What’s News in Teller County: Fire bans lifted by Forest Service, but not by Teller County

If you want to smoke outdoors or have a campfire or barbecue cookout, head to the forest.

However, until further notice, no puffing is permitted in unincorporated Teller County, unless you want to hang out in your car. Despite the action of the U.S. Forest Service, Teller elected authorities are hanging firm with their Stage Two restrictions, citing the super-dry conditions. The commissioners, at the recommendations of Emergency Management Director Steven Steed, are saying no, when it comes to ending or reducing the fire ban.

Late last week, the U.S. Forest Service’s Rocky Mountain Region office announced that fire and smoking restrictions have been rescinded for public lands located in the Pike National Forest. According to Public Affairs Officer Jace Ratzlaff, recent moisture has allowed fire managers to lift these restrictions immediately.

These mainly deal with lighting, building or using a campfire, charcoal grills and wood-burning stoves and smoking outdoors. The Forest Service had imposed a Stage two ban, similar to the one enacted in Teller County in June. In fact, except for a brief period around the Memorial Day weekend, unincorporated Teller has featured some type of fire ban since March.

The county’s Stage Two ban is still continuing, with visible highway message signs posted along U.S. Hwy. 24 and warnings displayed on the county government’s website. Officials haven’t indicated when these restrictions may ease up. For some time, Teller officials have stressed that for months the area has experienced dangerous conditions similar to those of the pre-Hayman fire, which scorched more than 130,000 acres and destroyed more than 100 homes in June 2002. “These are extreme conditions,” said Teller County Commission Chairman during a recent meeting.

On Monday, Steed said he believes the Stage Two restrictions will last, at least through the end of the month. “Our main problem is the disparity in the county,” said Steed, in describing the current conditions.

While the dangers have gotten less severe in Woodland Park and Divide with recent rain storms, the emergency management director still cites problem conditions for about 50 percent of Teller. “It doesn’t take much for us to dry out again,” added Steed. He also is concerned about predictions of extremely hot weather for the next week. The emergency management director wants to wait until the next commissioners meeting, scheduled for July 28, to reevaluate the county’s situation.

And while a ban has been lifted for the Pike National Forest, restrictions are still in effect for public lands located within Baca, Otero, Park, Chaffee, Fremont, Custer, Pueblo, Huerfano and Las Animas counties. Officials also say the fire danger remains extreme for the Comanche National Grassland and San Isabel National Forest, with the exception of Lake County. “Unless the USFS sees a change in the weather patterns soon, we have a high potential for large fires in these areas,” said Ratzlaff.

In addition, a ban is still in place by the Bureau of Land Management.

And even though the ban has been lifted along the Pike National Forest, officials are requesting that campers and outdoor buffs use much caution, especially when constructing a campfire. Some of these measures include: using an existing fire ring or clear a campfire site down to bare soil; building a ring out of rocks and keeping the fire under four-feet in diameter; building the fire away from overhanging branches, steep slopes and dry grass; keeping a bucket of water and a shovel near the campfire; putting out a fire by drowning it with water, and making sure the fuel is cold to the touch and never leave a fire until it is out cold.

Hundreds attend memorial service for Coach D

A community-wide memorial service, held in honor of Richard (“Coach D”) Dispenza, attracted hundreds of local residents, former students and civic and education leaders at the Woodland Park High School gymnasium last week.

The entire school parking lot was filled to capacity and the gym had a standing-room-only crowd. The Teller County Commissioners even rearranged their regular meeting schedule to attend the ceremony.

Dispenza, 58, died unexpectedly on July 4 during a coaching clinic in Utah. His death has jolted many in the community due to his amazing popularity among teachers, students and even troubled kids.

Last week’s ceremony mainly highlighted his illustrious career as a coach, educator and mentor for young people in Teller County. The school lobby was filled with a plethora of tributes to the coach, highlighting his roles as a physical education and health teacher, driver-end instructor and football and soccer coach for many teams in Woodland Park, Cripple Creek and Manitou Springs. Dispenza was lauded for the role he played in helping hundreds of young people in the area. The displays even highlighted his Italian heritage, with sayings by the great Vince Lombardi, the legendary coach of the Green Bay Packers.

More recently he served as transition services coordinator for Axios Youth Community, known as Children’s Ark, and as an assistant football coach for the Woodland Park High School. He actually began his career in California as a top-rate high school coach and in developing athletic programs in the San Fernando area. In addition, he gained a niche as a great rugby player, touring the United States and Europe. He moved to Colorado in 1994, where he began coaching at Colorado College.

Last week’s ceremony featured special remarks by Jedd Hafer, director of development for Axios, WP Head Football Coach Joe Roskam, Mike May, a former high school player, Lynnette and Brian Gustafson of the Woodland Park High School faculty, Katherine Dispenza and the Levy family

The ceremony concluded with special films in honor of the former coach that often demonstrated his humorous side.

Contributions in Dispenza’s honor can be made to the “Coach D” Scholarship Fund at Vectra Bank. For more information, call 687-3012.