Waldo Canyon Fire emergency responders
Four months after the horrific Waldo Canyon Fire in northwest El Paso County, banners and signs thanking firefighters, first responders and other emergency workers who helped extinguish the most destructive and expensive blaze in state history still hang on fences and structures spared by the flames.
After the fire started June 23, more than 1,200 firefighters came from near and far — and occasionally, directly from other wildfire-fighting efforts — to work on containment. On many days, those on the front lines battled the beast in record-high temperatures, above 100 degrees. As stories began emerging about how firefighters slept in the streets to protect as many homes as they could and traversed steep mountain terrain to reach remote sites, the entire community embraced their bravery, heroism and dedication.
El Paso County Commissioner Sallie Clark, who represents District 3, the area most impacted by the fire, says the true meaning of community emerged during the crisis, which wound up claiming two lives and almost 350 homes.
"I was extremely impressed how everyone came together with one mission, some putting themselves directly in the line of the fire to save lives and property," she says.
One person in particular, Jerri Marr, a U.S. Forest Service supervisor who led daily press conferences, received countless accolades for her level-headedness, calm and professionalism. But outside the TV lights, hundreds of residents lined the streets night after night with signs and words of encouragement as weary firefighters returned to their tents on Mesa Road.
"As we take the long road to recovery," Clark says, "we must never forget those who worked each day in the intense heat and difficult conditions, and those who worked behind the scenes to become our community heroes." — DK
KRCC-FM 91.5(912 N. Weber St.,473-4801, krcc.org)
The word "community" gets thrown around an awful lot these days, but KRCC's entire family can truly stand behind its claim of caring. The proof? The station cut short a membership drive when it became clear that this summer's Waldo Canyon Fire necessitated constant coverage — and yet, general manager Delaney Utterback says, listeners kept donating anyway. Meanwhile, folks who walk into the North Weber Street headquarters during one of those volunteer-manned drives quickly realize that Radio Colorado College's "community" transcends mere listenership (and scare quotes, for that matter), and spills over into, you know, the real world. In this otherwise post-media age of click-tivism and compartmentalized apathy, that's pretty miraculous. We're certainly impressed. — WM
Richard Randall(KVOR-AM 740, 540-0740 talk, 209-6706 text)
I am here to tell you that KVOR headquarters is a land apart, one where men hold doors for women, everyone's chipper and microphone-ready at 8:30 a.m., and star pundits wear trucker hats with totally unironic gusto. It's about as unlike the Indy as you can get (I'm pretty sure trucker hats burst into flame upon entry), but that hasn't stopped our readers from crowning KVOR's Richard Randall and his show with Best Of gold five years running. Whether he's mouthing off about La Leche League or promoting community philanthropy through the Give! campaign, the trained trial lawyer keeps his laser focus and boisterous patter firmly trained on local issues, a choice we can all salute. — CAS
KKTV 11 News(3100 N. Nevada Ave., 578-0000, kktv.com)
Though there's a lot to like about watching KKTV — Don Ward's handsome, Dianne Derby's beautiful, Sam Farnsworth once clarified for people that there's a difference between Broncos fans and Tebow fans — my favorite recent reason is the station's wall-to-wall coverage of the Waldo Canyon Fire. After finding out on Twitter that something was burning, I turned on KKTV and never turned it off, because the newscast never went off. "We were the only people that [broadcast] continuously," says general manager Nick Matesi, who adds the station got "a lot of feedback from folks saying, 'Thank God you're doing this, because I leave my TV on at night, and I know if I wake up and there's something new, you guys are gonna be there.'" Now, isn't that worth an award? — BC
Matt Meister, KRDO NewsChannel 13(399 S. Eighth St., 575-6285, krdo.com)
