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Everything you didn't know you should know about the Pikes Peak Region 

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click to enlarge Families love the COS landscape. - VISITCOS.COM
  • VisitCOS.com
  • Families love the COS landscape.

The Pikes Peak region is inarguably a place of great beauty. A place of opportunities and extremes. A place of athletes and artists, of chefs and CEOs, of musicians and ministers and makers... oh my!

The area tempts guests with monolithic land formations, hidden (and not-so-hidden) gems of trails, sweeping vistas and bubbling mineral springs. It offers off-beat boutiques, a veritable melting pot of cuisines and a globally renowned herd of giraffes who will lick your face in exchange for romaine lettuce.

And it's huge. Colorado Springs covers a whopping 195 square miles that include everything from luxury estates nestled in the foothills to urban blight that is on the verge of a renaissance.

For newcomers and visitors, navigating the community can be a bit of a challenge. So consider this your primer on policy, your guide to government, your looking glass on law.

Consider this your insider.

Melt that pot

Like much of the Front Range, Colorado Springs has a rich history steeped in many languages, colors and nationalities. That's despite the fact that, looking around now, you may be inclined to believe the city is entirely populated by middle- to upper-middle-class (the city's median household income is $58,158), white (78.2 percent) adults (69.5 percent) who commute (residents spend an average of 21.8 minutes each day getting to work).

But a deeper look at our history reveals that this area is much more of a melting pot. Here's a quick trip through time — phone booth and George Carlin not required...

First residents:

click to enlarge Ute Chief Ouray (left) and his wife, Chipeta (left of center) - BRADY-HANDY PHOTOGRAPH COLLECTION, LIBRARY OF CONGRESS, PRINTS AND PHOTOGRAPHS DIVISION
  • Brady-Handy photograph collection, Library of Congress, Prints and Photographs Division
  • Ute Chief Ouray (left) and his wife, Chipeta (left of center)

Not surprisingly, the first people to shelter in the shadow of Pikes Peak were nomadic tribes including the Ute, Cheyenne and Arapaho, who sometimes gathered at the foot of the mountain in what is now called Garden of the Gods.

1803:

The United States and France showed the true art of the deal in the Louisiana Purchase, when the U.S. acquired about 827,000 square miles of land west of the Mississippi River for less than 3 cents an acre. The Colorado Front Range served as part of the western border of the expanded U.S.

November 1806:

American explorer Zebulon Pike and his support crew made their way onto the scene, and Pike is credited with "discovering" Pikes Peak. (Because apparently no one else could see the 14,110-foot land mass before then.) Pike and Co. attempted to summit the mountain, but failed due to lack of food, equipment and appropriate clothing. It was named for him anyway.

1859:

Colorado City was founded as the first settlement in the region and briefly served as the territorial capital. It became a part of Colorado Springs in 1917.

click to enlarge Birds-eye view of the Springs in 1882 (detail). - PUBLIC DOMAIN
  • Public domain
  • Birds-eye view of the Springs in 1882 (detail).

1940s:

The U.S. Army opened Camp Carson and started building what would become a major military presence in the community. The United States Air Force Academy followed in 1954, and today the city is home to Fort Carson, Peterson and Schriever Air Force bases and the Academy.

click to enlarge Training at Camp Carson, Colorado, April 24 , 1943 - NATIONAL ARCHIVES AND RECORDS ADMINISTRATION [PUBLIC DOMAIN]
  • National Archives and Records Administration [Public domain]
  • Training at Camp Carson, Colorado, April 24 , 1943

1893:

American poet and professor Katharine Lee Bates spent the summer teaching at Colorado College and made the trek to the summit of Pikes Peak that Pike never finished. While up there, overcome by the beauty of the vistas, she penned what would become "America the Beautiful." Good thing it wasn't cloudy.

1890s:

One of the richest gold rushes in American history occurred in the Cripple Creek/Victor area on the southwestern flank of Pikes Peak. At the height of production in 1900, there were about 500 mines, and an estimated 22.4 million ounces of gold were harvested by 1910. Through a literal trickle-down effect, Colorado Springs quickly earned the nickname "the city of millionaires." One of the beneficiaries was mining magnate Spencer Penrose, whose legacies include the Cheyenne Mountain Zoo, Will Rogers Shrine of the Sun, The Broadmoor and El Pomar Foundation.

1869:

click to enlarge Gen. William Jackson Palmer - PUBLIC DOMAIN
  • Public domain
  • Gen. William Jackson Palmer
Civil War hero and Delaware native Gen. William Jackson Palmer (tinyurl.com/CS-Gen-Palmer) stepped up the area's game. He founded the Denver and Rio Grande Railroad and acquired the land to establish the Fountain Colony (later Colorado Springs) along its route. His dream of establishing a resort town in the West — and a haven for Eastern tuberculosis sufferers seeking a cure — became a reality in 1871.

