As another year comes to a close, we look ahead to 2019 and all the new year may have to offer. But, before we close the books on 2018, let’s a take a look, month by month, at some of those stories that captured the interest of Independent readers.
January brought the welcome addition of a new Family Nurse Practitioner, Jessica Hyman, to the Kiowa County Hospital District followed closely by the much heralded return of Physician Assistant Dawn Back. With the hiring of these two practitioners, the hospital and clinic are continuing to grow in strength, stability and quality health care services
Also during that month, Kiowa County residents learned—directly from the source—that the deal to buy the railroad had finally happened. As stated in the text from Stefan Soloviev, owner of the company that purchased the railroad, “Transaction just closed. Me, Colorado Pacific, an offshoot of Crossroads Ag and KCVN are the new owners of the Towner line. It’s been saved.”
Aaron Leiker, President of 25-7 Media, announced plans to purchase from Cherry Creek Media four radio stations located in Southeastern Colorado. Those stations include KLMR-AM and KLMR-FM that are broadcast out of Lamar plus KBLJ-AM and KTHN-FM broadcast out of La Junta. This transfer of ownership returns the four stations to local ownership for the first time since 2004.
That same month, the Kiowa County Board of Commissioners and Colorado Parks and Wildlife began initial work in developing a quality recreation site for residents and tourists at the lakes south of Eads, attention is being paid to the boat ramps providing access to Nee Gronda. In that project, a second boat ramp was constructed next to the one currently in existence.
After literally years of talk about setting broadband as a priority for rural Colorado, early in 2018 there began a bi-partisan effort in both the state Senate and the House on a bill that qualified as a very legitimate first step in expanding broadband to rural Colorado. And this first step legislation did what was needed to make the goal a reality: it shows the state of Colorado is willing to “put their money where their mouth is.”
The bill, which passed by a vote of 29 to 6 and is titled 18-002 “Concerning the Funding of Broadband Deployment”, was described as “accelerating the construction of high-speed broadband internet”.
Momentum has only been growing since this landmark legislation was passed.
April was a month focused on heartfelt efforts to assist and honor the lives of others.
In one story, the staff of the Kiowa County Hospital District went above and beyond in caring for a patient in need. A truck driver named Joe was passing through Eads when he was forced to stop after experiencing severe chest pains. So, he parked his truck, locked his beloved dog inside and walked several blocks to the ER was he was examined by the doctor on call. Joe was immediately admitted to Weisbrod. As is probably protocol with the people for whom he worked, Joe put in a call to his employers and told them what had happened. At that point, things went from bad to worse.
Joe’s employers told him someone would be sent to retrieve the truck and take the cargo to its destination. They also told him he was to immediately clear out all of his possessions because he was being fired. It seems “the company” felt that stopping twice on a trip, even if it was to be hospitalized, was a good enough reason to fire a man.
What Joe didn’t know—couldn’t know—is that, although he was in the middle of nowhere and being cared for by complete strangers with a condition that could, perhaps, cost him his life, he was actually in the very best place he could possibly be and was about to be treated like he had been born and raised here, for all of his life.
This story spoke to people at a number of levels, as was demonstrated by the story getting literally thousands of hits on the KCI facebook page.
Later that month, Senator Ben Nighthorse Campbell, one of the architects of the legislation that made the Sand Creek Massacre a national historic site, returned to Kiowa County for the first time since passing the landmark bill. As stated in that article, “Attempting to describe Senator Ben Nighthorse Campbell in a single sentence is like trying to catch rain in your hands. The more you try to grasp his characteristics and define them in words written on paper, the more elusive those characteristics become. Far better to simply step out of the way and let his story tell itself in bits and pieces, as all good stories do.”
Senator Nighthorse Campbell’s story was (and is) one for the books.
This month paid some well-deserved attention to aspects of Kiowa County that are as diverse as they are intriguing.
First highlighted was the “World up There” and the extraordinary wonders to be found in birdwatching, one of the fastest growing past times in America. As was revealed in the article, Kiowa County is located right in the path of one of the major bird migration patterns in the United States.
Jill White Smith, award-winning and regionally famous wildlife photographer, puts it best. “There is so much life,” she says, “and so much drama, too. Birds really have their own distinct personalities, and you can see it all play out, right in front of your eyes.”
May was also the month when the Independent paid homage to John Hopper, the man most responsible for bringing the existence of Camp Amache back into public awareness.
As stated in the Independent, “When John Hopper decided in 1993 to do an extra-curricular project with his high school students, he had no idea that it would turn into something that would bring enormous significance to thousands of people whose personal and painful history had been—and still continues to be—largely ignored. At the same time, that’s often how it happens with people who become involved in something larger than themselves. What begins as an idea soon becomes a project that, in rare cases, becomes a mission.
And that’s exactly the word to describe what John Hopper and various highly gifted students have accomplished over the last 25 years: a mission to acknowledge what needs to be acknowledged and to create some “small” measure of justice out of an injustice that is almost unimaginable. It’s a sure bet that John Hopper, a thoughtful but blunt and clearly intelligent man, would not describe what he’s done in such lofty terms. It’s an equally sure bet that others would not describe it as anything else.”
KCHD welcomed a new Director of Physical Therapy to their staff. As reported, “Char Korrell, KCHD CEO, is excited at adding Dennis Bartha to the PT staff. ‘Dennis is an energetic guy, and the transition from Tim to Dennis went seamlessly,” she states. “Dennis hit the ground running, and we are in a good place with Dennis and Joe working together. We’re very excited about the future and what our PT Department can offer.’”
