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"New Year’s Eve, where auld acquaintance be forgot. Unless, of course, those tests come back positive."
– Jay Leno  
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  Volume No. 18 Issue No. 1 January 2021  

None Book Review   None Community Calendar   None Did You Know?   None FFPD News  
None From the Publisher   None Health and Wellness   None Marks Meanderings   None Monkey Business  
None News From D 49   None People on the Plains   None Pet Adoption Corner   None Pet Care  
None Phun Photos   None Prairie Life   None Rumors   None Wildlife Matters  
Front Page   |   Feature Stories   |   Search This Issue   |   Log In

Bill Radford

  Faces of Black Forest
  Turning weapons into weeders
  By Bill Radford

   He had the idea for a year or two –- to turn guns into garden tools to provide a powerful symbol for change. It was an idea inspired by a biblical verse: "And they shall beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruning hooks."
   But it was the Sandy Hook Elementary School massacre in 2012 that led Mike Martin to transform that vision into reality. Twenty children were killed in that mass shooting –- the same number of students that his wife, then a first-grade teacher, had in her class.
   He went on to learn blacksmithing –- and to form RAWtools, a Colorado Springs-based nonprofit aimed at addressing the epidemic of gun violence in this country. (Raw is war spelled backwards.) Martin's father, Fred, who also learned blacksmithing, is a founding board member of RAWtools and now leads the group's blacksmithing efforts.
   "We turn the guns into garden tools, but we also use that as a way to connect people to nonviolent resources for conflict mediation,” Mike Martin said. “That could be restorative justice, that could be de-escalation practices. It’s a variety of tools and resources."
   The first weapon Martin transformed was an AK-47 provided by a former public defender in Colorado Springs who no longer wanted the weapon, which he had bought for protection after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks. Since then, RAWtools has rendered hundreds of guns into garden and other tools.
   At first, most of the guns were donated by individuals — often in the aftermath of a suicide. Today, a majority of the guns are obtained through police buyback programs and other larger events.
   RAWtools has established a satellite location, led by a Mennonite pastor, in Toledo, Ohio. Martin is also a Mennonite, and has a network of volunteer blacksmiths. RAWtools also has drawn the attention of major media outlets, including The New York Times, and he has inspired similar programs across the country.
   Martin is a former youth and young adult pastor at Beth-El Mennonite Church in Colorado Springs. His family is originally from Pennsylvania but moved to Black Forest when Martin was 10.
   "I loved it," he said. "We had 5 acres, so it's always fun to grow up in that kind of situation — outdoors and in the forest. Part of me as a kid didn't like being so far from friends, but now I long to have that kind of space again."
   A 2001 graduate of Lewis-Palmer High School, Martin also has a degree in biblical studies from Colorado Christian University. These days he lives in the Springs, as does his dad, who moved there two years ago after three decades in Black Forest. The two will return to the forest this month for a presentation at Black Forest Community Church.
   Martin is also co-author of "Beating Guns: Hope for People Who Are Weary of Violence" with best-selling author, speaker and activist Shane Claiborne; the two went on a national book tour this past spring. The book, written from a Christian perspective, looks at whether gun violence is a gun problem or a "heart problem." Their conclusion: It's both.
   For the most part, gun-rights activists have left him alone. "We're not an anti-gun organization," Martin said. "We're happy to have a dialogue." Some (RAWtools) board directors, he said, are gun owners. He said many gun owners "support some things like background checks. There’s more common ground than maybe what the national media or the stereotype have led us to believe."
   While it is mass shootings that create the most headlines –- and typically cause spikes in donated guns –- gun violence is an everyday occurrence, Martin said. "We lose almost 10 kids (on a daily basis) under the age of 17 to gun violence that doesn't involve mass shootings,” he said. “So, every other day equals another Sandy Hook."
   On the book tour and at other events, hearing the tear-drenched tales of those lost to gun violence can take a toll. "Every now and then, it can be overwhelming," Martin said. But at the same time, "It's more encouragement and motivation for us to keep doing this work. Victims and survivors carry too much of this load. Others of us can help carry that."
   (For more information on RAWtools, go to On Oct. 20, RAWtools founder and executive director Mike Martin will preach during services at Black Forest Community Church while his father, Fred, demonstrates how they turn guns into garden tools. The service begins at 10 a.m. Following the worship, "Beating Guns," a documentary based on the book by Martin and Shane Claiborne, will be shown at the sanctuary.)
Mike Martin is founder and executive director of RAWtools, which preaches nonviolence and renders guns into garden tools. Photo by Bill Radford
A gun may make one garden tool or three or so, depending on the type of weapon, Mike Martin said. Shown here are some of the gun stocks from weapons given to RAWtools.
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  BFFPD District September board meeting
  By Lindsey Harrison

