Saturday, January 28, 2017

Federal presence contributes greatly to who we are


The federal government owns 28 percent of all U.S. land.
Here in the West, far more than that is owned by federal agencies.
In Colorado, 35.9 percent of the state is federally owned, making it only #9 in the ‘top ten of federal ownership’ behind (in order) Nevada, Utah, Idaho, Alaska, Oregon, Wyoming, California, and Arizona. New Mexico comes in at #10.
No matter what you think of that, businesses locally, and all over the state, benefit greatly from that presence.
In Colorado, according to figures from the state, 7,800 outdoor recreation firms, employing 177,700 people, for a $6 billion annual payroll, contribute in the private sector. In addition, 90 percent of Coloradans participate in some form or other of outdoor recreation here in the state.
“The federal government owns roughly 640 million acres, of the 2.27 billion acres of land in the United States. Four agencies administer 608.9 million acres of this land: the Bureau of Land Management (BLM), Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS), and National Park Service (NPS) in the Department of the Interior (DOI), and the Forest Service (FS) in the Department of Agriculture. Most of these lands are in the West and Alaska. In addition, the Department of Defense administers 14.4 million acres in the United States consisting of military bases, training ranges, and more. Numerous other agencies administer the remaining federal acreage,” according to a Congressional Research Service report  “Federal Land Ownership: Overview and Data” by  Carol Hardy Vincent, specialist in natural resources policy,  Laura A. Hanson, information research specialist, and Jerome P. Bjelopera, specialist in organized crime and terrorism, submitted Dec. 29, 2014.
Four land agencies are managed for many purposes, primarily related to preservation, recreation, and development of natural resources.
The BLM has a multiple-use, sustained-yield mandate that supports a variety of uses and programs, including energy development, recreation, grazing, wild horses and burros, and conservation. The FS manages for multiple uses and sustained yields of various products and services, including timber harvesting, recreation, grazing, watershed protection, and fish and wildlife habitats. The FWS manages primarily to conserve and protect animals and plants. The National Wildlife Refuge System includes wildlife refuges, waterfowl production areas, and wildlife coordination units. The NPS to conserve lands and resources and make them available for public use. Activities that harvest or remove resources generally are prohibited, the report says.
In fact, the federal government owns 46.9 percent of the 11 coterminous western states.
“By contrast, the federal government owns 4 percent of lands in the other states. This western concentration has contributed to a higher degree of controversy over land ownership and use in that part of the country,” according to the report.
Interestingly, federal land ownership by the five agencies has declined by 23.5 million acres since 1990, from 646.9 million acres to 623.3 million acres. Much of the decline is attributable to BLM land disposals in Alaska and also reductions in DOD land.
Here in Colorado, private landowners also play an important role in the stewardship of Colorado’s forest resources. Approximately 186,000 private landowners control 30 percent or 7.1 million acres of the state’s forested landscapes. Although the majority of these lands are in lower elevations, private landowners are represented in all of Colorado’s forest types, including a notable portion of aspen and mixed-conifer forests, according to figures from the Colorado State Forest Service and Colorado State University.
“The remainder of Colorado’s forests is held by a combination of tribal governments, municipalities, state agencies and other non-federal entities. The Colorado State Land Board, for example, owns approximately 370,000 acres of forest land throughout the state; the largest parcel is the Colorado State Forest near Walden. Two resident tribes, the Ute Mountain Utes and Southern Utes, make their home in southwest Colorado where they own a total of 402,303 acres of forestland. The vast majority of these acres are in ponderosa pine and piƱon-juniper forests. These tribes also retain specific hunting rights and other aboriginal rights on national forests throughout their traditional territory, which includes portions of Utah, New Mexico and Colorado. More than a dozen other tribes located outside Colorado also maintain tribal interests and inherent aboriginal rights in Colorado’s national forests.” says Colorado State Forest.
I am reminded of of a quote by Teddy Roosevelt about the importance of the gift we enjoy, just by living here.
“If in a given community unchecked popular rule means unlimited waste and destruction of the natural resources — soil, fertility, waterpower, forests, game, wildlife generally — which by right belong as much to subsequent generations as to the present generation, then it is sure proof that the present generation is not yet really fit for self-control, that it is not yet really fit to exercise the high and responsible privilege of a rule which shall be both by the people, and for the people.”

