December 25, 2008 News » Cover Story

Strange brew 

Celebrating the end of 2008 with updates on some of the year's most memorable stories

click to enlarge REBECCA TILLETT
  • Rebecca Tillett

At the end of each December, most of us expect to be regaled with "year in review" stories. And since these usually hit on a year's biggest and most outrageous happenings, they're often fairly predictable.

On a national level this year, we'll be reminded that when our country woke to financial and foreign-policy ruin, America made its 3 a.m. phone call to Barack Obama. And locally, we'll be walked through our district attorney taking an all-but-guaranteed second term and pissing it away quite literally, by drinking 134 ounces of Coors Light over five hours, while being watched by hidden cameras, and driving away at night's end in his county-owned SUV.

While we're more than happy to remember both those stories (and to re-enact one of them in a gratuitous photo shoot), there are others worth another visit. Many of them have actually changed a lot since we first reported them in the spring, summer or fall. So this week and next, we'll provide updates on some of the people, places and ideas we hoped you'd care about this year. Remember: As you come across topics you missed, remember you can read all the originals here at csindy.com.

Have a wonderful cap to your holiday season. And please, don't drink and drive.

More food, more mouths

"Care and scare," cover story, July 3

Care and Share's shelves are a little fuller these days.

In July, the region's food bank (which supplies nonprofits throughout southern Colorado with rations for the hungry) was in abysmal shape. "Food drive" food was dwindling. Donations from manufacturers were down. Gas prices were sky-high, making it more expensive to ship in food from the plants that were still giving. The United States Department of Agriculture wasn't kicking in many staple foods, either.

Meanwhile, demand was climbing. It was only a matter of time before Care and Share would cease to provide the needy with the basics needed to put together a meal. Instead, the food bank would give what it had a random assortment including soda, pickled products, cake mixes and whatever else came in from manufacturers.

But once word got out, the community sprung to action, launching food drives that helped tide the nonprofit over until the Christmas giving season. Care and Share still had fewer staple foods to give, but it never had to cut off the supply completely. And the community's generosity has continued.

"We actually exceeded our goal for the KRDO news channel Harvest of Love [food drive]," says spokeswoman Suzanne Lee.

Care and Share needs less than $500,000 to pay off a new warehouse that will allow it to accept more food, particularly fresh products from local grocery stores. The nonprofit will move into the warehouse soon.

But it's not out of hard times quite yet. While it fed more than 93,000 people in 2007, 2008 has seen demand increase 35 to 40 percent. That means the region's biggest safety net will need a strong holiday season to keep Southern Colorado's bellies full. JAS

Spiral winds up short

The RunDown, Oct. 2

You may recall the Smokebrush Gallery and Foundation for the Arts' attempt at assembling the world's largest human meditating spiral on Oct. 4 in America the Beautiful Park.

click to enlarge Supplies and clients have multiplied at Care and Share. - BRIENNE BOORTZ
  • Brienne Boortz
  • Supplies and clients have multiplied at Care and Share.

Mission accomplished?

"We weren't anywhere close to the world record," says gallery director Josh Kempf. He counted almost 200 people, whereas some 5,000 turned out in Romania for the existing record, he says.

Springs participants stayed in formation for roughly 15 minutes before attempting to walk out in a single line, thus creating the effect of a string being unraveled. Kempf says that didn't quite work out, either.

No biggie. After all, yoga is a practice.

Smokebrush creative director and yoga aficionado Kat Tudor will try for the world's largest indoor yogic spiral at Colorado College's Cornerstone Arts Center on Jan. 19. Visit yogicspiral.com for more. MS

A D-20 LEED-er

"Take it outside," Page Break, Oct. 2

When author Richard Louv visited Colorado Springs in October, his message wasn't new for Jonathan Wuerth, co-founder of District 20's School in the Woods. The teacher at the innovative fourth-grade program in Black Forest had already read Louv's book, Last Child in the Woods, and was living the values described within, getting his students outdoors and teaching them about natural sciences at the same time.