What's in a name?

click to enlarge The Springs is the seat of county operations. - VISITCOS.COM
  • VisitCOS.com
  • The Springs is the seat of county operations.

On any given day you may hear this area referred to as Colorado Springs, El Paso County or the Pikes Peak region. So which is correct? All of them, actually. Here's the lowdown on the Front Range name game.

Colorado Springs

Population: 464,474 as of 2017

Government type: Home rule city

Government structure: Strong mayor with a city council

Meaning? The mayor serves as the city's chief executive while City Council acts as the city's legislature. The mayor has the power to appoint and remove department chiefs; draft and propose budgets; veto or line-item new laws; oversee the city's day-to-day operations; and represent the city on the state, national and international levels. Council comprises nine elected representatives, six of whom serve districts and three of whom are at-large legislators.

Other key departments: City auditor, city attorney, city clerk, aviation, municipal court, public works, communications, finance, human resources, planning, and parks, recreation and cultural services.

El Paso County

Population: 699,232 as of 2017 (including Colorado Springs)

County seat: Colorado Springs

Government structure: County administrator with a board of county commissioners

Meaning? Counties are, at heart, subdivisions of state government. They are the local administrators of federal and state programs and provide the boots on the ground for critical services like public safety. El Paso County is a statutory arm of the state, so its elected structure, powers and responsibilities are handed down by state laws. Administrator Henry Yankowski oversees a cadre of departments that put these state and federal mandates into action.

But like the city, the county has its checks to power. The five members of the El Paso County Board of County Commissioners serve as the government's legislative and administrative body. Any and all power the county has as a legal entity is exercised by the board.

Other key elected officials: Assessor, clerk and recorder, coroner, district attorney, sheriff, surveyor, treasurer

Key staff departments: County administration, community services, county attorney, economic development, financial services, human resources, human services, information technology, planning and community development, public information, public works.

Pikes Peak region

What is it, exactly? OK, so this is a little more amorphous.

The Pikes Peak region isn't a government entity, but an area composed of El Paso, Park and Teller counties. At nearly 5,000-square miles and just shy of 662,000 residents, the region as a whole sports Fortune 500 employers, an educated workforce, an agency dedicated to making this a good place to age and a 16-city-and-county council of governments (ppacg.org).

Yeah. So what?

Here's the Cliff's Notes version: El Paso County's governmental headquarters are located in Colorado Springs, and the Springs is the county seat of El Paso County. Think of it as a capital of the county — the hometown of county government but not the county itself. And while the two entities are necessarily unique, there are ways in which they overlap.

Take urban renewal. The Colorado Springs Urban Renewal Authority has a 13-member board that represents multiple jurisdictions. Ten of the board members are appointed by the city's mayor, while the county, schools and a collective "special district" appoint one member each.

The authority creates special districts for urban renewal in blighted areas and negotiates with landowners, and the county records the urban renewal plan.

Good lord!

Welcome to Colorado Springs, the home of the pro-gun evangelical Christian right. Right?

Well, yes and no. Yes to the fact that this city is, without a doubt, a pro-gun, Republican stronghold in purple Colorado. But "not so much" to the evangelical influence. That is, not so much anymore.

As recently as 2015, The Guardian declared Colorado Springs "a center of rightwing Christian culture with a 'wild west mentality' when it comes to guns." That was the assessment of the paper's New York staff after Robert Lewis Dear Jr. entered the Springs' Planned Parenthood clinic and opened fire. (Dear was declared mentally unfit to stand trial.)

And certainly there was a time when extreme evangelical Christianity as espoused by the likes of former New Life Church pastor Ted Haggard reigned supreme. But today? The reality may surprise you.

According to data from BestPlaces.net, 34.6 percent of Colorado Springs residents consider themselves religious. That compares to 38.9 percent of Coloradans and is well below the national average of 49.4 percent.

Making up that 34.6 percent — the Springs' religious residents — Christian accounted for 34.1 percent, with an unspecified "Eastern faith" at 0.3 percent, Judaism at 0.2 percent and Islam at 0.1 percent.

Across the state, 64 percent of faithful adults identify as Christian, with evangelical Protestants (26 percent) leading the pack. That's according to a Pew study, which also found that 29 percent of the state's adults are spiritually unaffiliated, 20 percent just didn't know and 5 percent called themselves faithful, but not Christian.

Of that 5 percent, 1 percent of Colorado respondents are Jewish, 1 percent are Buddhist, and Muslim, Hindu and unspecified "Other World Religions" all account for less than 1 percent, with 2 percent reporting an unspecified "other."