Saturday, January 21, 2017

Remembering Texas Seven's capture 16 years ago


Now, it has been more than 16 years since members of “The Texas Seven,” a group of prisoners who escaped from the John B. Connally Unit near Kenedy, Texas, on Dec. 13, 2000, and later killed Irving police officer Aubrey Hawkins on Dec. 19, 2000, were arrested about a month later on a cold January Monday, right here in Woodland Park.

Autopsy showed that Officer Hawkins had sustained 11 gunshots and had been run over by the escaped convicts as they fled the scene of robbery in Irving, Texas. Four of the convicts were arrested at the Western Convenience Store on U.S. Highway 24, in Woodland Park, Jan 21, 2001. One of the seven committed suicide in an RV park nearby, rather than be arrested. The remaining two others were apprehended at hotel on Garden of the Gods Road, two days later on Jan. 23, 2001, in Colorado Springs.

At the time of the breakout, the reported ringleader of the Texas Seven, 30-year-old George Rivas, was serving 18 consecutive 15-to-life sentences. Michael Anthony Rodriguez, 38, was serving a 99-to-life term; while Larry James Harper, 37, Joseph Garcia and Patrick Henry Murphy, Jr., both 39, were all serving 50-year sentences. Donald Keith Newbury, the member with the longest rap sheet of the group, was serving a 99-year sentence; and the youngest member, Randy Halprin, 23, was serving a 30-year sentence for injury to a child.

Locally, Teller County Sheriff Frank Fehn got a tip from people who had watched the program America’s Most Wanted that Saturday night long ago, and said that “The Texas Seven” might be living in the RV park down the road. The sheriff, posing as a tourist, loaded up his wife's RV with heavily-armed state and federal agents, and that Sunday night drove into the trailer park so he could monitor the group. On that Monday morning, when Rivas and two others jumped in their Jeep and left the trailer park, the police made a decision to act. Frank Fehn told it this way.

"They were followed to a Western Convenience Store. They pull up to the gas pumps. Two units come from behind.

At least three, if not four, units boxed them in and immediately exited the police vehicles, weapons drawn, and totally surprised them.”

Rivas recalled it like this: “There was a man in front of me with an AR-15 pointing at my chest, officer next to me suited up in body armor. Car was still on, it was in gear. I had my foot on the brake. I had an opportunity to run.”

But Fehn says the escapees had no chance to flee.

“They did not have an opportunity to resist. If they did, it would not have been a blood bath, but three people woulda been dead.”

The three, Fehn noted, would have been the inmates.

Frank Fehn, legendary former Sheriff of Teller County (and at one time Teller County Coroner), also a former New York homicide detective, passed away peacefully at home on April 23, 2013. Services were held at Holy Rosary Chapel in Cascade, CO. He is interned at Fort Logan National Cemetery with military honors in Denver. Frank was retired and lived in Lake Havasu City, AZ with his wife of 27 years, Lucile.

Lucile Fehn, Frank's wife was Teller County Commissioner at the time. When I talked to her last week, she described those eventful days 16 years ago this way.

"I was going to a meeting on open space in Canon City with Kevin Tanski, (Teller County Parks Coordinator), that morning," Lucile said. "And Frank had been out most the night, and I didn't really talk to him about it, but I noticed that morning that he came home and changed the license plates on my RV, and left with it," Lucile Fehn told me last week.

"When we got to the meeting Canon City, one of the County Commissioners there said, 'Your husband got five of the Texas Seven. Two were still on the loose. I told Tanski to watch for the vehicle they were described as driving," Lucile Fehn said.

For months afterward, Frank was on TV, in newspapers, and Lucile said Frank "talked with George Rivas for days on end in Teller County jail, before he was moved back to Texas."

El Paso County Sheriff John Anderson, described it like this, back then.

"We have had this location under surveillance since before 2 o'clock this morning, so we know they didn't slip out during this time. So they do have a bit of a head start on us."

Anderson said Halprin was treated for a gunshot in the foot, which the sheriff said the escapee had suffered before Monday's arrest —possibly on the night of a robbery in Irving, Texas, in which the escapees are suspected of killing police officer Aubrey Hawkins.

