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Council dips into reserves to help fund trail crews

But what about next year?

by Mark Reaman

The Crested Butte Mountain Bike Association (CBMBA) and its newly formed Conservation Corps got more than it asked for from the Crested Butte Town Council Monday night. The CBMBA sought $20,000 to help with the start-up group. The council threw them $21,000.

“We like this so much, we are behind you 105 percent,” said councilman Jackson Petito.

Councilman Paul Merck noted the amount was $1,000 more than what Mt. Crested Butte had donated to the Corps.

CBMBA executive director Dave Ochs made the pitch in his inimitable way, squeezing 40 minutes of information into just 20 minutes and losing track of his thoughts just once when he went into his “soul place.”

“Our strength is our backyard,” Ochs said. “We are all very connected to our backyard and there are lots of problems as more people come here. CBMBA is taking this on because we have the expertise, the tools and know-how. We don’t know what the future is for public lands. The BLM [Bureau of Land Management] and USFS [United States Forest Service] are receiving less funding and resources. Our goal is to provide better experiences for everyone and leave our backyard better than we found it.”

He said the first Conservation Corps team started work Thursday. “They are on the ground,” Ochs told the council.

And he said they are already needed. Ochs related that someone had left a car in the road north of Gothic and people drove around it through meadows used for wildflower research. That impact has destroyed some of the research possibilities. “At one point last weekend there were 45 cars parked at Judd Falls and the trail still has snow on it,” Ochs said. “They are here already. It is time. More and more people are coming here for the reasons we love it here. But they are loving it to death. We need to do something proactively and get in front of it.”

Ochs said the new Conservation Corps was already close to its projected $75,408 budget. The 1% for Open Space group had donated $15,000 earlier in the day and Mt. Crested Butte had allocated $20,000 last month. Several private donations and smaller non-profit groups had put in money as well. Ochs has also been having discussions with the Gunnison County commissioners about financial support.

“We are close but we need support and it appears the sales tax in town is killing it,” Ochs said. “But all of the people are making a big impact on our backyard. Think of the Conservation Corps as your 911 backcountry call. If you see something that needs to be addressed, call us. The corps is not police-like. The whole idea is education and maintenance.”

Mayor Glenn Michel said being asked to spend money outside of town was somewhat unusual. “But clearly the town benefits and our citizens love the trails and backcountry too. So I feel the town has an obligation to support this,” he said.

“Backcountry management was listed as a priority at our council retreat,” added councilwoman Laura Mitchell. “I’m in support.”

Responding to questions from councilman Roland Mason, town manager Dara MacDonald said the request was coming outside the normal grant cycle and at a much higher request rate. “The staff is comfortable funding this request from reserves,” she said. “We see where we can get a lot of metrics and information from Dave and his crew that will be beneficial.”

MacDonald said she and Ochs discussed evaluating the success of the program in the upcoming summer and then again in the fall. “It is a much-needed initiative,” she said. “We hope this can be looked at as seed money and they can find a way to make it self-sustaining. We are trying to move in that direction with a lot of very deserving non-profits in the area. I think Mt. Crested Butte also looked at this as a one-time give. We all want to evaluate the impacts and make sure it is money well spent.”

“Looking forward, the problems won’t be any less in the coming years,” said Michel. “We expect more visitors and more sales tax revenues. Could a logical nexus be determined to figure out support? I’m just thinking out loud. But we need to find a way to keep it going.”

Ochs said the group would be looking for ways to continue funding the conservation program but many of the comments he and the board have received include the need and the means of the towns and county to help fund the program, given the tax revenues.

“We are looking at various alternatives and we will know more at the end of the year,” Ochs said. “A big concern of the commissioners is where this fits in with the sustainable tourism and outdoor recreation group they are organizing. That is a very high level view. We are putting boots on the ground. We have some of the greatest recreation opportunities in the world around here but we have real recreation problems.”

“This is part of making it all work into the future. We don’t want to be selling tickets on 401,” said councilman Chris Ladoulis. “We need to find a way to fund this. It may not be just a one-off funding grant. I applaud you for putting this program together.”

“I too really appreciate that it is action with boots on the ground and not just more talk at the 30,000-foot level. I’m concerned about funding in the future,” said councilman Jim Schmidt. “I really hope the county gets involved.”

Schmidt suggested placing donation boxes in Crested Butte and Mt. Crested Butte for people to drop contributions. He said CBMBA might be surprised at how much financial support they could receive.

“You guys are doing it and people like that,” added Merck, who suggested the $21,000 donation.

The council approved the request unanimously.

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