   The Black Forest Fire Protection District held its regular monthly board meeting Sept. 25. Director Jim Abendschan was absent with prior notice.
   Financial report
   Jack Hinton, treasurer, presented information about a policy discussed at the August meeting, which separates the district’s cash funds into two different accounts as of Jan. 1, 2020. The first account will hold the general fund cash and a new interest-bearing account will hold $200,000 in reserve funds plus the required TABOR funds. Any withdrawal of funds from the new interest-bearing account must be approved by two directors and Fire Chief PJ Langmaid.
   The board unanimously approved the policy.
   Hinton said the district’s year-to-date expenditures is at 70.8 percent but he would like that to be 66 percent. There is $1.7 million in the district’s bank account.
   No changes were made to the 2018 audit; the directors unanimously passed a motion to approve the audit, Hinton said.
   The board unanimously approved a motion to authorize credit cards for Landmaid, Capt. Christopher Piepenburg and Lt. Ben Rackl.
   Operations report
   Deputy Chief James Rebitski said all of the district’s vehicles are 100 percent operational. He also reported that the cost for the two ambulances the district plans to purchase vary, depending on the color the district chooses: $165,040 for red paint and $159,200 for white paint. He advised the board that those purchase contracts need to be finalized soon or the grant money the BFFPD received to help pay for the ambulances would no longer be available.
   Rebitski said previously ordered bunker gear has been delivered, all headsets have been installed and a tremendous amount of training is occurring; including training with Tri-Lakes Monument Fire Protection District. The district’s wildland fire engine, a Type 3 engine, has been outfitted with everything possible, and the plan is to deploy it in January 2020, he said.
   The board unanimously approved a motion to complete the internet microwave project at Station 2 for $9,120.
   Langmaid said he is looking into response time data because he does not think the times are accurate.
   Three candidates for the full-time firefighter paramedic position have been placed on the district’s part-time roster with the ultimate goal of eventually hiring all three, Landmaid said. All annual evaluations of career staff have been completed, he said.
   The BFFPD has not heard back about whether they will receive funds from the Staffing for Adequate Fire and Emergency Response grant. Langmaid said his recommendation is that if the district is not awarded grant money, they should hire a grant writer and include that cost in any grants awarded.
   Old business
   Hinton asked to table the discussion about the district’s asset policy.
   Reports on workshops/meetings attended
   Nate Dowder, director, said he attended the Special District Association conference in Keystone, Colorado, in September — he said it was an outstanding event. “I learned a lot, especially about TABOR and the Gallagher Amendment,” he said.
   Rebitski said he also attended the SDA meeting and said there is new legislation coming out in 2020 but most will not affect the BFFPD, including a law that equalizes the pay rate for males and females. Since the district pays their staff based on the position and not a person’s gender, everything will stay the same.
   Langmaid said the district is switching its telephone and internet service provider to Streamline Web, a company that works specifically with local governmental agencies.
   The BFFPD is paying $240 per month for their current website, and Streamline costs $200 per month, with unlimited tech support from the company and a guaranteed 20-minute response for service requests, Rebitski said. The company does not provide the initial data migration in that monthly price and would charge $1,500 to perform that function, he said.
   Langmaid said he thinks the district can handle the data migration and save the $1,500.
   Update on chaplain and contractor programs
   The district has two chaplains whose main role is to check in with staff, Langmaid said. They are primarily providing support for first responders and are not equipped to go out on calls, he said.
   Langmaid also said he is waiting for information from the El Paso County Sheriff’s Office about how they handle contractor programs before deciding how the BFFPD will proceed with those programs.
   Rick Nearhoof, president, said the High Forest Ranch homeowners association sent a card noting a $1,460 donation they made to the BFFPD.
   The next meeting of the BFFPD board is Oct. 23 in the board room of Station 1.
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  The Cover Girls of Black Forest
  By Leslie Sheley

