By Joel Warner
By Michael Roberts
By Alan Prendergast
By Michael Roberts
By Michael Roberts
By Amber Taufen
By Patricia Calhoun
By William Breathes
Since July 2006, when the Medicaid money was officially shut off, there has been a 15 percent decline in youth residential-treatment placements in Colorado. Several facilities, including Family Pathways in Idaho Springs and Wingshadow in Fort Collins, have been forced to close their doors, and the ones that have stayed open have had to drastically cut expenditures while looking for alternative sources of funding.
In June 2005, when the writing was already scribbled clearly on the wall, Hargett started working on a plan to ensure Lost and Found's survival. He would combine the boys' and girls' facilities into one property, then take advantage of "economies of scale" while growing that single facility. When a Lost and Found board member told Hargett that the Singing River Ranch, a sprawling campground at the end of Upper Bear Creek Road in Evergreen, might be available, Hargett jumped at the opportunity. Glen West, the owner of the property, liked what Lost and Found was doing and agreed to a three-year, interest-free lease, with the ultimate goal of Lost and Found buying the property for a total of $3,680,000.
"We always wanted to sell it to another Christian ministry so that it would continue to be used as we had," says West. "We checked out Lost and Found and found that they were a good organization. So I was happy to lease the property to them."
For Lost and Found, the Singing River Ranch deal seemed too good to be true. And as they quickly learned at a community meeting announcing their new facility, it was.
The back mud room/office of Kevin and Mary Semcken's mountain home off Upper Bear Creek Road serves as the unofficial headquarters for www.stoplostandfound.com, a site promoted by two yellow-and-blue signs along the entrance to the property where the Semckens have lived for five years. A few steps away from a living room with stunning views of snowcapped peaks, a desk holds stacks and stacks of papers: photocopies of legal documents, wastewater discharge permits, letters from Clear Creek County residents and officials voicing their disapproval of Lost and Found's proposed move to Singing River Ranch. Mary Semcken estimates that she spends up to six hours a day working to stop Lost and Found from becoming her neighbor.
"The first public notice that came out, I went to my mailbox, and I opened up a letter from the county saying that there was going to be a hearing at Singing River Ranch, and I couldn't believe it," she remembers. "They said they wanted to put in a school, a church, housing — and it's three generations of housing, because they wanted to put in a daycare center, because a lot of these kids have kids — and they wanted to house the kids' parents, coming-and-going dysfunctional families up and down the creek...The whole town went nuts."
Hargett acknowledges that his initial plans for the new facility may have been a bit elaborate, since the county's zoning and planning commission encouraged Lost and Found to include everything it might ever do with the property. But he didn't have time to explain that before the whole town went nuts.
Last June, Lost and Found scheduled an open house at Singing River Ranch for what Hargett viewed as a meet-and-greet for the neighboring community. But the real greeting was outside the property. "At the turnoff of the main Upper Bear Creek Road to Singing River," he remembers, "there were a bunch of little kids holding signs saying things like 'Stop Lost and Found, They're Going to Kill Us,' 'Let Us Live' and 'Don't Let Rapists Into the Neighborhood.' There had to be five or six really ugly, potent signs. We drove through that and got to the meeting, which started out reasonably cordial but quickly turned real vehement."
Some residents made inflammatory comments about how Lost and Found had kids who'd commit rape, torture animals and set things on fire, Hargett says. Others lambasted West for dealing with a commercial entity, albeit a non-profit one. Hargett remembers feeling outgunned, having not expected such a vehement response.
The Semckens have a very different memory of that meeting. They say that Hargett and Rogers waltzed into Singing River Ranch like they owned the place, and told the neighbors there was no way they could be stopped. "When they first met everybody, they said, 'We want to let you know this is what we are doing,'" Kevin Semcken remembers. "And they said, 'We have taken litigation all the way to the Supreme Court in the past and won.' Almost as a warning not to challenge them."
Mary Semcken was particularly alarmed by Hargett's statements. "You just can't come in and say, 'I'm putting my treatment facility here. I'm a meth addict; I don't think right,'" she says. "Which is what I think about him, that he has a thinking problem. And I think that Terry Rogers, who stood up there and said, 'You know, when I was young, I came back here to camp, and I loved it so much, and I can't wait to get back here,' it's B.S. He's going to be living there. He's going to be retiring there. This is him setting himself up on his retirement plan."