Anderson said at the time he didn't know if Halprin had been shot by Hawkins or whether the wound was self-inflicted.

Teller County (Colorado) Undersheriff Kevin Dougherty said three of the men were arrested in the area of the Coachlight Motel and R.V. Park.

"Three of them were arrested out of a silver Jeep that was pulled over down at the Western Convenience as it left the motor home that's up in the Coachlight area. And the fourth one was taken from the motor home area," he said.

Anderson characterized the surrender of the three as "reluctant but overwhelmed."

"The SWAT team descended on that vehicle in a pretty significant way," Anderson said. "I think they would have fought it out if there had been less of a presence, but I think they realized it would be fruitless."

Dougherty said he believed weapons were confiscated in the arrest.

Anderson said two of the three captured in the Jeep -- he didn't say which -- had tried to alter their appearance. One, he said, had dyed his hair blonde and another "almost orange-red."

Police arrested four of the seven men, who escaped from a maximum security prison in Texas on December 13, that Monday morning

Mac Stringfellow, chairman of the Texas Department of Criminal Justice, said the four were captured without incident. "No shots were fired," Stringfellow said.

Authorities said those under arrest are: George Rivas, Joseph Garcia, Michael Rodriguez and Randy Halprin.

I remember it like this.

On that Monday morning many years ago, we watched out the front window of the Ute Pass Courier newspaper office in Woodland Park, Colo., as multiple emergency vehicles began filling up the newspaper parking lot.

“No information at this time,” is what they emergency staff told us when we tried to find out what was going on.

After nearly 20 minutes of being completely in the dark of what kind of operation was taking place in our own neighborhood, we discovered that police, including local city and county officers, and Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms, FBI and federal marshals, arrested members of the Texas Seven in the Coachlight mobile home park directly to the east of us.

The seven inmates made their break from a maximum-security prison near San Antonio, Texas, six weeks prior to the excitement near our office. Before showing up in our town, police say the fugitives killed an Irving, Texas, police officer, shooting him 11 times and then running over him as they looted a sporting goods store for clothing, weapons, ammunition and more than $70,000 in cash.

On August 14, 2008, Michael Anthony Rodriguez became the first of the gang to be executed for his part in the killing of Irving Officer Aubrey Hawkins on Christmas Eve in 2000. The rest of the surviving Seven’s cases are in various stages of appeal in the Texas courts.

Rodriguez, claiming a religious conversion on death row, asked for years that his appeals be dropped so that he could face his punishment and stand a better chance at going to heaven.

George Rivas, was executed almost four years later, on February 29, 2012.

Donald Newbury, was executed by lethal injection on February 4, 2015.

The remaining three members are incarcerated on death row at the Polunsky Unit of the Texas Department of Criminal Justice, located in West Livingston.

Three of the escapees were surrounded in Woodland Park by a police SWAT team at a convenience store a few miles down the road as they left the Coachlight RV Park to get their morning coffee. At the same time that was happening, police surrounded the RV in the park with two other fugitives inside. By using a bullhorn, police were able to get one of the two in the RV to surrender. The holdout, Ron Harper, took his own life by shooting himself twice in the chest. He used two different weapons, according to information released later by the county coroner. Two of the men remained at large for two more days and were finally captured in a Colorado Springs hotel room about 15 miles from here.

By the time we knew what was happening, the calls from Texas television stations, CNN and other national media were already coming in. At times, three people from our newspaper would be on a phone with TV stations or other news organizations. With only four voice lines, it made it tough to get our own business taken care of. The TV stations would call and then pass us back and forth between affiliates, live talk shows, and various news programs. By late afternoon, however, area phone lines became too busy to call us or anyone else in Woodland Park.

From Monday night until early Wednesday morning, TV trucks with satellite dishes on top and shivering reporters out front, stretched from the bottom of our parking lot, down a half mile of Highway 24. We loaned phone lines, fax machines, desk space, and offered directions, travel advice and restaurant recommendations for reporters and photographers working for outfits including Reuters, The New York Times, America’s Most Wanted, Time, Newsweek, the Chicago Tribune and others.

The media circus gradually split up and migrated to several nearby locations including the Teller County Jail, the Teller County Courthouse in Cripple Creek, and down the hill to Colorado Springs where the last two were captured.

