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The Gazette's Barry Noreen: After 36 years in the saddle, time for happy trails

December 9, 2013

Deep into the last century, February 1982, I started working at the Gazette, covering the Colorado Legislature.

Now, after almost 36 years working at Colorado newspapers, I am hanging it up.

It has been a great ride. When you do this job for decades you start thinking of yourself as a Forrest Gump figure, not in the middle of the action but on hand to see a lot of it unfold.

There were thousands of stories:

Gary Hart's triumphant return to Denver after winning the New Hampshire primary in 1984; the news conference he held near Evergreen in 1988 to bow out of presidential politics after a scandal over an extra-marital affair.

In January 1985 I was about 10 feet away from an armed robber on Pikes Peak Avenue when he was shot by former Colorado Springs policeman Mel Ryan. The robber's gun clanked on the pavement just behind my parked car and as other officers converged, Mel said, "Sweet Jesus, what have I done?"

I remember writing, "he said it sorrowfully, but he didn't seem to be feeling sorry for himself."

By some miracle, the robber survived two shots in the torso from close range.

I've covered a handful of death penalty cases, the most memorable being the trial of Vernon Wayne Templeman in 1983. Templeman shot Colorado Springs patrolman Mark Dabling in the back in December 1982. The case got a change of venue to Denver, so as the Denver bureau writer I covered it.

In those days you walked right behind the defense table as you entered some of the old Denver courtrooms. One day I walked in and Templeman was standing right there. He said, "I don't like the way you write" and I replied, "That's all right, Wayne, you don't have to sign my paychecks."

Templeman is still doing life without parole.

In 1988 I covered part of the Yellowstone Park fire, which ultimately scorched 793,000 acres. Six years later on July 5, 1994, I was just west of Glenwood Springs and down the hill as 14 firefighters died in the Storm King fire.

In November 1990 I covered the death of metro Denver's Two Forks water project. Fears that the project's demise would halt growth were never realized, but in case anyone doubted it, the federal government's decision signaled that the era of major water project construction - the idea that we would continue damming rivers in the West - was all but dead.

I've known mayors and governors and as a reporter, one of the cool aspects of the job is meeting so many new people all the time. They're not always pleasant, but even unpleasant people can make a day interesting.

My favorite story ever was a local one.

It was called "Digging in the Garden," published in January 1987. Colorado Springs had quietly embarked on an ill-advised plan to build a new visitors center and a giant parking lot in the middle of Garden of the Gods. The city manager later acknowledged that for three days after that story ran, the city's switchboard was "paralyzed."

The project was shelved. My story didn't stop the project; caring citizens did. But I am proud to have played the role a local watchdog journalist is supposed to play.

After that a community discussion about the park's future began and the result was twofold. A program to eliminate structures in the park commenced and businesswoman Lyda Hill proposed an innovative public-private partnership for a visitors center on 31st Street, away from the center of the park.

Since then the visitors center has produced steady revenue to the Garden of the Gods Foundation, which helps take care of the park. It was a great happy ending for one of the city's most valuable assets.

It has been a real privilege to work with, and sometimes compete against, some very smart, creative people. Many of them, scattered around the country, remain Facebook friends. Thanks to all of them for making me better, and for all the good times in the office or on the road.

Long-time journalists have a lot of stories to tell. As the newspaper industry has contracted there are fewer of us. I've seen too many friends and colleagues at the Gazette and other papers laid off.

It strikes me how lucky I've been to be in a fulfilling career for nearly 36 years, without a day of being unemployed, when so many talented newspaper people across the country have not been able to do the same.

Here's to all of my brothers and sisters with a glint in their eye and ink in their blood.

Others can use the "retirement" word. I have some writing to do and I have a few dances left in me.

I'm just shifting gears.

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