As a pretty frequent local-TV news watcher, I can tell you that Matt Meister's doing it right. Taking this award from eight-time winner (and recently retired anchor) Lisa Lyden, the chief meteorologist for KRDO is witty, charming and always seeking to engage with his audience. Just check his Twitter account, which boasts more than 4,500 followers. "With sometimes the rest of the news seeming pretty depressing, I can be the fun guy, and I enjoy that role when the weather isn't threatening," he says. "So I like being able to make comments about some of the sillier news stories and being able to have a little fun, and it seems like viewers have responded to that." And if you like that, you'll love this: Meister recently signed a new five-year contract, putting him in your home until at least November 2017. — BC
Care and Share Food Bank for Southern Colorado(2605 Preamble Point, 528-1247, careandshare.org)
When the Waldo Canyon Fire devastated so many lives in late June, no one could drive to the front lines with a picnic basket. So Care and Share Food Bank for Southern Colorado stepped up, as it always does. "We knew there would be a need for food for the firefighters and other first responders, and then the [evacuated] families," says Shannon Coker, community relations director. The agency's 40,000-square-foot-plus warehouse was quickly stuffed with donated food and beverages — a record 1.6 million pounds in the two weeks after the fire. The fire-related needs having tapered, Care and Share is back to its usual mission: distributing literally millions of pounds of food through Southern Colorado. — RVP
A Community Rises
It's not hard to know whom to credit for the success of the Waldo Canyon Fire benefit concert, which was held on July 4 at the World Arena and featured the Flying W Wranglers, Flash Cadillac and others. It's you. Sure, it took the combined efforts of a variety of organizations, including the Independent, the Colorado Springs Philharmonic, Focus on the Family and others. But they didn't donate nearly $300,000 in about three hours — you did. And if you total all the contributions from all involved, some half a million dollars was raised for the Pikes Peak United Way that day, making the Golden Rule golden, indeed. Good job, Colorado Springs. — BC
Steve Bach, Colorado Springs mayor(30 S. Nevada Ave., 385-5900, springsgov.com)
During Best Of voting last year, Steve Bach had been mayor for a few months — and still, your favorite politician was the guy he beat out for the office. In fact, Bach placed third in this category in 2011. But nowadays, there's no denying that the mayor, a longtime heavyweight in the commercial real estate business, is the alpha dog in town. Among other things, the Kansas native and University of Colorado at Colorado Springs grad has done two terms' worth of hiring and firing; led the city during one of its gravest crises; and charged our business leaders with establishing 6,000 new jobs in the next year. His proposed 2013 budget is full of change, reinforcing the notion that city government is like Play-Doh in his 69-year-old hands. Watch closely to see how it all plays out, or just check back next year to see if Bach repeats in this category. — KW
Barrett Tryon is a Twitter fan in a Facebook town. Basically, he prefers the fast-paced nature of tweeting to the leisurely perusal of 800 summer-vacation photos. Tryon has been tweeting since 2008, and has more than 24,000 followers. With a background in news reporting and having worked locally at the Gazette and KRDO, Tryon says he offers a "unique perspective where I'm able to offer the news of the day and at the same time show the personal side of me." In addition to following the musings of a self-described quasi-insane news junkie, you can also check out the Twitter account of his dog, Bentley, who's not as prolific but has the rare insight only a four-legged butt-sniffer can offer. — DM
Carrie Isaac(as springsbargains.com)
Extreme Couponing this ain't. In fact, says local bargain-blogging queen Carrie Isaac, the hit TLC show has acted as a millstone around the neck of the clip 'n save deal, occasioning stricter redemption policies and fewer offers, period. But if savings offers are waning, overall local interest in economical living has risen. Isaac has responded by widening the scope of Springs Bargains to include an interactive Milk Price Tracker, printable shopping lists of on-sale items, and lifestyle advice on cooking from scratch and — a personal goal — reducing food waste. "People are just trying to find the balance between saving money with coupons and overall lifestyle changes to be more frugal," she says. — CAS
Woody Powers / Goose and Woody Morning Show(KKPK-FM 92.9 "The Peak," 272-7325, 929peakfm.com)