Reporter stragglers for various national publications and TV shows were still wandering into our office a month later.

In the midst of the excitement that Tuesday morning, reporters and photographers from The Denver Post, working a story about the little newspaper office near the big story, had a good laugh about our light tables.

Their amusement with our antique equipment, the instant info and live feeds, along with the exposure to national media’s top-of-the-line technology made us realize how fast the news business is evolving, even in the weekly newspaper world.

Granted, our papers were probably about seven years behind where we should be in terms of technology, but how things have changed, even for a one- or two-horse operation like ours. Seven years ago, a small weekly probably wouldn’t be moving photos and pages around on the Internet. No PDF workflows. No affordable digital cameras. No cell phones that worked in our mountains. No laptops connected to the cell phones to file stories with. Not even much of a World Wide Web.

This story broke on a Monday, which from a deadline standpoint was not bad for us as a weekly newspaper. We print our main product, the Ute Pass Courier, Tuesday afternoon and are on the street by Wednesday morning. Our initial coverage was very similar to that of the local dailies and national reporters.

On that first day, everybody was being fed much of the same info as fast as the police could pull it together. Tuesday, a few minutes before we were leaving for the printer, we received word that the police had found what they thought to be the remaining two fugitives’ van, and were conducting a room-by-room search of nearby hotel rooms in Colorado Springs. With this information, we ran with a small update box on the front of our paper near the main write-through.

As fast-moving as this story was, however, by the time we hit the street with our edition Wednesday, the remaining two fugitives were in custody, having been talked out of a Holiday Inn room with the promise of five minutes of airtime each on a local TV station.

Wednesday morning, after speaking with our news staff and realizing how frustrated they were at not being able to keep up with the story with our regular weekly schedule, we bumped the press time for another of our weekly news products and made arrangements for a special edition that would hit Thursday night. We printed enough of the special editions to insert in all three of our weekly nameplates, each having different drop dates beginning with Friday and carrying through the following week. We also printed an additional 2,500 to distribute free as soon as they were back from the 100-mile round-trip to the printer Thursday afternoon. All 2,500 were distributed to countertops at local high-traffic areas in our market by Friday night.

Competing with local dailies, national newspapers, magazines, television and news services that had larger crews dispatched on this story than we have staff in the whole building, we tried to put a good package together with "first-light" information that still had a shelf life into the next week. The special edition stretched our resources to see-through levels, but when it was put to bed, we felt pretty good about both our first-day information and the special section.

One of our reporters, Pat Hill, put together two excellent color pieces on the role local emergency services played in the raid. She then left immediately for an emergency appendectomy before the editors had a chance to read her stories.

Other reporters on our staff were offered as much as $250 per quote to shag quotes for national media outlets.

Even after a few months, locals were still talking about it, of course, and comparing their own Texas Seven stories. A few area businesses with little or no shame were trying to capitalize on the national attention, by doing things like offering "Texas Seven pizzas" or trying to auction off a pool table on Ebay that the infamous group reportedly played on. I’ve even heard members of the local chamber of commerce half-jokingly suggest changing the chamber motto from "City Above the Clouds" to "Escape to Woodland Park."

But most people here in Woodland Park were just happy that none of the locals were hurt, the bad guys were caught, and law enforcement was able to perform so efficiently.




Cutlines:

