liberty Bell East area near Telluride.

This bill also prohibits future oil and gas development on 6,600 acres in Naturita Canyon.

In total, this section of the CORE Act protects about 61,000 acres of land in the San Juan Mountains through new wilderness areas, expansions, and oil and gas restrictions.

Stakeholders in San Miguel, Ouray and San Juan counties "came together over a decade ago to plan for the future," San Miguel County Commissioner Hilary Cooper said on Bennet's Jan. 25 conference call. "All sides compromised again and again, and then again, and the result is the designations and boundaries of the San Juan Mountains Wilderness Bill we have today."

  • Jon Mullen, courtesy of The Wilderness Society
  • Thompson Divide.

Thompson Divide Withdrawal and Protection Act

Bennet introduced this bill in 2017, after which it languished in the Energy and Natural Resources Committee. The CORE Act version protects around 200,000 acres in the Thompson Divide near Carbondale and Glenwood Springs from future oil and gas development, while preserving existing property rights.

"There's just some areas where the costs to the community outweigh any potential benefit of drilling, and Thompson Divide is surely one of those places," said Bill Fales, a local rancher on Bennet's conference call. "What is on top of this land is much more valuable to us than any petroleum that might lie below it."

This section of the CORE Act also creates a leasing program to generate energy from excess methane produced by abandoned and existing coal plants in the North Fork Valley, a region on Colorado's Western Slope.

Curecanti National Recreation Area. - NPS/VICTORIA STAUFFENBERG
  • NPS/Victoria Stauffenberg
  • Curecanti National Recreation Area.
Curecanti National Recreation Area Boundary Establishment Act

Last introduced by Sen. John Salazar in 2010, this bill formally establishes the boundaries of the Curecanti National Recreation Area, which includes three reservoirs on the Gunnison River. Though the National Park Service has co-managed the area since 1965, it has never been legislatively established by Congress. The bill makes some administrative changes to the way the land is managed, gives the Bureau of Reclamation jurisdiction over Curecanti's three reservoirs, and ensures that the public will have greater access to fishing.

Gunnison County Commissioner Jonathan Houck spoke in support of the bill on Bennet's conference call.

"The need to declare that boundary designation and have management plans...has been the desire of this community for decades," Houck said, pointing out that Curecanti's Blue Mesa Reservoir is the largest body of water in Colorado.

"You can count on the support from the greater Gunnison community to provide a voice to match our values around this legislation to protect these amazing and cherished places for now and into the future," he added.

Go to the next page for maps of each area.

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Tuesday, January 22, 2019

Parks advocates gain clout on special panel to form ballot measure

Posted By on Tue, Jan 22, 2019 at 1:21 PM

Citizens crowded into public meetings in 2016 about the city's trade of Strawberry Fields open space to The Broadmoor. Most who attended the meetings opposed the trade and now want a ballot measure requiring voter approval of future such deals. (Kent Obee is third from left in the front row.) - FILE PHOTO
  • File photo
  • Citizens crowded into public meetings in 2016 about the city's trade of Strawberry Fields open space to The Broadmoor. Most who attended the meetings opposed the trade and now want a ballot measure requiring voter approval of future such deals. (Kent Obee is third from left in the front row.)
After nearly two years of urging City Council to protect the taxpayers' parks and open space from land swaps like the one involving Strawberry Fields, a citizen group has been granted a seat on a special committee that will study a possible ballot measure.

Save Cheyenne, a nonprofit that formed amid debate surrounding trading Strawberry Fields to The Broadmoor in 2016, wants voters to weigh in on whether other city parks and open spaces should or should not be protected from a similar measure in the future.

Called Protect our Parks, the measure hasn't gotten traction, despite Council President Richard Skorman having at one time been the leader of Save Cheyenne. (He stepped down after being elected to Council in 2017.)

The city's swap of Strawberry Fields, 189 acres of open space near North Cheyenne Cañon, to The Broadmoor for forested acreages and trail rights-of-way in May 2016, created a huge controversy that triggered a lawsuit and court fight that ended last year when the Colorado Court of Appeal turned away Save Cheyenne's entreaties to undo the deal and allow voters to have a say in the swap.

At Council's Jan. 22 informal meeting, Save Cheyenne president Kent Obee told Council the city has three types of property:

1. Historic park land dedicated to the city by deed restriction by city founder Gen. William Palmer and other philanthropic donors, such as the Perkins family's gift of Garden of the Gods.

2. Property purchased through the Trails Open Space and Parks tax approved by voters that automatically is protected from sale or trade via the TOPS ordinance.

3. All other park land and open space not protected by either a deed restriction or the TOPS ordinance.

As Obee noted, "They belong to all of us. We think all of us should have a say when something is decided about giving away or trading park land."

Obee also noted that at least 40 cities and towns in Colorado have protections from sale or trade of park land built in to their city charters, including home rule cities like Colorado Springs. Others rely on a state statute that provides for elections to dispose of park land in local jurisdictions.

"We do want to go ahead with this," Obee told Council about the ballot measure. "We’re willing to work with you. We’re willing to be part of any committee or process you can outline. We think it’s important for the community, and we’re not giving up."

The city attorney has issued an opinion saying the POPs ballot language is confusing, causing Council to shy from referring it to the April 2 city election ballot.

But on Jan. 22, Council agreed to study a ballot measure further, and Mayor John Suthers' Chief of Staff Jeff Greene also consented to such a committee, which will arrive at an appropriately-worded ballot measure to submit to voters at the November election. That's the same election at which Suthers plans to seek voter approval of a five-year extension of his .62 percent roads tax.

The exact composition of this committee wasn't articulated, other than designating members of Obee's group and two City Council members to serve.

Said Skorman, "I hope we don’t have any of these types of transactions [like Strawberry Fields] coming forward that would be affected if we had acted sooner. I want to make sure that we’re not doing something that’s preemptive to voters. I wouldn’t want another trade to come forward in the next month that may be susceptible to a vote of the people."

Greene said city officials "aren’t entertaining any park land swaps," and "We are not anticipating any kind of transaction involving a large land exchange such as Strawberry Fields."
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