'Did you know that Peak FM's Woody Powers has lived in Colorado Springs for almost 10 years, and in almost 10 years he's never once been mentioned in the Colorado Springs Independent?" So begins a 92.9 Peak FM promotion aimed at getting out the vote for this year's Radio DJ winner, who just happens to co-host this year's Local Radio Show winner. The promo goes on to point out how Woody (pictured left) has also spent nearly 10 years saving the lives of countless bunnies and helpless kittens, feeding the elderly by hand, and rescuing mountain lions for the Cheyenne Mountain Zoo. While such claims may not be strictly true, they're definitely in keeping with the kind of humor that has helped make Goose and Woody's drive-time banter so popular. — BF
Susan Edmondson(730 N. Nevada Ave., 477-0185, beevradenburgfoundation.org)
As executive director of the Bee Vradenburg Foundation, Susan Edmondson helps people understand that the arts are critical to a thriving community and economy. And by "arts," she's not just talking about the occasional gallery opening or theater performance; enjoying art could mean listening to a church choir, or taking in locally created paintings hanging in coffee shops. Edmondson sees pockets of creativity all over the city, though she adds that she'd "like to see more venues and more affordable locations for artist studios and performance spaces throughout neighborhoods." Of course, more venues would hopefully attract more people to those venues. "I think we have a passionate core of supporters," she says, "and my goal is to make that core larger." — DM
We recognize real estate agents, lawyers and hairstylists among other individual professionals in our annual competition, so why not tattoo artists? Why not, indeed. Tattoo artists meld the world of business and art, and "permanent color" in their realm means a whole lot more than it does in a salon. Granted, El Paso County Public Health regulates most everything the employees at our 50-some local facilities do, including CPR and first aid certification, hepatitis B vaccinations, and infection control trainings to ensure "safe and sanitary practice." But knowing who this community respects could be key in selecting someone to make your own skin a little more intriguing. — KA
U.S. Rep. Doug Lamborn(lamborn.house.gov)
According to Doug Lamborn's campaign website, vice presidential candidate Paul Ryan said of our very own Mr.-Smith-gone-to-Washington, "Congressman Lamborn is a shining example of a true conservative in Congress. He votes our values every day." That might mean trying to strip taxpayer money from public broadcasting, nixing every tax increase and condemning health care reform. In fact, Lamborn is so uncommitted to bipartisanship that, in good fifth-grade tantrum-thrower style (and in line with his infamous "tar baby" quote), he didn't even attend the Commander-in-Chief's most recent State of the Union address. Yet he made sure to greet the president out there on the tarmac, smiling and vacant for the cameras, when President Obama landed in Colorado Springs to survey the Waldo Canyon Fire damage. (So brave!). Maybe 5th District voters will never get him out of office, but Indy voters can at least teach him some shame. — WM
Michael Creed and the Waldo Canyon Fire Sale
'I travel to over 100 different cities in the world every year and I'm still happy [to] live here," says Michael Creed. "Maybe I'm stupid, but Colorado Springs is my home." If only all of us were so good to our homes. Creed, a 31-year-old world-class cyclist with Optum Pro Cycling, reacted to the Waldo Canyon Fire this summer by taking to eBay between races. Appealing to his fellow cyclists — many of whom would be coming through Colorado Springs during August's USA Pro Cycling Challenge — Creed collected some seriously covet-worthy items, including a Tour de France white jersey (given to the race's best young rider) from Tejay van Garderen. In the end, Creed says, the winning bids on about 100 items generated more than $35,000 — all of which then went to the Pikes Peak Chapter of the American Red Cross, which had supplied so many victims with food and shelter during the fire. Pretty cool, although Creed deflects the credit to friends who donated and to The Pro's Closet, the bike-focused eBay store that facilitated the auction. "Like most people my age," he says, "I had a good idea but I didn't want to work on it." — KW
Whether you prefer to hike up, drive up, or look at it from afar, that big pile of rock topped with snow is still the central draw to the Springs region. Even if you can't see it from your vantage point, its presence looms large here in names of coffee shops and radio stations. It still inspires awe not just because of the views and doughnuts, but because you can't help but think about the first people to summit it and the crews who've kept the trails open through today. — SB