1. Photos of “The Texas Seven” distributed after their escape.

2. Frank and Lucile Fehn, in 2012.

3. Lucile Fehn, last week, in Woodland Park.

4. Irving police officer Aubrey Hawkins





Sunday, January 15, 2017

Right here at the source of any water fight

Ralph Moodys' first book “Little Britches,” about his experiences more than 100 years ago on his family ranch in what is now present-day Littleton and Englewood, relates what kind of water history we have here in Colorado.
When I was a kid, growing up on the Western Slope, it was almost required reading in grade school about what can happen, if you lose a fight over water. Most Western Slope folks still get nervous when populations on the Front Range start talking about "their" water.
The ranch as near as I can figure from Moody’s description has probably been swallowed by development, in the vicinity of Wadsworth Boulevard and Hampden Avenue in the southwest Denver area. The Moodys drew water in the South Platte watershed. It is interesting to note how “god-forsaken,” the country was described.
After unsuccessfully fighting (with bare knuckles, firearms, and in the courts) for years over their share of water that was supposed to travel down the ditch, the Moody family was forced to abandon their hard-scrabble existence and move to town. Moody’s father became a carpenter and foreman in the building trades there. If you can’t beat them, join them, I guess. The senior Moody died shortly after, when his weak lungs gave out.
But here we are, 100 years later, still fighting over having enough water and alternately embracing and rejecting development because of it.
Colorado Division of Water Resources (CDWR) helps mark the stream bed of how Colorado water history has flowed.
"Colorado holds the unique distinction of being the first state to provide for the distribution of water by public officials. In 1879, the legislature created a part of the present administrative system. It provided for the division of the state into ten water districts, nine of which are in the South Platte valley, and one in the Arkansas drainage. In each district, the statute provided for a Water Commissioner to divide the water according to priorities of the various ditches within the district, in accordance with the Prior Appropriation Doctrine of first-in-time, first-in-right," says DCWR in several of their publications.
The priority of each ditch was determined by the district courts based upon the date the ditches were constructed and the water placed to beneficial use. The statute as passed by the legislature in 1879 did not provide for stream measurement.
"The Office of the State Engineer was created in 1881. The primary responsibility of the State Engineer was to measure the water in each stream from which water was diverted for irrigation, starting with those mostly used for irrigation. Three water divisions were created, made up of water districts located within the South Platte, the Arkansas, and the Rio Grande basins. Within six years, each of the remaining four water divisions as they exist today were created. In 1887, the state created a Superintendent of irrigation - who is known today as the Division Engineer - to supervise Water Commissioners within each division," notes CDWR.
In November of 2015, after 30 months of drafting, three draft water plans, eight Basin Implementation Plans, 30,000 public comment periods, and many years of discussions, the CWCB Board voted to approve Colorado’s Water Plan for delivery the to Governor Hickenlooper and the people of Colorado. Hickenlooper embraced the new plan, at that time and issued a proclamation declaring Nov.16, 2015, as Colorado's Water Implementation Day.
One of major studies used to help create that plan, was Statewide Water Supply Initiative (SWSI). Among the top 10 major findings in the 2003 (SWSI), the "Number 1 finding" was that “Significant increases in Colorado’s population, together with agricultural water needs and increased focus on recreational and environmental uses, will intensify competition for water.” That same study pegged the South Platte watershed shortfall at 22 percent, one of the worst shortfalls in the state by the year 2030. Estimates for 2030 water demand by basin versus current anticipated supply were calculated by Colorado Water Conservation Board and the study was delivered to the State legislature.
“New and expanded reservoirs will play a part, as will conservation. One of the study’s major findings, however, is that taking water from irrigated agricultural land and converting it to municipal use will be a primary source of water for cities, one that will be increasingly more attractive if other projects fail.” said Headwaters, a publication of the Colorado Foundation for Water Education.
As many as 400,000 acres of Colorado’s irrigated agricultural land could be dried up by 2030, according to that study. Other studies predicted even more dire circumstances.
Locally, that left us right in the center of state-wide water controversy, from the start. 
Dr. Edwin James, a botanist with Maj. Stephen H. Long's 1820 expedition and the first to climb Pikes Peak, also recognized the Colorado Blue Columbines in the area around what later became Palmer Lake. Coloradans naturally selected that for the state flower later. Then in 1843, Lt. John Fremont noted that the flowers near the "dividing ridge" made a "mountain garden" as the "whole valley was radiant with flowers; blue, yellow, pink, white, scarlet and purple, vying with each other in splendor."
The railroads came through in the 1870s and flowers served as a summertime attraction for tourist from all over. One of the interesting aspects of the area's unique history, to me at least, is its use by the railroads to re-water the steam locomotives of the early days of railroads.That ridge divides the the two of the three earliest water divisions created in the state, the Arkansas, and the South Platte water basins.
Where does that leave us today? We are right here at the source, to some extent. Talking with several local water district officials recently, one at a Tri-Lakes Chamber event last week, my conclusion is that we are somewhere very near to the place we were more than 100 years ago when Ralph’s dad had to bare his knuckles and learn to handle a sixshooter.
Not only are we gearing up for some kind of a fight, there will be a lot more of us involved, and our history as it has evolved, will provide layer upon layer of complexity to our ultimate answers.

