GOCO awards $461k+ to benefit Gunnison County

Two separate grants for stewardship programs and landowner wildfire mitigation

By Katherine Nettles

Local land stewardship programs got a major lift on June 14 when the Great Outdoors Colorado (GOCO) board awarded two grants totaling $461,854 to projects in Gunnison County. The first, a $350,000 grant, is for the development of the Gunnison County Stewardship Program to address long-term stewardship of public lands and other conserved lands within the county. The other grant, totaling $111,854, was awarded to the Colorado West Land Trust for the development of a separate stewardship program that engages private landowners in natural resource management and wildfire mitigation.

Stewardship Program to prioritize sage grouse, campsites, trailheads and outreach

The larger grant of the two, for $350,000, was awarded in order to create the Gunnison Stewardship Program. Cathie Pagano, director of Gunnison County Community and Economic Development, wrote in an e-mail to the Crested Butte News, “This will be a new initiative of the STOR [Sustainable Tourism and Outdoor Recreation] Committee.”

According to a GOCO press release issued on June 14, the county has outlined several existing stewardship needs for the next three years for the program. Top priorities include restoring key habitat for the Gunnison sage grouse, decommissioning hundreds of illegal campsites (to be identified by the Forest Service), and designating new ones with appropriate infrastructure. The program will also install sanitation facilities at key trailheads.

“The stewardship program will address issues associated with the recent influx of visitors to the area’s publicly accessible properties through a new and collaborative stewardship model,” according to the press release.

The STOR committee has contributed to developing the program plan and will be engaged in future stewardship projects. As an initial step, the STOR committee will hire a coordinator to help recruit volunteers and support developing partnerships with existing land managers and stewardship groups.

The STOR committee also hopes to provide educational programming to bring in new stewards and to train volunteers for public outreach purposes, as stated in the press release. “Volunteers might be stationed at popular trailheads to educate recreationists about stewardship principles and reducing impacts on the trails,” according to the press release.

Gunnison County has tallied more than 75,000 acres of conserved open space property managed by local municipalities and land conservancies. To serve such conservation efforts, the STOR committee will participate in both the Gunnison Stewardship Program and the recently established Gunnison Stewardship Fund, awarded with $59,000 from the National Forest Foundation partnership earlier this year.

Each fund will have slightly different criteria for how the funds are spent and will be awarded separately, but STOR will help identify the top community priorities, said Pagano.

“The GOCO Stewardship Impact grant reflects an incredible collaborative partnership between GOCO, Gunnison County, Volunteers for Outdoor Colorado, Town of Crested Butte, Town of Mt. Crested Butte, U.S. Forest Service, BLM, City of Gunnison, [Tourism and Prosperity Partnership], Crested Butte Conservation Corps, Gunnison Trails, Crested Butte Land Trust, Crested Butte Nordic Center, Gunnison Nordic, Gunnison Off Road Alliance of Trailriders (GOATS) and the STOR committee members. Each of these entities is contributing cash to the project and many are also contributing in-kind work. The demonstration of collaboration across jurisdictional lines and non-profit and public sectors, shows incredible cooperation,” wrote Pagano.

“The STOR committee understands the challenges our community faces with increased visitors and impacts to our public lands and natural resources and is working aggressively to mitigate impacts and improve the recreation and outdoor experience and natural landscape,” Pagano added.

Pagano reflected that GOCO selected the Gunnison County Stewardship Program as its top-ranked project and awarded it with the most funds. “The unique collaborative effort of the STOR committee is receiving funding and attention because it is unusual and is not being done in other communities. This work is a direct outcome of the One Valley Prosperity Project which identified the STOR Committee as a strategic result,” Pagano wrote.

Colorado West Land Trust to launch landowner stewardship program

A second GOCO grant, for $111,854, is directed toward Delta, Gunnison, Mesa, Montrose, Ouray and San Miguel counties to assist the private landowners in land stewardship as well. Wildfire mitigation is often heavily focused on public lands, and private landowners sometimes lack the technical expertise and financial resources to protect their properties from fire, according to a second press release issued by GOCO, also on June 14.

Not withstanding this year’s heavy snowfall and cooler spring, the press release explains that western Colorado is experiencing an overall hotter, drier climate than it did in the past, and the risk of wildfire continues to grow. The watersheds, wildlife habitat and agricultural lands that exist on private properties are becoming increasingly threatened.

CWLT has partnered with the West Region Wildfire Council “to educate and equip private landowners with resources to better protect their lands,” the release states. The first step will be to identify specific private, conserved properties in high wildfire risk areas, and advise landowners about forest treatment options as well as technical and financial resources to improve forest health and fire resilience.

The landowner stewardship program includes two demonstration projects. The first is on approximately 120 acres of an Ouray County property that will be treated this year; a second project planned for 2020 has yet to be determined.

Both GOCO grants are part of the organization’s inaugural round of Stewardship Impact Grants, which aim to increase on-the-ground stewardship outcomes statewide. “This program is the culmination of a multi-year effort by GOCO and the Colorado Outdoor Stewardship Coalition to create a foundational framework for advancing volunteer-based stewardship in Colorado communities,” according to the press release.

GOCO invests a portion of Colorado Lottery proceeds to help preserve and enhance the state’s parks, trails, wildlife, rivers and open spaces. It was created in 1992 when voters approved a constitutional amendment. The organization reports having invested more than $44.5 million in projects in Gunnison County and having conserved more than 30,000 acres of land here, “without any tax dollar support.” Such funding has also supported the Town Park Playground renovation project in Crested Butte, the Gunnison County Whitewater Park and the conservation of Trampe Ranch.

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