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Rising from the ashes

Between the Lines



For nearly 20 years, Tyler Stevens has made the most out of living in Green Mountain Falls, the small but character-filled town straddling the west edge of El Paso County, beyond Cascade and Chipita Park.

He moved "up the pass" after graduating from Colorado College and embraced the quaint community — elevation 7,800 feet, with its own little lake and gazebo — while building his family and Complete Kitchens business.

He cared enough to become Green Mountain Falls' mayor in April 2004, which made him much more familiar with the town, the county and even the Pikes Peak Area Council of Governments.

Stevens has enjoyed it so much, in fact, that even though term limits will force him to leave as mayor next month, he's running for a four-year term on the "board of trustees," its version of a city council.

So the 41-year-old, down to his final six weeks as mayor, figured he would just "ride it out and coast on through to the end" before the town's April election.

Then, at 1:30 a.m. last Thursday, Feb. 23, the phone rang — and Stevens knew something probably was wrong even before the caller said there was a fire.

"I remember thinking, 'This has to be a joke, but at this hour, it would be a really bad joke,'" Stevens says. "So I went down to the scene."

What Stevens found was a shock: Green Mountain Falls' town hall was fully engulfed in flames, after an explosion apparently caused by two arsonists. The building, same age as the 122-year-old village, was destroyed.

At first, Stevens and others assumed the worst. "And our initial take," he says, "was that we'd lost everything because we were so paper-dependent."

Certainly, special artifacts were destroyed, such as Green Mountain Falls' original plat map from the late 1800s. But then came good news: Many of the town's more recent records were stored in "an electronic off-site backup," as Stevens describes it, "and it's conceivable that some paper files might have survived, though we haven't been able to get in [as of Monday afternoon] and find out yet."

Even as county investigators built their case against two suspects, Stevens and other officials were moving to the next phase. They were making rapid arrangements to re-open the Green Mountain Falls government, before the end of this week, in available space at Rocky Mountain Christian Center on the west side of town.

Of course, that's probably what you would expect from a tight-knit community of 921 year-round residents (2010 Census). It increases to around 1,500 in summer with mostly families from Kansas, Oklahoma and Texas who've had second homes there for generations.

"We've had a huge outpouring from the people up here," Stevens says. "We've already seen thousands in cash donations to help us get through this, and I expect more and more. This has been a shock to the community, but everyone has been so great: the staff, trustees and planning commission, meeting every day and acting as quickly as possible.

"There is insurance for the old building, and it'll be of some help, but that's never enough. Many have already asked, 'Where will you rebuild?' But we're not even close to that."

Stevens still can't understand why anyone would want to set the town hall on fire.

"As with any government entity, we've had people discontented and mad," he says, "but not to the point of taking action or doing anything like this. And definitely nothing recent, so it had to be random. But when it's directed at you, that's when it can be a scary thing."

Still, not in Green Mountain Falls. In fact, Stevens remembers only one other comparable nightmare in his eight years as mayor.

"That was in 2005, when our police chief got arrested [for falsifying a report]," Stevens says. "That was another phone call you don't want to get. But there wasn't anything else like that, until now."

Not even losing the town hall can cripple Green Mountain Falls, though.

"As terrible as it is, this is just a reminder," Stevens says. "What we lost was a building and papers, and we greatly grieve our loss. But our local government is the people and the will of the community. So we'll be all right."

And sometimes the smallest towns can set the biggest examples.

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