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County looks to create grant fund for backcountry in the short-term

Will strategize bigger, better, more stable funding for the long-term

By Toni Todd

County commissioner John Messner proposed the creation of an immediate, $20,000 grant fund that could be used by the newly formed Crested Butte Conservation Corp (CBCC), and by other backcountry management organizations seeking financial support for their efforts in the short-term. Dave Ochs, representing the CBCC, presented compelling evidence to justify Messner’s idea at the commissioners’ work session this past Tuesday.

“These guys are on the ground,” Ochs said of the CBCC employees. “The first crew is already working and the second crew is most likely going to start next Sunday, Monday, Tuesday.”

Affiliated with the Crested Butte Mountain Biking Association, the CBCC is a full time, six-day-a-week trail crew that aims to minimize impacts, protect backcountry resources, educate backcountry users and, according to their website, “steward it for the best experiences possible.”

“It’s a backcountry revival trail crew,” Ochs said. “This is our strength—our backyard.” Ochs said the CBCC is the result of three years of conversation, a response to our backcountry being loved to death. Now, Ochs said, “We have the crew, we have the insurance, we have the energy.”

The CBCC has raised $78,000 so far, including contributions from the towns of Crested Butte and Mt. Crested Butte.

“We all know what issues we’re seeing in the backcountry. If we don’t start taking care of it now, we’re going to lose it,” said Ochs.

Ochs showed a powerful series of photos depicting damage to meadows, mud bogs caused by vehicles going off the designated roadway, and piles of trash. He described a recent incident on the Gothic Road. “As soon as people realized they could get around a snow plug [on the road], they did, and they drove right over one of RMBL’s research plots.

“Toilet paper and human feces—at the Maroon trailhead, you’re seeing 80 cars,” said Ochs. “It’s ruining everybody’s experience.” He cited Sue Navy’s initiative toward a recent project to clean up the State River valley last fall. “They filled 110 trash bags.”

Before-and-after photos illustrated rehabilitative trail work, bridge repairs, re-channeling of water, and more. “Who’s out there doing it? It’s been the Crested Butte Mountain Biking Association [CBMBA],” he said. “CBMBA is often recognized as a mountain biking club. We consider ourselves more as a conservation organization.”

Ochs explained that the effort goes beyond trail maintenance, to camping, etiquette, signage, stewardship, trailheads, fencing, advocacy, gates, and leave-no-trace. He thanked the Tourism Association for help with signs, kiosks, and map apps. “It’s kinda like we’re coming together here with a homogenous message.”

Ochs noted a recent article in the Grand Junction Sentinel, showing a pile of trash left behind at a campsite. “It’s a national issue,” he said. He praised Senator Michael Bennet’s efforts to allow local groups to support the under-resourced U.S. Forest Service with stewardship efforts.

“It’s beyond volunteer capacity. We need people out there every day. We could keep people employed seven days a week. We’ve got a lot of work to do.”

Referring to the Conservation Corp, he emphasized, “This is a paid, experienced crew. CBMBA wants to stay CBMBA. CBCC is who you call for the backcountry 911.”

“I couldn’t be more supportive of what they’re doing, both them and Gunnison Trails,” said Messner. The county, he said, would continue to work toward permanent funding for such efforts through the Sustainable Tourism and Outdoor Recreation Committee, a group formed as a result of the One Valley Prosperity Project and still in its infancy. “We really have to look at this holistically as a county.”

The Board of County Commissioners agreed to add Messner’s grant fund proposal to next week’s county commissioners’ meeting agenda.

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