Saturday, July 2, 2011

BLR: A little more history

(Originally posted 4/14/11)

Anyone traveling east on Woodmen Road or U.S. Highway 24 from Marksheffel Road will notice a vast, empty expanse of prairie stretching southward toward Widefield and Fountain.
It catches your attention because, all around it, houses are popping up like mushrooms along Powers Boulevard, north of Woodmen Road and in the booming subdivisions around Falcon.
In an era when development seems to gobble up land like Pac-Man, this 21,400-acre chunk known as Banning-Lewis Ranch survives as a habitat for yucca, a few trees, grazing cattle and antelope.
Only recently with the announcement that the land is changing hands (for the sixth time since the original owner, Raymond "Pinky" Lewis, sold it in 1963), have people pondered the history, the present status and possibly the future of this large parcel of rolling grasslands.

The Gazette business pages have answered the whys and wherefores of land sales and potential development. Because this prairie has the potential to change the face of Our Town, we're going to share with you some present-day curiosities and 
Banning-Lewis lore.

The story and the people behind the Banning-Lewis Ranch, east of Colorado Springs, are likely a mystery to most residents of El Paso County.
What is now about 21,400 acres of rolling prairie stretching south from Woodmen Road to Widefield and east from Marksheffel Road to the very back door of Falcon at Meridian Road, was once an operating ranch renowned for its prize Hereford cattle.
So who were Banning and Lewis? The Gazette archives reveal the following history:
Ruth Banning-Lewis & Domino
Ruth Banning, a Colorado Springs native, was extremely independent for a woman of the early 1900s. She graduated Phi Beta Kappa from Wellesley College in 1915 and returned home to teach English at Colorado College.
Her father, William Banning, was an influential Springs businessman who owned the Union Ice and Coal company, as well as a 400- acre ranch south of town where the Al Kaly Shrine Mule Team is housed today, across Interstate 25 just southeast of the World Arena. He died a year before she returned from Wellesley.
Ruth had a short teaching career because her only brother, William Jr., died in 1916 in a World War training camp. So, the 24-year-old schoolteacher took over management of two ice-manufacturing plants and the Banning Ranch. She also organized and managed the Consumers Ice Delivery Co., which distributed all the ice manufactured in Colorado Springs.
Raymond "Pinky" Lewis was a Colorado College graduate and former football team captain who earned his nickname because he'd get red- faced when playing football. His family owned ranches in Rocky Ford and Fowler.
After graduating from Colorado College in 1914, Pinky Lewis started a cattle business and worked toward getting his own ranch.
No one seems to know when Pinky Lewis and Ruth Banning met, but they married Sept. 18, 1921, in a small ceremony in the Banning home at 821 N. Nevada Ave.
Raymond "Pinky" Lewis
The newspapers reported the marriage "surprised Colorado Springs society" because no announcement of the wedding was made and only a few close friends were invited.
Starting in 1927, the couple bought parcels of land east of Colorado Springs for the new property, then called Banning-Lewis Ranches.
Altogether, 43 transactions were made to make up the then-38,000- acre ranch stretching from Woodmen Road on the north to Big Johnson Reservoir on the south.
Later, some of the land was sold for what became the Colorado Springs Airport and Peterson Air Force Base.
As the ranch grew, so did the reputation of the Banning-Lewis Herefords.
These white-faced, red-bodied cattle were sold as foundation stock to breeders in Texas, California and Mexico, as well as in Colorado. Prince Domino 101 was the ranch's world-champion bull in 1932 and 1933.
Ruth Banning-Lewis was considered an excellent judge of Herefords, and in 1933, she became the only woman ever elected to the board of directors of the American Hereford Association.
Later, she was the second woman elected to the Colorado Springs City Council, serving from 1943 to 1949. She also organized the local Girl Scout Council.
Between 1936 and 1972, Pinky Lewis held a men-only barbecue every summer on Jimmy Camp Bluff, an outcropping of rock covered with pine trees just south off Colorado Highway 94 - known as Farmers Highway.
As many as 700 bull buyers, politicians, friends and ranchers attended the huge shindigs with gaming tents.
An old Colorado Midland railroad car was used as a bar and a bandstand.
A small access right-of-way from the highway to the bluff and the bluff itself remained in private hands after the ranch was sold to a succession of speculative land developers. The old railroad car is still there.

The Lewises never lived on the ranch, living instead at the Banning family home on North Nevada. They never had children.
Their offices were in a house next door until the late 1950s, when Ruth slipped on ice and broke her hip.
At that time, she decided to move the two houses to the ranch and have them joined by a breezeway.
While construction was under way, Ruth stayed in a suite at The Broadmoor hotel, where she died at age 70 in November 1962.
The location of the ranch house is easily visible today while driving east on U.S. Highway 24 from Constitution Avenue.
The prairie is broken by a line of pine trees that flank the driveway, which slopes down to the house, barns and corrals hidden in a grove of trees.
One year after Ruth's death, 23,000 acres of the ranch were sold to Lawrence and Stegall Colorado Properties.
They defaulted, however, and U.S. Steel Corporation,which had loaned Lawrence and Stegall the money for the land purchase, took over the property - the first of many sales to developers with visions of covering it with roads, businesses and homes.
Pinky Lewis died in 1978.
Through the many land sales, caretakers - who watch over the land and livestock - have lived in the house, which was not annexed into the city but remains a small island of unincorporated land. The only other inhabitants of the vast expanse of open land are cattle, antelope, deer and some wandering coyotes.
The cattle wear the brand of State Sen. Ray Powers, who has leased the grazing rights since the 1980s.

