Friday, September 20, 2019

Gunnison County funds conservation groups

“We need to create an infrastructure to handle the visitors and maintain the resources.” 

By Kristy Acuff

In an effort to mitigate the effects of increased backcountry visitors to the Gunnison valley, the Gunnison County Commissioners directed county manager Mathew Birnie to find $40,000 in this year’s county budget to spend on two conservation groups. Both the National Forest Foundation and the Crested Butte Conservation Corps (CBCC) will ultimately each receive $20,000 from the county.

The National Forest Foundation works around the country raising money and engaging local forest users in funding long-term sustainable recreation projects. Currently, the NFF is working with local entities to put together $67,500 in funds for a backcountry composting toilet and gravel parking lot at the trailhead for West Maroon Pass. So far, the towns of Mt. Crested Butte and Crested Butte have allocated $5,000 each for the project and the Gunnison County Metropolitan Recreation District has contributed $15,000.

“The trailhead has deteriorated significantly and needs some attention,” said commissioner John Messner.

Work on the trailhead will commence in the fall if the funds are secured.

The Crested Butte Conservation Corps will also receive $20,000 for its ongoing efforts at trail maintenance, education and outreach. The Conservation Corps began last year as a part of the Crested Butte Mountain Bike Association (CBMBA) and its mission is to provide the best possible backcountry experience in the forms of stewardship, advocacy, education and resource maintenance to ensure a sustainable and healthy future for the area’s backcountry. The CBCC currently has two crews of three workers that are each in the field three days a week for a total of six work days devoted to trail maintenance, restoration and clean-up as well as educating the public about resource conservation and trail etiquette.

“Last year we didn’t fund the Conservation Corps at all and they are a very effective organization,” said county commissioner Phil Chamberland. “These funds will help them stay on their feet until they get a steady funding stream for the future.”

Chamberland went on to explain that the money should not be viewed as an annual allocation, but instead as seed money for the group to leverage and use to become self-sustainable.

He added that the National Forest Foundation is working with the Gunnison National Forest to establish a voluntary user fee system for commercial groups that work on national forest lands. The hope is that annual fees could supply the National Forest Foundation with a pool of grant money to allocate for conservation work and education.

“We need to create an infrastructure to handle the number of visitors we have and will continue to have here. Right now, we do not have the infrastructure to maintain our local resources that are being over-used and deteriorating,” said Chamberland.

A user-fee system for commercial permit holders would allow companies to collect a percentage on some portion of their business that would go into a pool with collections from other companies and then matched by the National Forest Foundation, according to Chamberland.

“For example, a ski company could ask customers to pay an additional 1 percent on lodging or ski tickets or a guide company could add a percentage to a day trip and these could be voluntary as well for the customer,” explained Chamberland.

Between the matching funds and the user fee collections, the National Forest Foundation would accumulate a pot of money from which to issue grants to local conservation and education groups to maintain trails and other resources in the valley.

“Every dollar raised in Gunnison County would be spent on groups in Gunnison County,” said Chamberland.

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