When Wuerth met Louv, he had one request: that the author sign a copy of his book for then-presidential nominee, Barack Obama. Weeks later, when Obama was in Denver for the Democratic National Convention, Wuerth met him and passed on the autographed book. Wuerth says Obama told him, "I'll read it!" (Wuerth hasn't had a chance to follow-up with the president-elect.)

Also attending Louv's talk was Mark Harris, principal and co-founder of StudioTEN Architects. He was there presenting a model to the community that, only one year prior, hadn't existed.

Last year, after reading an Indy story about School in the Woods ("Making tracks," cover story, Nov. 29, 2007), Harris contacted Wuerth with a proposition. He and his team had been wanting to design portable classrooms like School in the Woods uses, but in a sustainable fashion. They were looking for an innovative school program to work with, in order to develop models with a specific purpose in mind, and realized they had the perfect program right in their backyard.

Today, Harris says their first meeting, and others since, opened the book for them. They're now designing an arsenal of schools that can be built sustainably, using premanufactured components. They've been conferring with a local bridge manufacturer and been working with a container supplier in Kansas that reuses shipping containers.

Wuerth is excited about Harris' work and says that he'd love to have a new and mission-appropriate building "a green LEED School in the Woods as a model for the district." Of course it all comes down to money, and Wuerth says until they have some kind of funding, it's on hold.

The folks from the Catamount Institute also met with Harris, and he says they're just as excited about the possibilities. But again, he says, "Until they get funding, there's not much they can do other than be excited about it."

Speaking of price, how much does Harris think these buildings will cost?

He's not sure yet; they're in a "pricing exercise" right now, and he's hoping to have some answers in January. But he does know they'll cost much less per square foot than what school districts currently use. KA

Still doin' time

click to enlarge Dogs in Colorado prisons: 4,000-plus, and counting. - BRIENNE BOORTZ
  • Brienne Boortz
  • Dogs in Colorado prisons: 4,000-plus, and counting.

"Sit. Stay. Start over," cover story, Feb. 14

Since we printed a story on Colorado Correctional Industries' dog-training program, several other media outlets have reported on the unique relationship between inmate and animal, and its positive effects.

In April, Denver's 5280 magazine ran a similar feature to ours. A few months later, program supervisor and founder Debi Stevens appeared on a one-hour television special on WGN, Four Plus Two: Tales for the Pet Lover's Heart. Also, in late October, CBS News correspondent Mark Strassmann visited the prisons and constructed a two-minute segment that aired nationally.

"We're doing great," says Stevens. "The sad part," she adds, "is we're seeing more dogs that are being relinquished because people can't afford to keep them."

Having begun with five dogs and handlers in a single women's facility in 2002, Stevens says her crew 140 inmates across nine facilities across the state just recently trained its 4,000th dog.

"We're always looking for forever homes for our dogs," says Stevens. (Visit coloradoci.com/?puppy for a current list of pets up for adoption.) "And it can't be said enough: Spay and neuter your pets." Call 719/269-4508 for more on the program. MS

Springing new business?

"Business on the ballot," News, Sept. 25

Most of us are glad that the election is finally over, but Mike Kazmierski is elated.

The leader of the Colorado Springs Economic Development Corp. was worried that proposed state Amendments 53, 55, 56 and 57 would pass, creating a business climate a bit too progressive and union-friendly for most CEOs' tastes. Some businesses looking to relocate had put their searches on hold pending election results, he said.

Kazmierski was relieved when the amendments were pulled from the ballot in a deal between business and labor leaders. Now, he says, business recruitment is back on track.

"We've had 13 announcements already this year, but [they are] smaller-sized companies," he says.

Attracting smaller companies can be a plus, he says, because they generally don't ask for the incentives larger companies demand, and they have greater growth potential. But he's still trying to hook big fish. Kazmierski says he's hoping two large companies the EDC has been working with for months will decide to move here within days. The companies would bring over 1,000 jobs each. He says there's also two potential offers on the old Intel building on Garden of the Gods Road. JAS

KCME: Wearing thin

"In a silenced way," BreakBeat, May 8

Unlike a recent vice presidential candidate whose name we won't mention, former DJ Lenny Mazel actually can name some of the publications that inform his world view.

