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"Wilderness is not a luxury but a necessity of the human spirit, and as vital to our lives as water and good bread."
– Edward Abbey  
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  Volume No. 16 Issue No. 9 September 2019  

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Bill Radford

  Faces of Black Forest
  Forever dedicated to the forest
  By Bill Radford

   Keeper of the Forest. The Mulch Lady. The Bluebird Lady.
   
   Ruth Ann Steele has been known by many titles throughout her 93 years. Her love of Black Forest and its abundance of wildlife is one thread that ties those titles together.
   
   Steele grew up on a farm in southeast Nebraska; corn was the key crop. "All you have to do is throw the kernels out on the ground and it will sprout," she said.
   
   She chose teaching as a career and immersed herself in that job even before getting a teaching degree.
   
   "Nebraska didn't have any rules or regulations then about how old you could be or how many degrees you might have or whether you had any or not, so I took advantage of that and taught right out of high school," she said. She did go on, however, to graduate from Peru State Teachers College in Nebraska; she and James, a fellow teacher, married shortly after graduation.
   
   Their careers — she taught music, he taught literature — brought them to Colorado. James Steele taught in Denver, mostly at Metropolitan State University. Ruth Ann taught in Cherry Creek schools for about 25 years; and, she said, "My heart is still partly there."
   
   They moved to Black Forest in 1979, finding paradise on 300-plus acres. James died about 15 years ago.
   
   Twenty-five years ago, Steele, a member of the Colorado Forestry Association, started the Black Forest Slash and Mulch Program (bfslash.org). Under the wildfire mitigation and recycling program, homeowners are encouraged to clean up the natural debris, or slash, from their property and bring it to a site to be ground up into mulch in "a frenzy of chipping." People can then take the mulch to enrich their soil and their gardens. The program typically starts in May and runs through part of September.
   
   Steele managed the program for more than 20 years, earning her that title of The Mulch Lady. Wooded lands, she said, "Need to be cared for and thinned. ... I just thought it would be good to have a place to bring all of that stuff."
   
   Then, there are the bluebirds. Steele many years ago built and maintained a lengthy bluebird "trail" with scores of nesting boxes.
   
   "The bluebirds followed me around, that's the absolute truth," she said. "I had no idea they were so desperate for a place to make their home."
   
   The bluebirds of Black Forest have a good life, she said. "The only thing they have to worry about out here is basically water and the hawks." She recalled throwing seed out one day when a sparrow hawk suddenly swept down and got a bluebird. "It was dead before it knew what hit it," she said. "I had a front-row seat, which is not something I relish."
   
   In addition to birds, there are plenty of other animals to observe on her land, including a flock of wild turkeys and "lots of antelope, lots of deer,” Steele said. “In fact, I have one deer that I call Sir Reginald. He's very majestic; he's an eight-pointer. He walks around like he owns the world, which I think he does. ... Every once in a while, the girls follow him."
   
   Steele also has a few of her own animals —“a little horse and a little donkey. They just live here in paradise. They have a lovely, warm dry place to sleep and lots of food whenever they want it."
   Steele frets about parts of Black Forest becoming "urbanized."
   
   "I've seen a lot of people move in who have a hard time adjusting to what you have to do to live in the Black Forest. … You don't go into a place and all of a sudden change it; it just doesn't work. You have to recognize the animals, the wildlife that roams around. The weather, it changes what you do."
   
   These days, she said, she leads "a dull life," but there are always chores to do and the animals to watch. She no longer drives, so friends transport her when needed.
   
   Among those friends is Barb Dixon; they forged a connection through music.
   
   "A big part of her life and history with Black Forest has been her wonderful, wonderful music," Dixon said of Steele, who has a piano in her living room. "She was our organist at the Black Forest Community Church for many, many years. ... All you have to do is say a song and she's got it with both hands all over the piano and any key you want."
  
Ruth Ann Steele, a retired music teacher and long-time resident of Black Forest, is a masterful piano player. Photo by Bill Radford
 
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  Land use committee update
  By Leslie Sheley

   The Black Forest Land Use Committee continues to review development proposals to ensure all parties involved are following the Black Forest Preservation Plan.
   
