Off Limits

Jefferson County takes its self-appointed role as "gateway to the Rockies" seriously -- so seriously that it's created a Jeffco wildfire-prevention campaign, complete with a jingle contest based on the humorous rhyming roadside signs that made Burma-Shave famous from the 1920s to the early 1960s.

And while no one's finding much humor in Colorado's current incendiary state, the Jeffco commissioners are going ahead with an idea that first bubbled up this spring.

"We're unfortunately in the middle of the worst Colorado fire ever," says John Masson, Jeffco's public information director. "Most people are saddened by what's going on. There's a certain irony and poignancy about the contest."

Still, he adds, Jeffco plans to carry on with the project, and he hopes some sets of the winning jingles will be in place this summer. And while a few of the areas earmarked earlier for signs are currently ablaze, the signs' messages should remain timeless.

"It's really an appeal to civic awareness," Masson explains, adding that the Burma-Shave-style reminders will only enhance the county's fire-prevention outreach, which already includes a full-time fire-prevention expert and ongoing reviews of such issues as zoning and roadways.

According to the county's Web site, the entries are supposed to promote wildfire prevention with just six signs -- five with no more than twenty characters conveying a pithy message, and the sixth, according to Masson, concluding with the words "Jeffco Fire Minder." Up to twelve winners will be picked; the jingles will be emblazoned on a dozen sets of signs to be located around the county; they'll also earn their creators an unspecified prize. A bag of marshmallows? A Coleman stove? Jeffco's thinking along the lines of gift certificates, parks passes (if any parks are still open) and public recognition, Masson says.

If those prizes aren't enough inspiration, Jeffco's Web site offers several sample jingles to get creative juices flowing. This one's from Masson: "The Blackened Forest/Smolders Yet/Because/ He Flipped/A Cigarette/Burma-Shave."

Here's another: "Forest Fires/Start From Scratch/So Think Before/You Toss/That Match/Jeffco Fire Minder."

In the interest of public service, Westword offers a few ditties of our own (no prizes necessary):

"Bottle Rockets/Shot From Your Van/Only Make You Titter/Well, Bub, Your Stunt/Crispied a Little Critter/Jeffco Fire Minder."

Or, "See Your Torch?/See the Smoke Arise?/Your Neighbor's Porch/Just Caught Fire/What a Big Surprise!/Jeffco Fire Minder."

And finally, a jingle to jangle the Jeffco folks who thought up this smokin' idea: "If Pols Depend/On Roadway Signs/To Educate the Masses/Folks May Instead/Be Rightly Led/To Label Them All Asses."

Where there's smoke, there's ire: "Most of Colorado is not Burning!" That silver lining was discovered Monday by Harry Graham, who sent word of his amazing discovery from the public-information office in Estes Park. Not surprisingly, that town is in the part of the most of Colorado that isn't burning. In fact, he noted, "Estes Park and Rocky Mountain National Park, located about 60 miles northwest of Denver, have had no fires and are completely safe to travel to...

"If you lived in New York," Graham continued, "you would be as far from Philadelphia as Estes Park is from the Pike fire; you would be as far from Boston as Estes Park is from the Glenwood fire, and you would be closer to Washington D.C. than Estes Park is to the Durango fire. Many other areas of the state are equally far from these devastating fires."

But those areas of the state don't have public-relations people as quick with the comeback as Graham -- who used to run the Stanley Hotel, now does PR for Estes Park and also heads Distinctive Inns of Colorado, a bed-and-breakfast group.

No, most of those areas contented themselves with simply whining about Governor Bill Owens, who on Sunday not only equated the ash fallout across the state with "nuclear winter," but also proclaimed that "all of Colorado is on fire today." To make good, Owens went on numerous national TV talk shows Tuesday morning -- which resulted in CBS radio broadcasting a few far-from-soothing comments that Owens had made on the Early Show. In eight years, TV audiences everywhere learned, Colorado had experienced eight federal-level fires -- "and in the last month, we've had another eight," Owens said."Obviously, at this point, the horse is out of the barn," says Graham. "It's not a good situation, and it certainly wasn't helped by some of those statements and media coverage. Down the line, it's got to hurt, unless we really get it together."

Hmm, perhaps with another round of tourism commercials featuring Owens walking through the state's majestic, non-burning mountains, like the $500,000 TV buy the governor authorized this past winter?

Otherwise, Owens might as well cut the $6 million in tourism funding ($5.4 million for marketing and promotions and $500,000 for the state's eight welcome centers) that he left untouched when he whacked $228 million from the state's $13.8 billion budget last week. That would be enough to restore the $4.3 million taken from the state's libraries, including the Colorado Resource Center, a cut that hit the Denver Public Library particularly hard. And there would be still be plenty left over to restore funding that was sliced from the Colorado Arts Council's budget for metro-area arts groups -- arts groups that rely largely on local audiences, rather than tourists. Locals are such fans of the arts, in fact, they've twice voted to tax themselves extra to be part of the Scientific and Cultural Facilities District -- an act of devotion that Owens rewarded by cutting the portion of the arts budget that goes to counties in the SCFD.

Denver may not be burning, but lots of people here are mighty steamed.

Shrine on: It's been an eventful month at the usually peaceful Mother Cabrini Shrine outside Golden. First, Colorado's ungodly drought was thought to be jeopardizing the "miraculous" ninety-year-old spring that's provided water to the rocky outcropping since the future saint purchased the land in 1912 for a summer youth camp. According to popular lore, the Italian native -- known for crisscrossing America to found missions at the drop of the Pope's mitre -- was playing with her cane one day on Lookout Mountain when she pushed aside some rock, tapping into a hidden spring. The water has trickled ever since, threatened only once by overuse. That was during 1993's World Youth Day, and the miracle then was that the Coors brewery sent water (of a less holy kind that can make a heavenly brew) to fill a reserve tank.

But now it seems as though this spring's early fears were all wet. "The water continues to flow," says Sister Bernadette Casciano, whose Mission Sisters of the Sacred Heart of Jesus owns the shrine.

Then came the pilgrimage posse formed by members of an ultra-conservative Catholic group out of Watkins, who wanted to say Mass at the summit of the shrine on June 5. In order to fulfill a private pledge he'd made to Mother Cabrini in return for her help in raising money for his $2 million church on the plains, the Reverend Joseph Pfeiffer had hiked some 46 miles with fellow believers from St. Isidore the Farmer Church (conveniently located five miles from E-470 on Interstate 70). But the Denver Archdiocese doesn't recognize Pfeiffer's traditionalist group, and it denied the church permission to conduct a mass at Mother Cabrini. Undeterred, Pfeiffer celebrated with a roadside service nearby and then climbed the 373 steps of the shrine with some of his flock. Since over 60,000 visitors stop by each year, the highly publicized stop didn't ruffle Cabrini's followers.

"It caused no problem," Casciano says.

So far, none of the controversy has detracted from next month's plans to celebrate the hundredth anniversary of Mother Frances Xavier Cabrini's first visit to Colorado in October 1902. A dinner is set for July 14, one day before her what would have been her 152nd birthday. (She died in 1917 in Chicago, where her cane, among other artifacts, is still displayed.) And even Reverend Pfeiffer is welcome. "Everyone's invited," Casciano says.

"Standing Tall/Above It All/Mother Says No Joke/Toss No Matches/Damn the Holy Smoke."


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