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In memoriam: Don Ellis, a leader in saving Red Rock Canyon, White Acres

Don Ellis, when he was featured for the "What Do You Do?" column in the Westside Pioneer in August 2014.
Westside Pioneer file photo
Nov. 14, 2018
       Colorado Springs native Don Ellis, an engineer, historian, life-long outdoors lover and a leader in saving the Red Rock Canyon and White Acres open space areas, died Nov. 9 of a fast-moving cancer.
       He was 78.
       Cremation is planned. A celebration of life is being scheduled at a date to be determined in early December at the Old Colorado City History Center. Susie Schorsch, a board member of the Old Colorado City Historical Society (OCCHS), said that anyone interested in attending could call the center at 636-1225 and leave a phone message, if necessary. Once the date is set, “we will call back,” Schorsch said.
       An active volunteer, Don wrote frequent articles for the OCCHS newsletter (West Word), and served as its editor for the past 10 years. His final issue was published this month, featuring the second of his two-part series about the one-time “Short Line” railroad from Colorado Springs to Cripple Creek.
       He also wrote occasional guest columns for the Westside Pioneer.
       Don is survived by his wife, Merle (Landberg) Ellis. They had been married since May 21, 1977.
       He was born in Colorado Springs Aug. 10, 1940. His parents were William and Lucille Ellis, who are both deceased.
       William was from Michigan, while Lucille had grown up on a Colorado ranch and had a strong interest in history. “He came to Colorado on vacation in 1937,” Schorsch said. “He met Lucille and never left.”
       Don spent his younger years on a three-acre property in Bear Creek Canyon, during which time his parents were building a house there. He was 11 years old
In 1959, Don Ellis, then a 19-year-old Explorer Scout, had been a guest hiker with the AdAmAn Club on its annual New Year's Eve climb up Pikes Peak. Fifty years later, he joined the club again. This photo (with Don in the center) was taken Dec. 30, 2009, as the group gathered for a snowy evening bonfire at Barr Camp.
Courtesy of Mike Graham
when the site got running water, and the house itself wasn't finished until 1955, Schorsch related.
       In recent years Don and Merle moved back to that property and were renovating it.
       With the support of his father as a scoutmaster, Don rose to the level of Explorer (Eagle) Scout. In 1959, he was one of two Boy Scouts from the region chosen to join the AdAmAn group in its annual hike up Pikes Peak.
       Another one of the 50-plus times he climbed the mountain was in the wee hours of Jan. 1, 2000, when he followed the footsteps of the AdAmAn group (which had reached the top, as always, Dec. 31). This made him the first person to climb Pikes Peak in this century, “which I thought was pretty cool,” Don happily recounted in a later interview with the Pioneer.
       He majored in mechanical engineering at Colorado University in Boulder, did a year of graduate work in metallurgy at Denver University and earned a PhD in bioengineering from the University of Michigan.
       Through most of his life, he worked as an engineer, including the development of new products.
       From the late 1990s into the 2000s, Don was a key figure with the informal Red Rock Canyon Committee (later the Friends of Red Rock Canyon). This
Don Ellis at age 8 on what's known as the quarter-mile ridge in the Section 16 portion of Red Rock Canyon Open Space.
Courtesy of Don Ellis (2010)
included starting and publishing the Red Rock Rag newsletter (which the Friends group still puts out) to describe the property's natural values and help keep the issue at the political forefront.
       At one point, it seemed a foregone conclusion that Red Rock would become a major residential development. But by late 2003, the city had purchased the nearly 800 acres as open space.
       In 2010, Don co-authored a book, “Geologic Folio: Red Rock Canyon Open Space, Colorado Springs, Colorado,” which provided historical and technical details about the property. All profits were earmarked for OCCHS and the Friends of Red Rock Canyon.
       For White Acres, he led a fundraising drive in 2009 to help incentivize City Parks into buying the scenic 50-acre parcel after it too had been proposed for housing. White Acres is now part of Red Rock Canyon Open Space.
       His outdoors-related campaigns were not always successful. In vain, he argued that Gold Camp Road should be reopened to motorized traffic and that the US Forest Service - in its zeal to protect the cutthroat trout - was overly restricting user access to the Bear Creek watershed.
       Interviewed for the Westside Pioneer's “What Do You Do?” column in 2014, Don was asked the question, “What makes working on the Westside special?” He answered as follows: “The Westside is mainly where my roots are. Those roots sunk in while I walked a mile and a half to Midland School in the late 1940s, when I caught 'horny toads' in Bott Park, when I took a shortcut across the recently closed Midland Terminal yards, when I explored the hogbacks. The Westside is the part of town where my heart is, even though it is not quite where my home is right now. There's more. The Westside is the living embodiment of a freer, more diverse community than other parts of the city.”
       Here are links to three past Westside Pioneer articles about Don Ellis:
       Or you can go to the Pioneer Archives page, enter “Don Ellis” in the Find box and see how many articles appear.

Westside Pioneer article
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