"Yeah, I read JazzTimes and DownBeat and Jazziz, all the jazz publications," says Mazel. "I stay up on what's out there. I just don't get much of it."

click to enlarge Floyd Gessners probably driving right now. - MATTHEW SCHNIPER

A veteran jazz DJ with some 25 years in the business, Mazel's access to the latest CDs and the airwaves was severely curtailed when his popular shows were dropped by KCME-FM 88.7 during the public radio station's switch to an all-classical format. A former DJ at KRCC-FM, Mazel has not since returned to the airwaves in a town where jazz programming has become all but extinct.

Meanwhile, KCME, which brought in outside consultants before making the decision to lay off Mazel, has seen a serious fall-off in listener donations.

"As you know," wrote general manager Jeanna Wearing in a recent letter to members and listeners, "we recently concluded the Fall on-air Membership Drive, which had a goal of $215,000. For the first time in 13 years, the goal of a membership drive was not met. [Emphasis hers.] The uncertain and volatile economic state of the country affected donations to KCME, and there was a $75,000 shortfall between what was received and what we need to cover the operating costs to keep KCME on the air."

Wearing encouraged wavering benefactors to "remember that when you turn on your radio to KCME, your beloved friends are here: Bach, Brahms, Beethoven, Vivaldi, Rossini, Coplands [sic], Gounod ..." Could be some potential donors would have liked to have seen Coltrane, Gillespie, Basie and Mazel on that list. BF

Fighting Baca

"Baca drilling opponents need patience," News, Jan. 24

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service released an environmental assessment in October that gave drilling for gas under the Baca National Wildlife Refuge a green-light. So, in theory, Lexam Explorations, which owns subsurface rights to property the federal government bought in 2004, had what it needed to start drilling test wells there this winter.

But still, Ceal Smith is feeling pretty good. Her group, Citizens for San Luis Valley Water Protection Coalition, recently joined with the San Luis Valley Ecosystem Council to file a 51-page document in federal court arguing that the environmental assessment was flawed and that any drilling should be delayed. Another plus: Prices for natural gas are now dropping. And, as Smith says, "Things are shifting in Washington."

Lexam's plan to seek possible gas deposits under the refuge came to light late last year, but residents in Crestone and elsewhere in the San Luis Valley mobilized to slow the effort down. Now they and environmental groups are pressing for the federal agency to conduct a full environmental impact statement, a process that could take years.

Drilling opponents are also waiting for Fish and Wildlife documents they requested under the Freedom of Information Act. Already, Smith suggests, there are indications the environmental assessment process went forward under considerable pressure. The federal Office of the Inspector General released a scathing report Dec. 15 criticizing certain federal officials for putting policy ahead of science as they pressed for some species to be stripped of endangered status. AL

Supertrucker trucks on

"King of the road," cover story, July 31

When I reach Floyd Gessner on a morning in early December, he's just sitting down to breakfast at Johnson's Corner in Loveland, on his way home from hauling gas to Fort Laramie, Wyo. It's the same truckstop diner we ate at on the day I rode with him back in early July.

Before I can explain why I'm calling, Gessner excitedly asks, "Do you know what I did a week and a half ago?"

"No. What?"

"I hit 3 million miles just for Chief Petroleum ... on the 19th of November just east of Fort Riley, Kansas, at 10 at night."

Gessner, 76, who's tracked his mileage (between 4 and 5 million total) in a small black notebook since 1967, says he told his boss before leaving for that run that he'd be hitting the mark. His boss responded, "Let's go for 4 [million]." Gessner jokingly replied, "No."

I again ask him the big question: "So when are you going to retire?"

"Well, I say I'm going to," he starts, "but I don't know ... That week, I ran 2,800 miles. I haven't slowed down. I still feel good and I have to have something to do."

Between August and November, Gessner racked up another 23,653 miles. Still no accidents. MS

Contributors: Kirsten Akens, Bill Forman, Anthony Lane, Ralph Routon, Matthew Schniper and J. Adrian Stanley.

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