SOUTH PARK, COLORADO - Park County sent a squad of trucks and bulldozers shortly after dawn on Wednesday to tear down a controversial roadside display of American flags and handmade sculptures.
The display belongs to Steve Bedigian—known by locals as the “Flag Man” of South Park—who intended his assortment of items as a memorial to his father.
The "flag man" of South Park has lost his dream: a roadside tribute to those who serve. It was bulldozed down by the county - which called it trash - and got a court to agree.
Armed with a warrant, the county crews cut down roughly 1,000 American flags and then dozed the place. They loaded wood, furniture, old water heaters, and other debris into four roll-off dumpsters.
The project – or “eyesore,” depending on who’s doing the telling-- is gone.
RELATED: Park County targets off-grid living
TEARING IT DOWN
“They came with an army,” Bedigian remarked, watching the destruction of what he intended as artwork while standing on a wooden roof rack atop his old sedan.
He’d hauled all this stuff up here over the course of two years to build “Sergeant Mike’s,” a sculpture project and place to live out the rest of his days in simplicity—on a 5-acre parcel he’s owned for 40 years.
He also planned to live out his days in a hole he’d dug into his land and covered with a tent.
The bulldozers made short work of Bedigian’s more-than-humble abode, tearing down the tent structure and filling in the hole—leaving it like it had never been there.
PHOTOS: Drone captures teardown of 'flag man's' property
“We don't like what our neighbor's doing, we're going to bring in the army of bulldozers,” Bedigian chided.
In all, the county hauled off at least 11 huge dumpsters of material to the dump.
They stuffed the tattered flags into hefty bags and took them to a simple ceremony nearby where the American Legion Post 55 of Buena Vista, Colorado retired them by fire.
TRASH OR TREASURE?
But the parcel is zoned residential. Neighbors didn’t see art on Bedigian’s. They saw a mess.
And disrespect to the nation’s flag.
Bedigian never meant the tattered flags as a sign of disrespect. He views a tattered flag as a fitting tribute to the scars that people incur through military service.
Regardless, it’s not the flags that did Bedigian in.
The county took Bedigian to court and won a jury trial against him—finding him guilty of violating a ban on collecting rubbish on residential property.
Steve never agreed the stuff was rubbish—but he attempted to refashion his assorted items into a fence, a measure he hoped might comply with the court ruling.
PHOTOS: Scenes of cleanup at 'flag man's' property, shot by 9NEWS and Bedigian
Park county disagreed. They offered to clean up the material free-of-charge, which Bedigian took as an almost insulting offer. He wanted to build the memorial no matter what.
Wednesday was the result.
Across Highway 24, neighbor Don Herr reclined in the seat of his ATV and watched the tear-down through a pair of binoculars, occasionally applauding as the county officials drove past him.
“I’m glad to see it being done,” Herr told us. “He’s been told. That’s the thing. He was told to take it down. He kind of ignored it.”
To this day, Bedigian disagrees with the court ruling. He represented himself and never managed to file an appeal.
WHAT COMES NEXT
In the stages of grief, Bedigian had reached acceptance by the time we reached him. Park County declined to tell 9NEWS in advance when they planned to carry out the warrant.
He didn’t seem angry or sad.
He seemed defeated.
After we visited, the county offered to put him up for a few nights in a motel to help him get on his feet. He accepted that offer when sheriff’s deputies made it to him.
He told us he plans to ride out the winter living out of his car. Someplace warm.
But he does own another parcel about three miles from this one with some property on a hill. He has plans to return and try to make his artistic vision a reality again.
He’s at risk of losing the land. Bedigian has court fines in the tens of thousands of dollars to pay—and the cost of Wednesay’s cleanup, which is likely to exceed $10,000. County officials haven’t added it up yet.
“We will lien the property for the cost of the cleanup and it will be added basically to the taxes for the property,” said Park County’s development director Sheila Cross. “It's very frustrating. We really did want to work with him.”
Cross says she and her staff will rest easier tonight now that the day’s operation went smoothly and safely.
Bedigian expressed relief to at least not be living on edge—wondering when the tear-down will happen.
He could likely lose his land as a result of all this, but he says it’s worthless to him without the memorial—regardless of its monetary value.
Asked if he’ll be okay, he said he’s fine.
“Sometimes you don't have a choice,” Bedigian said. “I never compromised my principles.”
He says he feels confident in his decision to keep pushing forward with his art project until the end. It’s why he says he was so calm on tear-down day.
The next time the sun rises, the camp will be gone.
And so will the Flag Man of South Park.
At least—for now.