   Terry Stokka, chairman of the committee, said the goal of the committee is to “guide development and preserve the natural beauty, resources and rural, residential way of life” in accordance with the preservation plan.
   
   “We are not against development, but are concerned about responsible development, particularly residential density, water and traffic,” Stokka said. “The rural residential 5-acre zoning is becoming increasingly ignored.” The PUD, Planned Unit Development, should be flexible with existing zoning laws, but it should not allow for significant changes to zoning, he said. “And the regulations for state density should remain the same,” Stokka said. “There is a strong feeling in the forest that developers receive preferential treatment, and the existing PUDs and laws are being ignored.”
   
   Stokka said county commissioners have previously said that water issues are “out of their hands.
   
   “El Paso County initiated a 300-year rule regarding water, and it has been upheld by the Colorado Supreme Court (the 300-year rule requires developers to prove they have a supply of water for 300 years),” he said. “We wish our county commissioners would say no more urban development with nonrenewable water, unless it conforms to the 300-year rule.” Colorado Springs uses all renewable water, but Black Forest depends on what is underground, he said. “Sterling Ranch is zoned for 7,500 homes, and those 7,500 homes are being promised water by Sterling Ranch Metro District,” Stokka said. The district has just two wells and a tank, he added. “That’s all the water they have that we know of besides what they have on paper, and there is often a great difference between ‘paper water’ and ‘wet water’ because we don’t know what is actually down there,” Stokka said.
   
   The Black Forest Preservation Plan covers about 6,000 homes in the area, he said, adding that the estimated water usage for the average family is 150,000 gallons a year. “Sterling Ranch plans to put in lawns, which most Black Forest residential areas do not have; so, needless to say, water is a critical issue to us,” Stokka said. “It seems to us that developers should have to prove they have water before their plans are approved.”
   
   Roads are a concern with development because improvements like widening the roads could require a significant loss of trees, he said.
   
   “County commissioners and planning department staff often argue that the Black Forest Preservation Plan is outdated since the last revision was in 1987, except for a trails addendum,” Stokka said.
   
   Plans are underway to abandon the present Black Forest Preservation Plan, along with the Falcon plan, and develop a county master plan, he said. “We will continue to work with our commissioners to make sure the future county master plan has a section in place for small areas like Black Forest.”
   
   The committee also addresses developments abutted against Black Forest — like Wolf Ranch. Under the original plan, the ranch included 1-acre lots and a 200-foot setback for open space near Black Forest and Old Ranch roads, Stokka said. “The new revision has eliminated all of that; no setbacks and smaller lots,” he said. The committee plans to ask Wolf Ranch for a boundary between the homes and the roads, “Even if it’s just a 200-foot buffer,” he said.
   
   Residents in Black Forest do not believe they are protected through zoning laws, Stokka said. “The county is pro-growth; development means more taxes … more money for the county, and they are anxious to please the developers,” he said. Because commissioners and developers are not following zoning laws, Stokka said residents feel they are “ignored or non-existent.”
   
   The Friends of the Black Forest Preservation Plan, which is now 2,000 members strong, supports the land use committee and the plan — and all are dedicated to saving Black Forest, Stokka said.
  
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  Black Forest town hall meeting
  By Leslie Sheley

   The Eastern Plains Chamber of Commerce sponsored a town hall meeting at the Black Forest Fire Rescue Station 1 on Feb. 23. Sen. Paul Lundeen, Rep. Tim Geitner and Commissioner Holly Williams discussed development and legislation, such as the National Popular Vote Bill (Senate Bill 42).
   
   Lundeen discussed four bills — three of concern to him. “Senate Bill 42 takes the votes of Colorado and attaches them to the votes of California and New York by joining a compact that says when it gets to 270 electoral votes inside this compact, it doesn’t matter how you as a state voted,” he said. “In our country, the idea is that every person should have one vote; that’s part of our values and our democracy.” With SB 42, Lundeen said, “Your Colorado votes simply become watered down.”
   