So are we still an evangelical stronghold? Maybe not. But does this remain a Christian community? Among those who practice religious spirituality, there is no question Jesus still reigns.

Hold your horsepower

click to enlarge VISITCOS.COM
  • VisitCOS.com

If you haven't yet uttered "what is with the statue in the middle of the street?" don't worry. You will.

Dead center in the busy intersection of Platte and Nevada avenues, you will find a massive monument locally known as "the man on the iron horse." The statue was erected in 1929, a time when there was much, much less automobile traffic downtown and the two thoroughfares weren't primary arterials in the community.

The statue was built to honor Springs founder William Palmer, who was thrown from a horse in 1906, leaving him partially paralyzed. The bronze steed is rumored to be Palmer's favorite, Diablo, forever riding with his master through downtown.

The statue faces south on Nevada and causes immeasurable trouble for drivers hoping to turn left. Legend says it was built at that location because Palmer believed it to be the heart of the Springs. There's no word on whether he predicted that heart would become clogged with visibility problems.

Speaking of critters...

While the exact numbers are difficult to find, there is no question that since the economic downturn, more residents have turned toward self-sufficiency. And in a lot of cases, that includes small-scale, backyard farming.

But before you go out and buy yourself a sustainable flock of chickens, a mule and a dairy goat or three, it's important to know the city's rules.

Here in Colorado Springs, you are allowed up to four dogs, cats or goats under 100 pounds when fully grown, unless a dog or cat has a litter of littles. Potbellied pigs are also on the OK list, as long as the owner doesn't have more than two, and the swines are tattooed, registered with animal control and don't tip the scales at more than 100 pounds.

Large hooved animals — goats bigger than 100 pounds, super-sized potbellied pigs, alpacas, horses, donkeys and mules — are no-goes inside city limits unless you have a property that is at least 37,000 square feet and can give your neighbors at least 55 feet of space from the pasture fence line.

On the other hand, chickens, ducks, geese, turkeys, pigeons and other fowl are not going to score you a foul. Provided that, like everything else, they are cared for, don't create a nuisance, are contained on your property and you don't have more than 10 of them.

But fair warning, roosters, peacocks and other —ummm, vociferous — males of the aviary type are prohibited. While the city code doesn't specify why, if you've ever lived near or with one, it's not hard to figure out: They crow. A lot. All day long. From the minute their UV-sensitive eyes start to detect the sun.

So happy ranching... just get rid of those cocks, mothercluckers.

Going green

click to enlarge Lots of opportunity to grow your own garden. - MATTHEW SCHNIPER
  • Matthew Schniper
  • Lots of opportunity to grow your own garden.

If backyard livestock isn't your thing, or if you prefer to raise things that use poo rather than produce it, gardens are a glorious way to get some fresher-than-fresh food while still stiffing big ag.

City code doesn't regulate gardens except in the case of water shortages, but many homeowners associations do put forth strict guidelines regarding landscaping. And let's face it, this is a community with more than 49,000 rental units in its inventory: Not every one of those landlords is going to be OK with tenants excavating the lawn.

Enter the community garden. These green havens have sprouted all over town since 2007, when garden guru Larry "The Garden Father" Stebbins got the idea of helping more urban residents and communities grow their own food, and planted Pikes Peak Urban Gardens, which offers educational programs and gardening opportunities for all ages.

You can grow your own green dream at: Harrison Urban Gardens, 1060 Harrison Road; Duckwood Community Gardens in Fountain Creek Regional Park, 2010 Duckwood Road; Harlan Wolfe Ranch, 815 W. Cheyenne Blvd.; in Old Colorado City's Vermijo Park, 2601 W. Vermijo Ave.; at Mid Shooks Run, located on the corner of Boulder and El Paso streets; and at the new Fire Station 21, 7320 Dublin Blvd. Depending on the time of year, the urban gardens may still have plots available, so check ppugardens.com.

Stebbins turned the trowel over to new PPUG Executive Director Barbra Gibb in May 2018, but he recently un-retired so he could challenge El Paso and Teller county residents to establish 100 new backyard gardens in 2019. You'll find more information at thegardenfather.com/100-garden-challenge.

You can also rent garden plots at the Charmaine Nymann Community Garden (bearcreekgardens.org) in Bear Creek Regional Park. Full and half plots are available in this fenced garden that also provides food for nonprofits, including the Cheyenne Mountain Zoo.

The Colorado Springs Parks, Recreation and Cultural Services department operates community centers in the Deerfield Hills and Hillside neighborhoods on the city's Southeast side. Both are located in areas where access to fresh produce is less than easy, and where residents may have to make the tough call between filling the shopping cart and filling the gas tank.