However, the next week, June 27th, the Independent covered a story that got a significant amount of attention, for reasons well understood. The headline read “THE UNSPOKEN RISK, The story of suicide” and was prompted by a report from the Center for Disease Control stating that farmers were now considered the occupation at the highest risk of committing suicide.
The article opened in the following way.
“According to a report released by the CDC less than a week ago, suicide in the United States has increased by more than 25% from the years of 1999 to 2016. Twenty-five states in the U.S. experienced an increase of more than 30%.
In Colorado, the rate of suicide increased between 31.9% and 40.6%, depending upon the area in the state. That also makes Colorado one of the states with the highest suicide rate in the nation. A report from the Colorado Health Foundation further states that men are three times more likely to commit suicide than women, and rural residents are more likely to die by suicide than their urban counterparts.
Suicide is now listed as one of the top 10 causes of death in the country. The group that saw the sharpest increase in suicide rates is white, middle aged men.
The Center for Disease Control Suicide has a breakdown of suicide rates by profession, and farmers have the highest suicide rate by more than 30%. The rate is even higher than that among veterans who have long been considered the most vulnerable. More disturbingly, more than 55% of those farmers who ended their lives were not known to have any diagnosed mental illness.”
Wildfire dominated some of the news coverage in July, specifically the fire named “Spring Creek”. News of the fire was first covered on July 4th.
“Around mid-day last Wednesday, June 27, officials in Costilla County got a call of a small fire burning about 9 miles northeast of Fort Garland. A crew was sent out. There was no news coverage and what was, was local. But those who know fires—what causes them, what fuels them, what turns them from small flames to raging infernos—must have had a sense of what it could become.”
Additional coverage on the 11th revealed just how devastating the first turned out to be.
“Flames were first reported roughly two weeks ago. As of July 9th, the fire that was named “Spring Creek” has destroyed at least 132 structures, damaged at least 119 more, is 70% contained and has burned 107,307 acres. That’s equal to 168 square miles or the size of the entirety of Denver County.
Not only does that make the Spring Creek fire the 3rd largest wildfire in Colorado history, the time between June 27th and July 9th were filled with incidents typically found in nightmares. Days when the fire was increasing in increments of 20,000 – 25,000 acres. Flames over 300’ tall that were equated with tsunamis. Heat so intense that the fire created its own climate and caused erratic and unpredictable winds. The fire went for days with containment hovering between 0% and 5%, simply because it was growing so quickly and in so many different directions that fire crews couldn’t keep up.”
August brought some major weather to Kiowa County. One such storm was detailed in the August 1st issue as follows.
At 3:40 on Friday afternoon, the NWS made it official and issued a Severe Thunderstorm Watch stating that conditions were right for severe storms to develop over Southeastern Colorado.
At 7:00pm, a Significant Weather Advisory was issued for northern Prowers and Kiowa Counties, stating a strong thunderstorm over Kiowa County had the potential to drop nickel sized hail with possible winds of 40mph.
At 7:03pm, just 3 minutes later, that advisory turned into a Severe Thunderstorm Warning. A severe storm was near Eads with .8” hail and 70mph winds.
At 7:11, another warning; hail was now quarter sized with winds still at 70mph.
At 7:29, another warning indicated hail was now golf ball sized with torrential rains and high winds. Five more warnings were issued every 5-6 minutes as the storm headed southeast and grew more intense.
At 7:46 a tornado warning was issued for Southeastern Kiowa County.
At 7:53, the tornado warning now included predictions of hail the size of half dollars.
This month brought news that hit residents of Kiowa County pretty hard. In May, Bartlett Grain Company and Bartlett Milling Company announced plans to merge with Savage Companies to form a new entity named Savage Enterprises. Once the merger was complete, Savage Enterprises was comprised of two of the largest independent companies in their respective fields in the nation.
Four months later, Bartlett announced plans to close their grain elevator operation in Eads and allow their lease on the Haswell elevator to expire. Employees currently working at the Eads and Haswell operation would be transferring to the Towner operation, which was (and is) undergoing massive expansion.
October was a month for voters. Prairie Pines took their case for extending a mill levy directly to the voters who also got the opportunity to hear directly from candidates for the offices of County Treasurer and County Commissioner in the first ever Candidates Forum held at the Plains Theater.
In November, Independent readers learned about negotiations to construct a wind farm in Kiowa County. Again, as reported, “The project will consist of a two to three year process where NorthRenew Energy, in conjunction with Nature’s Energy Group, will be responsible for the design, permitting, contracting, financing and construction of what will ultimately be a state-of-the-art wind farm providing a nominal 500 megawatts of wind power. The wind turbines will be constructed in north central Kiowa County on land located north of Eads. According to information provided by NorthRenew, “the project will tie into high capacity transmission lines to be built by the major load serving entities (eg. Xcel and/or Tri-State) focused on creating new transmission capacity to accommodate renewable energy generating facilities in Eastern Colorado”.
As a result of the significant response to the story on suicide, Southeast Health Group announced a series of ongoing workshops specifically designed to help agricultural communities deal with suicide.
Closing out the year was the not-so-great news that, in an effort to maintain an operating landfill in Kiowa County, public dumpsters were going to be removed in the eastern portion of the county.
These were just a sampling of the stories that filled the 1,300 pages of news, business, lifestyles, sports, legal notices and advertising that made up the Kiowa County Independent over the past 12 months. In review, some of it is classic small town news, and some of it is more universal in scope. Whatever it was, it reflects our best efforts at bringing the information that matters to those who matter most: the readers of the Kiowa County Independent.
Here’s to 2019.