Victor Christian Science Church lives on in image


Iconic lost Victor landmark inspires Bon Jovi album cover, song

Though long neglected and eventually demolished, the Victor Christian Science Church building continues to inspire and capture the imagination of many who never saw it, says recent information from the Victor Heritage Society.
“An iconic depiction of the Victor Christian Science Church created by photographer Jerry Uelsmann appeared in the introduction to THE OUTER LIMITS, a television show originally broadcast from 1963-65 and recreated for syndication from 1998-2002,” according to the Society.  
“A similar depiction appears as artwork on the cover of a studio album released by the rock band Bon Jovi in November of 2016.  For some, the Uelsmann image depicts a house anchored by deep roots.  Reportedly the image was the inspiration for the album's lead single, "This House Is Not for Sale" and Jon Bon Jovi said ‘That picture told our story…now it’s our album cover’.”
For more details and recently added historic photos of this Lost Victor Landmark, click on this highlighted link to the "Preservation Successes & Challenges" page of Victor Heritage Society web site and scroll to the "Lost Victor Landmarks" section near the bottom of the page.​






Cutlines:
  1. "First Church of Christ Scientist, Victor, Colorado," Skolas photo contributed by LaJean Greeson.
  2. Originally constructed in 1900 as a saloon and bowling alley, subsequently converted to a church.
  3. Christian Science Church building before demolition in 2000. One stain glass window may be all that survives.
  4. Bon Jovi album cover.

Sunday, January 1, 2017

Holding Pattern: Not in the jailhouse now, but headed there


Things are not going well. You been having a bad evening all night, and it looks like it is headed from bad, to worse.
Three walls of yellow-tinged cinder block, and a fourth wall of heavy-gauge mesh screening with a locked metal metal door surrounds you. There was single big steel key on four-inch key ring that turned the latch that closed door, and locked it without fanfare. The key is now hanging over there on the wall. More yellow-tinge on the reinforced ceiling and a three-inch drain in the middle of the floor in front of you as you look down. A narrow formica-covered, fake woodgrain bench is on the north side of this on the nine foot by nine foot space. Not comfortable, but it wouldn’t be advised for you to try and get comfortable, anyway. You won’t be here long. You can’t stay any longer than six hours, anyway.
You are not in the jailhouse now, but you are headed there.
One of two holding cells in the Monument Police station is your current locale, and you are most-likely headed to the El Paso County Jail. You came in the east entrance downstairs of the Monument Police Building, in one side of the Town Hall, and you were probably in handcuffs, when placed in “Holding Cell 1, or 2.”
The arresting officer will do his, or her paperwork a few feet from you, at the desk there.  Within the comfort of their own reports and computer. Always a bunch of paperwork, when you are arrested. Then they will take you somewhere else for fingerprinting, photographing, more paperwork, booking and lockup.
Officers from Monument Police, El Paso County Sheriff’s Office, Palmer Lake Police, Colorado State Patrol and others, might have decided to use the temporary holding cell, says Commander Steve Burk, from Monument Police Department. And the arresting officers are responsible for you during your short stay. A sworn person is required to be present when anyone is in the holding cell. That person makes sure you do not become seriously ill, violent, suicidal, or present other problematic behavior.
Sometimes, a lot is going on, and both cells are full, with a possible waiting line. Other times, no one visits the holding cells for weeks, says Burk.
It is one the few locations in northern El Paso County, where such a facility is available. And only became available in the last few years when the new town hall was built.  Before, much of work had to be completed in parked squad car, or at booking into the jail.
Gone, of course, are the days of Otis Campbell in Mayberry, having a key to the front door of the courthouse and the cell keys are hung on a nail near the cells (presumably, to accommodate Otis).
“It is interesting, however,” says Burk. “How it is still the large key turning the lock, to secure the door.”




Photo information:

  1. Still, it is a big key that turns the lock when you find yourself in Monument Police Department’s holding cell 1 or 2.
  2. The yellow-tinged cinder block walls and large-gauge mesh screen in the small space, is no way to spend part of Saturday night.

Photos by Rob Carrigan