Both also offer plots for those with a green thumb who want to raise their own gardens. For further details, contact the centers at 385-5996 and 385-7900, respectively, or seek them out on Facebook.

And if you're one of the lucky growers whose green thumb surpasses your ability to consume, never fear: There is an outlet for that surplus harvest other than the compost pile.

Colorado Springs Food Rescue, a nonprofit dedicated to bridging the gap between fresh produce and low-access neighborhoods, has a program in place. Fresh Food Connect lets gardeners donate surplus fruits and vegetables to the rescue. Volunteers come and harvest the harvest, then deliver it via pedal power to residents in the 80903, 80904, 80905, 80907, 80909 and 80910 ZIP codes.

In addition, the agency has plans to grow its own community food center with educational and gardening capacity. The Hillside Food Hub is slated to open on land donated by the Legacy Institute off of the appropriately named Institute Street. While the exact details are still fuzzy, the plans include an events/workshop space, a four-season greenhouse, a community learning farm and a compost park.

Who ya gonna call?

Relocating to any new community — especially a thriving mid-size to large city like Colorado Springs — is an exciting proposition. But it can also be a bit overwhelming.

Where do you go to set up utilities? Which company is the best to deliver your internet? To haul away your trash? Fear not, here's the must-have call list for your nest-building needs.

Utilities: If you are living in Colorado Springs, there's only one name to know, Colorado Springs Utilities. This city-owned agency provides electricity, natural gas, wastewater and water services for homes and businesses alike. It offers assistance programs for low-income households as well as guidance and aid for homeowners looking to up their efficiency quotient. Its Project COPE (Citizen's Option to Provide Energy) also allows families and individuals struggling financially due to a personal crisis or emergency to apply for assistance, regardless of income.

For residential, general or emergency service, call 448-4800; for business services, it's 448-4808. The Utilities service center is open from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Friday at 111 S. Cascade Ave. For more information, visit csu.org.

Telephone: Who has a landline these days? According to a 2017 study by the U.S. Center for Health Statistics (really), about 36 percent of all American households, that's who.

If you're one of them, there are a handful of local providers with operators standing by. (And no, the irony of providing telephone numbers for people seeking telephone service is not lost on us.) Here's how the Better Business Bureau ranks them, by grade:

Comcast: 4920 Centennial Blvd.; comcast.com or 800/266-2278

AT&T Telephone: 985 Space Center Drive, #310; att.com or 800/288-2020

CenturyLink: 930 15th St., 11th floor, Denver; centurylink.com or 800/244-1111

Internet: You know, since we're on to telecommunications and everything, here are the top-ranked internet service providers in the Springs, according to the BBB. Looks familiar, adding one newbie to the list:

Comcast

AT&T Telephone

Rise Broadband: 61 Inverness Drive East, suite 250, Englewood; risebroadband.com or 844/411-7473

CenturyLink

Trash: Garbage removal in the area is something of a free-for-all. The city mandates that all homeowners arrange for weekly trash collection unless they can dispose of refuse in a way that doesn't threaten the public health and doesn't cause a nuisance. But do yourself a favor and just set up garbage and recycling service.

Since there is no centralized or city-owned trash service, you get to pick your hauler. Which is where the free-for-all comes into play.

Once again, we turned to the Better Business Bureau to help us sort through the metaphorical rubbish. Here is how it ranks the city's refuse collectors:

Bin There Dump That (dumpster rental): 3120 Drennan Road; coloradospringsdumpsterrental.net or 686-8613

Bestway Disposal (garbage removal, recycling, roll-off containers): 650 Santa Fe St.; bestwaydisposal.com or 633-8709

All-American Disposal (garbage removal, recycling, roll-off containers): 2454 Waynoka Road; allamericandisposalandrecycling.com or 576-9098

Waste Management (garbage removal, recycling, dumpster rentals): 80 E. Chambers St.; wm.com or 545-9232

Waste Connections of Colorado Springs (garbage removal, recycling, residential roll-offs): 770 Palmer Park Drive; wcsprings.com or 591-5000

Waste Systems Inc. (garbage removal, recycling, residential roll-offs): 4040 Clearview Frontage Road; wastesysinc.com or 390-5097

Also worthy of note is Blue Star Recyclers. This nonprofit, located at 100 Talamine Court, specializes in residential and commercial electronic items, including computers, TVs and monitors, household electronics and small appliances. Drop-off comes with a small fee, which in turn, is used to pay employees — adults with autism and other unique and different abilities. For more, call 597-6119 or visit bluestarrecyclers.org.

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