   The Black Forest Cover Girls of have been around for about 20 years. The group of retired women volunteer at the Black Forest Edith Wolford Elementary school.
   Gwen Burk said she started as a volunteer in her granddaughter’s fourth-grade class. She found out that the paperback books they were using in the reading room were falling apart. She mentioned the need to put them back together to her local AARP group (Black Forest AARP Chapter 1100), and about eight other women volunteered to help.
   The group met at Edith Wolford on a regular basis, covering the books with clear contact paper and re-enforcing the spine. Burk said, in the end, they re-covered about 4,000 books; thus, the teachers and staff called them the “Cover Girls.”
   Burk said once the school stopped using the paperback books for the reading program, they thought their volunteering days were finished, but the school asked them to stay. Since then, they have been meeting the first and third Tuesday of every month (when school is in session), depending on the need. Burk said they cut, fold, staple, trim, laminate and whatever else the teachers need, which can take from two to four hours. Throughout the years, Burk said anywhere from six to 10 Cover Girls volunteer for each project.
   She also said they used to help teachers grade papers until the state changed the law, and now only teachers are allowed to grade.
   “It’s a time we look forward to — visiting with each other and feeling productive doing something to help the teachers and kids,” Burk said. “We have made a lot of good memories through the years.”
   Several years ago, they were approached by the school and told they qualified for the Tax Exchange Cooperative for Seniors. The program is budgeted through Academy District 20; seniors can use up to 120 hours of volunteer work a year against their property taxes.
   Linda Ransom, District 20 executive secretary of human resources, said the school district has been participating in the Tax Exchange Cooperative for Seniors since the program began in January 1993. Each school district has the option to participate in the program.
   District 20 budgets for the program and decides how many hours each senior volunteer can use toward the tax exchange and at what rate they will be paid, Ransom said. The district decided on 120 volunteer hours a year at a rate of $6.85 an hour. The seniors are issued a check from the district for the hours they complete, and the senior turns the check over to the county treasurer to help pay their taxes. Ransom said the senior must be 60 years old and have a desire or passion to work with school aged children or the school itself. Interested seniors can contact District 20 at 719-234-1200 for details.
   Burk encourages seniors who like working with children or helping the local school to get involved as a volunteer. She said anyone is welcome to volunteer with their group, and they do not need to live in District 20 or participate in the TECS program.
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  Native American group focuses on sacred trees and places
  By Leslie Sheley

   The Association for Native American Sacred Trees and Places, or NASTaP, was founded on Dec. 27, 2017. John Anderson, author and storyteller, and Dr. James Jefferson, Ute Elder from the Southern Ute reservation, worked together to create NASTaP.
   John Anderson was hiking in Black Forest when he saw an “old, bent, pine tree.” In his video, “Native American Culturally Modified Trees,” Anderson said he had just read about Ute prayer trees and wondered if the pine tree was one. He invited friends to join him on another hike, and they ended up documenting about 24 trees they thought were culturally modified trees or CMTs.
   In the video, Anderson said he was afraid people would think the CMTs were distressed from the Black Forest fire, which started June 11, 2013. He wanted to get the word out about the sacred trees, so he wrote the book, “Ute Indian Prayer Trees, of the Pikes Peak Region.” He then decided to try to connect with someone from the Southern Ute reservation, south of Durango, for more information.
   Nathan Strong Elk, former executive director of the Southern Ute Cultural Center and Museum, agreed to meet with him; from there, he met Jefferson. In 2013, Anderson invited Jefferson and his peers to the Black Forest area for a barbecue to show them the trees. There were 15 Ute tribal members who joined them that year, and the next year 30 people attended the barbecue. Jefferson and Anderson have been working closely together ever since.
   “We have two missions close to our hearts,” said Heidi Wigand-Nicely, NASTaP secretary. “Awareness, education and preservation and to reconnect Native Americans, especially the youth, to their culture, the trees and to the sacred places.” Wigand-Nicely said the Utes didn’t grow up with the trees because they were moved to reservations and the elders who knew about the trees are now in their 80s. She said through grants and donations they paid for 10 Ute youth, from two different reservations, to attend the national conference in August.
   “They visited the trees with us and listened to the presentations by the Ute elders, so we were able to expose them to the parts of their culture that got lost in the process of them moving onto the reservations,” Wigand-Nicely said. Many of the elders don’t talk about the trees or their heritage.
   When they were forced onto the reservations, many were sent to boarding schools, where their names were changed; they were forbidden to talk about their culture or heritage, she said. Some of the elders still feel prohibited to talk about it because of those days, and there are a lot who aren’t aware of the trees at all, she said.
   NASTaP provides regular walking tours to the public, Wigand-Nicely said. “We would, of course, love people to join NASTaP, but the hikes are open to anyone, not just members.” Culturally modified trees are identified throughout the walk, and observers are taught how to recognize them, as opposed to trees modified by nature or humans, etc., she said.
   Currently, if people think there is a CMT on their property, they can email Wigand-Nicely, and NASTaP will send out people to make a determination. They have a standards committee seeking a grant to be able to formally document the trees, the locations and the features that verify the CMT.
   Often, property owners will join NASTaP to help the organization educate people and preserve the trees, Wigand-Nicely said. “Our mission is to get the word out to save these trees, until they die of natural causes,” she said. The UTE have been the focus of their efforts because of their presence in the area. But NASTaP is inclusive to all Native Americans and their sacred trees and places.
   In a separate interview, Anderson said, “The most important point I try to communicate is that these trees are living Native American cultural artifacts that were left behind by our indigenous people as a legacy gift. And these CMTs are worthy of our best conservation efforts so they can be researched further and enjoyed by future generations.”
   NASTaP has members throughout the United States and internationally. Anyone can become a member. For more information about NASTaP, visit https:// Wigand-Nicely said interested parties should email her for more information or for questions on hikes:
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  New principal at Wolford Elementary
  By Leslie Sheley

