Medieval combat, coffin races and James Beard nominees: Here are the Southern Colorado stories you may have missed this year

Shanna Lewis/KRCC News
Ben Splitter adjusts his armor as he gets ready for a Colorado Wardens medieval armored combat training session in Black Forest on April 15, 2023.

Southern Colorado witnessed some record-breaking weather with summer rain and a political upset in the region's largest city earlier this year that also made history. But 2023 also gave us a chance to spotlight our neighbors doing beautiful, amazing and important things, sometimes despite the hardships they may face.

Here are some of those those stories, in no particular order:

Arts and food

Take a look inside the Friar’s Fork & Sanctuary, the Alamosa restaurant on the shortlist for a coveted James Beard Award

This past spring, the Almosa-based restaurant Friar's Fork & Sanctuary was nominated for a James Beard award for best new restaurant.

Housed ina building that was once a church, guests can enjoy handcrafted cocktails and freshly brewed coffees at a section called The Sanctuary or Italian-American and Mediterranean fare in another room that was once a Sunday school.

Take a look inside here.

Courtesy photo
The Friar's Fork in Alamosa is Alamosa is making a name for itself and attracting patrons from all over the country.

In the San Luis Valley, artisans paint pictures of everyday life using colcha embroidery

The art of colcha embroidery unique to the San Luis Valley was on display at an art show in the Denver metro area this fall.

The women who have been doing this style of embroidery for decades spoke about the everyday life they depict. The recognition of their work was a long time coming.

Read about it here.

Lauren Antonoff Hart/CPR News
Colcha embroidery artist Patsy Garcia of Saguache stands near her work now on display at the Arvada Center.

There’s a new troll in town: Danish recycle artist adds sculpture to town of Victor

Colorado's troll population doubled this summer when the town of Victor became home to "Rita," a troll made out of recycled wood.

This was the second such public installation by a Danish artist who a few years ago built the state's first troll in Breckenridge.

Find out the meaning of Thomas Dambo's work here.

Nicky Shapiro / KRCC News
Rita the troll crouches over a worker as they move scrap wood around on Friday, July 28, 2023.

People and places

Swords, axes and shields: Full-contact medieval armored combat is happening in Black Forest, Colorado

In the Black Forest north of Colorado Springs, the Colorado Wardens practice the sport of full-contact medieval armored combat using blunt weapons. The men and women who form this group practice for the chance to compete internationally against hundreds of other combatants based on tournaments that took place in the Middle Ages.

It's a chance to exercise, be creative and find a community.

Shanna Lewis/ KRCC News
Shoshana Shellens at left and Benjamin Splitter stand together after dueling during a Colorado Wardens medieval armored combat practice in Black Forest on April 15, 2023.

Garden of the Gods’ new manager says she’ll look to her Indigenous background to steward the popular park

Garden of the Gods, the most popular park in Colorado Springs, got a new manager this year. Anna Cordova is also the first and only official archeologist employed by the city.

KRCC interviewed her about her plans for the park and how her Indigenous background will shape her management of the park.

Read or listen to the conversation here.

Jess Hazel KRCC
The new manager of Garden of the Gods, Anna Cordova, graduated from UCCS with both a bachelor’s in anthropology and a master’s in geography and environmental studies.

Farmers fear laws meant to protect agricultural workers could put them out of business, end iconic Colorado crops

In southeast Colorado, in the town of Swink, a fourth-generation farming family operates a nearly 1,000-acre farm that grows cucmbers, melons, squash, tomatoes and the iconic chile. Eric Hanagan's family relies on Mexican agricultural workers to tend their farm and over the years, these workers have become like family.

Even know it's not a lucrative business, it's all the Hanagans know, but a new agricultural worker bill mandating breaks and raising wages is threatening the family business.

Read about it here.

Abigail Beckman/KRCC News
Fourth-generation farmer Eric Hanagan fears recent legislative changes could make him, and others like him, close their doors. He's one of just a few farmers that still grow the iconic Rocky Ford Melon in Otero County.

The spirit of Manitou Springs is alive with the Emma Crawford Coffin Races

A nearly 30-year tradition featuring people push coffins on wheels over the main street of Manitou Springs was inspired by a 19th-century resident whos remains slid down Red Mountain.

KRCC spoke with Jenna Gallas of the Manitou Springs Chamber of Commerce to find out more about the Emma Crawford coffin races and its history.

Listen to the conversation or read about it here.

Bob Macdonald
An undated Emma Crawford Coffin Races event.

The World Jump Rope Championships are in Colorado Springs. For Team Canada, the event goes beyond getting a trophy

This summer, thousands of athletes from 27 countries flipped, spun, and did handstands all while jumping rope.

It was part of a world jump rope competition that took place in Colorado Springs, and for one team, it held special meaning.

See the photos and listen to the story here.

Hart Van Denburg/CPR News
Emi Ihara of Japan competes in the Team Freestyle event at the 2023 World Jump Rope Championships.

Why does a 1960s Colorado Springs mayor have a monument that no one notices?

A monument erected in Colorado Springs in the 1970s may not be noticeable today tucked away in an industrial area of the city.

This year, KRCC sought to find out why it was dedicated to a former mayor, Eugene McCleary, and how this weather-beaten and time-worn public installation is a little forgotten.

Read about it here.

Mike Procell/KRCC News
Monument to Eugene McCleary, former Mayor of Colorado Springs (1967-73), near I-25 and Garden of the Gods Road with Pikes Peak in the background.

Animals and other things

How the Cheyenne Mountain Zoo is working to help save a rare toad

The rare Wyoming toads were thought to be extinct in the wild just a couple of decades ago but an effort at the Cheyenne Mountain Zoo is helping nudge the toads to a healthier status.

One biologist at the zoo has been part of the work and he took KRCC on a tour on what that looks like.

Hear the toads here.

Mike Procell/KRCC News
Meet Jim the toad, so named after one of the characters on the American version of "The Office" series. He was named as part of a social media campaign at the Cheyenne Mountain Zoo.

What do you call people from Colorado Springs? This is what we found out

What you call people from Colorado Springs depends on the person you are asking. The demonym — a name that identifies a group of people as they relate to a particular place — is also not one everyone agrees on.

Read here about what historians have uncovered and what your neighbors refer to themselves today.

Colorado Springs Pioneers Museum
Hart Van Denburg/CPR News
Colorado Springs Pioneers Museum.

Previously: Top stories of Southern Colorado in 2022