STOR committee preparing for upcoming projects

Still planning CB to CB South multimodal path 

[  By Katherine Nettles  ]

 The Gunnison County Sustainable Tourism and Outdoor Recreation (STOR) committee is preparing its next steps in supporting recreation infrastructure and public lands protections and looking at the next six months of work and project preparation such as forest health collaborations, implementing more designated camping sites and a North Valley trails plan. It is also expanding its reach and ability to fund partners for work that supports its mission. 

STOR committee members and Gunnison County staff members Cathie Pagano and Joe Lavorini updated county commissioners on the committee’s achievements for the year and its strategies for next year during their biannual presentation on October 25. 

“A lot has happened since January,” said Lavorini of the previous presentation as he reviewed several projects that STOR has participated in and the work accomplished by the three-year-old STOR Corps, a conservation crew of five members who work in the field from May through September. The STOR Corps engaged with more than 600 public lands visitors during peak visitor season; did trail maintenance on Long Lake, Dark Canyon and Signal Peak trails; monitored designated camping, removed deadfall on over 95 miles of public lands; constructed fencing in Taylor Canyon; and building beaver-style dams at Trail Creek near Taylor Reservoir to help restore wetlands there. The STOR Corps also helped with the Wilder-Highlands project addressing mountain pine beetle outbreaks on both public and private lands and reducing fuels and slash piles to improve forest health. 

“New partners have joined the Gunnison County Stewardship Fund as well,” reported Lavorini, which is a key part of the county’s partnership with the National Forest Foundation (NFF). Atmos Energy and Elevation Hotel and Spa are the newest members, which contribute to the fund through either a voluntary guest/client surcharge or a direct annual contribution. Lavorini said there are now 12 partners including Crested Butte Mountain Resort. 

“This program continues to just grow and to be a success. In 2022 we invested about $220,000 to six stewardship organizations across the community,” he said. This included $45,000 to Crested Butte Mountain Bike Association for its conservation corps (CBCC); $55,000 to Gunnison Trails for a six-person trail crew; $8,000 to High Country Conservation Advocates for its role in the Trail Creek restoration project; $65,000 for a vault toilet at Hartman Rocks; $12,000 to the Land Trust for Long Lake, Peanut Lake Road and Slate River Road improvements; and $38,000 to a new partner, The Nature Connection out of Delta that also works in Gunnison County that provides high school youth the opportunity to work with Forest Service staff on trails in the Grand Mesa Uncompahgre and Gunnison National Forest (GMUG).

Planning for 2023

 Lavorini, who also works for the NFF, said the STOR committee is undergoing a strategic planning and stakeholder assessment process. 

“We’re using this time to really reset our plan for the next few months,” he said. The assessment process has been mostly through interviewing STOR committee members to gauge their priorities.

There is a lot of state funding for deferred maintenance on trails across the GMUG, and Lavorini said the challenge is finding the capacity to do the work with a larger labor force.

The NFF is working with the GMUG to address deferred maintenance in a number of areas. This year there is a project on the Palisade Wall and Alpine tunnel near Pitkin to prevent rock fall and restore some historic wall conditions. Deer Creek, Little Bear and Lake Irwin are set for improvements through the same funding, and more fences will be replaced across the GMUG. The fund will also add 40 information kiosks to trailheads and finish implementing designated camping sites across the GMUG, and address extensive deferred trail maintenance. Priorities are to add recreation infrastructure and maintenance at popular trailheads like Tent City and Hartman Rocks. 

“The partnership with NFF has been far more fruitful and beneficial that we had ever anticipated,” said Pagano of the work getting done. 

Lavorini said that part of that funding and collaborative success is about Gunnison County’s timing in adopting the STOR model early. “Essentially, [Colorado Parks and Wildlife] and the state are doubling down on this model that we have had here in our community for a number of years through the STOR committee.” Lavorini said there are similar new regional groups popping up all over the state, and more funds are coming in to help strategize and maximize the recreation and conservation work they do. He said one outcome might also be an emerging North Valley trails plan.

The STOR committee also plans to make use of a GOCO grant it was awarded earlier this year to plan for a Crested Butte to Crested Butte South multimodal recreation path. 

County commissioner chairperson Jonathan Houck commented that for a 20-plus member board comprised of municipal, county, public land, non-profit and educational entities among others, he has been impressed with its first five years. “I think the community is really proudly owning what this is,” he said.

“There is no shortage of projects that Joe is really supporting and leading,” said Pagano. “Certainly our partnership with NFF is incredibly beneficial…and of course the STOR committee, and those folks that show up month in and month out and are really committed to doing the work on the ground.” 

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