   After 11 years of service, Bob Wedel, principal of Edith Wolford Elementary since 2007, retired last spring. The assistant principal, Robin Lowery, has taken the reigns from Wedel.
   “I decided to apply for the principal job because Wolford is more than a school, it’s a family,” Lowery said. “And I thought I want to have the opportunity to continue to grow with this family.”
   Lowery said she has been in education 26 years. She said she moved to Colorado Springs 15 years ago, and started teaching in Academy School District 20. Lowery has taught in elementary school and held various district positions before becoming the assistant principal at Edith Wolford four years ago.
   “I was enjoying my teaching position on the west side of town, when the assistant principal position opened up,” Lowery said. “And I thought Bob Wedel and the school have such a great reputation I decided it was worth leaving my position and applied for the job.”
   Lowery said she wants to provide the best educational experience, which includes challenging the students and meeting their needs. One educational experience Lowery said she is excited about is co-teaching. “You can walk into any classroom, and you will see anywhere from two to four adults teaching together,” Lowery said. “That speaks volumes of the trust and respect we have for each other as staff.” They based their program on the book by Anne M. Beninghof, “Co-Teaching That Works” where anyone from a paraprofessional to parent volunteer to resource teacher are all in one room working with small groups of students. The classroom teacher is responsible for identifying various needs and skills and assigning students to small groups where the co-teachers can hone in on those skills. Lowery said they have embraced the concept, and last year invited principals from across the district to observe. She said all the invited guests said they could not tell which person in the classroom was the teacher. “I feel like the (negative) behaviors have decreased because there are so many more adults in the room, and the kids are more engaged because there isn’t so much lag,” Lowery said.
   The school also focuses on health and wellness, she said. They follow “The Great Body Shop” curriculum, which is taught to the children at school and shared with families at home, she said. They also hold a Health Jam every February — a day that centers on social and emotional wellness. The community gets involved, and the kids have participated in everything from yoga to Zumba to Kaiser Permanente bringing their smoothie truck and giving out samples, Lowery said.
   The school also uses the RULER program, which she said is innovative and effective. “It’s pretty exciting. We teach the children to recognize, understand, label, express and regulate their emotions as needed,” she said. There are meta-moment stations in each classroom. If the student is feeling anxious or frustrated, teachers can give them permission to take a timed break at the station. There might be a little Zen garden or squishy balls or a glittery water bottle at the station, which is calming, Lowery said. The idea is to teach the kids to deal with their emotions and be responsible for their actions by learning ways to de-stress.
   They also take “brain breaks” throughout the day by encouraging movement, stretching or mindful meditation, she said. “Asking children to not move is like asking a child who wears glasses to take off their glasses and put them away; so why would we not work with those different learning styles,” Lowery said.
   She said she is also proud of the Significant Severe Needs students program. Lowery said the severe needs students are assimilated into a general classroom when possible, where they learn appropriate behaviors by observing their peers. In turn, the students in the general classroom learn compassion and understanding.
   “We do a lot for the kids, and definitely everyone’s heart is in it,” Lowery said. “I don’t think there’s a better place to be.”
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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.
   The next meeting is Oct. 23. There will be no senior social in November and December.
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  Black Forest Women’s Club

   The next meeting of the Black Forest Women’s Club is Oct. 10 at the Black Forest Lutheran Church, 12455 Black Forest Road. The 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. The October program will feature "What to do if you lose a spouse," presented by Tamie Farris. Visitors and guests are always welcome. Come meet new people. For information, call Sharon 719-495-3164.   
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