   The bill has passed out of the Senate and the House and headed for the governor’s desk. If the governor does not veto the bill, it would be “mob rule,” Lundeen said. He urged residents to call the governor and ask him to veto the bill. For more on SB 42, read the article, "Town Hall Meeting Addresses Legislation" by Lindsey Harrison in the Feature Stories section.
   
   Lundeen also expressed concern about Senate Bill 1032, the Comprehensive Human Sexuality legislation. He said he believes decisions on classroom curriculums should be kept closer to home, not at the state level. “We have 178 school districts, which is where the curriculum should be set,” he said. “We are going to have a statewide curriculum on this very sensitive and somewhat controversial content, and I oppose the bill.”
   
   Another bill Lundeen opposes is the Extreme Risk Protection Order Bill. The legislation allows a family or household member or a law enforcement officer to petition the court for a temporary extreme risk protection order (ERPO). According to HB18-1436, a person can petition the court by a preponderance of evidence stating that someone in the household is a “significant risk to self or others by having a firearm in his or her custody or control or by possessing, purchasing or receiving a firearm.” The petitioner must an affidavit under oath supporting reasons for ERPO; a hearing is held; and, if a risk exists, the person in question must surrender all firearms. Lundeen said the bill ignores the “mental health issues” related to the respondent; instead, “it allows people’s private property to be confiscated.” If the person is deemed a risk, he or she must prove otherwise, which, Lundeen said, defies the concept of “innocent until proven guilty.”
   
   The last bill Lundeen discussed is Senate Bill 101. “This bill says to CDOT (Colorado Department of Transportation), you may not toll a lane of additional traffic when you build it unless you have evaluated all options for developing that capacity, communicated to all communities of interest you are passing through and find no other way to build that capacity except by tolling the lane of traffic,” he said. “This bill says we need to bring the conversation back so the people are involved.”
   
   Geitner addressed two bills he is working on — one is House Bill 1100. Geitner said the bill states that after a school building is sold, it must not be used as a marijuana store, an adult entertainment facility or a bar. “We tacked on a fourth restriction to not allow (school buildings) to be sold for the purpose of another public school, which would devalue the property,” Geitner said.
   
   The other bill Geitner is involved with has not yet been introduced, he said. The bill allows students to use work experience for college credit. “It might involve an apprentice program or a credential program,” he said. “We know that tuition for college has increased, and this would help to translate into two-or-four-year degrees.”
   
   Williams talked about her first few months in office, citing the importance of the master policy land use update. She said Black Forest and the Tri-Lakes areas will develop committees to review land use issues “especially with the preservation of the forest, how much water they need and how to protect Black Forest if they have another fire.” Williams said she would like to be part of any water committee, and advocates for a water study that addresses the amount of water developers are taking and the amount that can be replenished.
   
   The town hall meeting ended with questions from the public. There are plans for future town hall meetings.
  
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  No fee senior social

   A monthly informal occasion for seniors is the no fee event. They meet in the Black Forest Lutheran Church Fellowship Hall at 12455 Black Forest Road in Black Forest.
            
   Seniors are welcome at the Black Forest AARP and Black Forest Lutheran Church monthly informal gathering, held at the Black Forest Lutheran Church Fellowship Hall at 12455 Black Forest Road. The social is from 1 to 4 p.m. the fourth Wednesday of each month, and all are invited to socialize, play games, work on hobbies or to simply sit and talk about “whatever.”  Light refreshments are available. For more information, contact Lavonne at 719-494-1276.
  
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  Black Forest Women’s Club

   The next meeting of the Black Forest Women’s Club is April 11 at the Black Forest Lutheran Church, 12455 Black Forest Road. Parking lot is in the back. Use the ramp and go in the first door on the right. Coffee and refreshments will be served at 9:30 a.m. and the meeting begins at 10 a.m. Wild Blue will present the program. Visitors and guests are always welcome. For information, call Carol at 719-495-3846.   
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