Trails, bathrooms and Shady Island River Park to benefit
By Katherine Nettles
While the past year has brought a lot more wear and tear to our local trail systems, a Colorado lottery-funded grant program is sending financial support to alleviate some of those impacts. Gunnison County’s Sustainable Tourism and Outdoor Recreation (STOR) committee was approved for its recent application to Great Outdoors Colorado (GOCO), securing $450,000 to help with outdoor-related activities throughout the valley.
The “GOCO Resilient Communities” grant was aimed at helping with COVID-related impacts to communities, and apparently saw the connection between the county’s increased visitation during the pandemic crisis and its need for more recreational user support. The package benefits the Shady Island River Park in Gunnison as well as trailhead improvements, trails maintenance and trail stewardship.
The grant package awarded $266,000, to the county’s Shady Island River Park, which was facing a $50,000 shortfall for its first phase. The Shady Island project had been denied in the county’s two previous applications for GOCO grants.
The county contracted on September 15 with local contractor Spalone Construction to begin construction work.
Gunnison County Community and Economic Development director Cathie Pagano, who worked closely with the STOR committee on the grant, said she anticipates that by next spring the park will be operational if not entirely completed. “The county has successfully raised $781,000 in grant funding from multiple sources and we are very proud to have such strong support for the Shady Island River Park,” commented Pagano.
The next large allocation in the grant package was $100,000 for the STOR Corps, a newly formed workforce within the STOR committee doing conservation and public outreach on local trails.
The STOR Corps won a Outstanding Sustainability Initiative Program award presented by Governor Jared Polis in the first ever Colorado Governor’s Tourism Conference last week.
“The funding for the STOR Corps is focused on the 2021 season and will allow us to continue to support a corps with the possibility of including an expanded field season beyond the 12 weeks that we had this year. We will work with the STOR committee and partners like the Crested Butte Conservation Corps and Gunnison Trails to identify the best way to build the corps,” said Pagano.
She said looking at how to make the conservation and stewardship organizations across the Gunnison Valley more efficient and streamlined is a priority for coming years. “I had that conversation [about combining STOR Corps and CBCC] with [CBCC director] Dave Ochs prior to this,” Pagano said. “But he did not feel CBCC had the capacity to do that at the time.”
The package provided $10,000 specifically for Slate River trailhead. “Improvement of the Slate River trailhead has been a priority of the STOR committee and a subcommittee was formed to determine how best to improve the trailhead to accommodate the increasing demand and variety of users. Funds will be utilized to support trailhead infrastructure in collaboration with the Crested Butte Land Trust,” said Pagano.
The package allocated $4,000 for winter trails and stewardship, which may include improvements to the CBG Trails app to identify winter trails and to also support work of the Crested Butte Avalanche Center in placing signage notifying users of avalanche risk. “The STOR committee will continue to work to identify how best to utilize these funds this winter,” said Pagano.
Last, $70,000 was allocated for trailhead bathrooms. This has been an ongoing need throughout the valley, and the STOR committee plans to work locally with federal land management partners to identify the top priority locations.
Gunnison County got the largest grant package in the cycle by more than $125,000, noted commissioner Roland Mason.
Birnie estimated that the county, combined with municipalities and organizations within it have received about $44 million from GOCO over the years.
“We are so fortunate to have the strong support of GOCO for the work of the STOR committee. The STOR committee is a unique collaboration of partners working to address the community’s values and needs relative to recreation and preservation of our natural resources. The hard work and persistence of the committee have made great strides in accomplishing tangible projects on the ground since their inception in 2018,” concluded Pagano.