Banning-Lewis Ranch, also known as the Aries Annexation, is one of the largest undeveloped parcels within the city limits of Colorado Springs, and perhaps the state. Here are some facts:

The total of 21,400 acres translates roughly to 33 square miles (640 acres equal 1 square mile). That is equivalent to the city of Miami or Pueblo (both 35 square miles) and larger than Boulder (27 square miles).
It is also equivalent to the combined total of land in Briargate (10,000 acres), Cheyenne Mountain Ranch (3,000), Stetson Hills (2,000) Springs Ranch (1,000), Mountain Shadows (1,600), Peregrine (1,000) and Nor'wood (2,400).

Call 911
For fire protection, the largest portion of the land between Colorado Highway 94 and Woodmen Road and east of Marksheffel Road is under the jurisdiction of the Falcon Fire Protection District, which was organized in 1976. Annexation to the city did not change that status, although the city can respond if Falcon calls for mutual aid. Southern portions of the ranch, south of Highway 94 east of Marksheffel, are under the Security Fire Department and the wildland fire team, which operates under the sheriff.

Because there is relatively little crime where there are no people, the primary calls have been to accidents on roadways. Accidents and traffic violations are handled by Colorado State Patrol and El Paso County Sheriff's Office. But Colorado Springs police officers can also cruise U.S. Highway 24 handing out tickets. All three agencies could respond to other emergencies.

The bulk of the land, north of Highway 94, is part of Falcon School District 49,which stretches west to Powers Boulevard. For years the vast open expanse of the ranch not only divided the district geographically, but sometimes divided residents: "townies" in the fast-growing Powers corridor between Powers and Marksheffel on the west; and the rural residents in Falcon and Black Forest on the east. Differences seem to boil over, especially during bond issues for new schools. For a long time, students in the Powers area were bused eight miles east to schools in Falcon.

The roads
El Paso County and the Colorado Department of Transportation are responsible for sanding, plowing and maintaining the primary roadways around or through Banning-Lewis property, such as Highway 24, Marksheffel, Woodmen, Highway 94 and Tamlin Road.
At one time, Frank Aries had proposed a $35 million Banning-Lewis Parkway, an eight-lane thoroughfare running north and south through the property.
It never materialized, since the land has never been developed.

Last week it was announced that Capital Pacific Holdings Inc., a California developer, will purchase the 21,400 acres remaining of the original Banning-Lewis Ranch for between $80 million and $100 million.
Although the land has changed hands six times since 1963, only small bits and pieces have been sold for development. The potential for growth is great; the master plan allows construction of 76,000 housing units and 76 million square feet of commercial space, but a lot depends on the new owners, the economy and market.
CPH can develop it themselves, sell off bits and pieces for development, sell the whole thing to somebody else or keep it as a long-term investment.
When Frank Aries and the city of Colorado Springs reached an annexation agreement for 24,000 acres in 1988, there were major proposals for a planned development of homes and commercial property with parks and trails.

Water may be the biggest issue in developing the land. Several deep wells exist on the property, but experts estimate it would not be enough to serve a full development of the land. Eventually Colorado Springs will have to provide water and sewer services.
Under the 1988 annexation agreement, the city requires any developer to pay large amounts for infrastructure such as roads, utilities and other public improvements such as storm sewers. Developers and the city will probably negotiate amendments to that agreement.

The only sure thing about the future of this vast stretch of prairie is the city's plans for Jimmy Camp Creek Park, a 694-acre parcel deeded in 1993 to the city by the owners, the al-Ibrahim family of Saudi Arabia.
The land encompasses the pine tree-covered bluffs and straddles the creek just south of where Constitution Avenue dead-ends into U.S. Highway 24. Plans include trails, historical and natural interpretive programs and picnic areas, but no date has been set for park construction.

In 1888, the Rock Island Railroad was built from Kansas to Colorado Springs across what is now the Banning-Lewis Ranch. It was abandoned in 1971 and, after several attempts to maintain rail service, the tracks were torn up. The city tried several times to secure a right of way for a trail along the old railroad bed to eventually connect Jimmy Camp Creek Park with city trails and El Paso County's trail from Falcon to Peyton.
So far the efforts have failed, but city parks officials still plan to pursue the trail plan with any future owners.

Both Mountain View Electric and Colorado Springs Utilities could currently serve any development of Banning-Lewis land. The city recently built a major substation on the land off Woodmen Road within sight of Falcon.
The land is bisected by large power transmission lines owned by Colorado Springs, which paid for the leasements. Diamond Shamrock built a pipeline carrying gasoline from its storage facility on Drennan Road to Denver along the power line easement nearest Falcon.

Amendment 24
Should the ballot issue pass on Nov. 7, it would not block any development, since the land has already been annexed, master planned and zoned for development.

The Ranch
Banning-Lewis Ranch is one of the largest undeveloped parcels within the city limits of Colorado Springs.

Here are some facts:
The total of 21,400 acres constitutes 33 square miles. That is equal to the city of Miami or Pueblo (both 35 square miles) and larger than Boulder (27 square miles).
It is also equivalent to the combined total acres in Briargate, Cheyenne Mountain Ranch, Stetson Hills, Springs Ranch, Mountain Shadows, Peregrine and Nor'wood.

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