White River conservation fund doles out $4.5M to nonprofits in 10 years | VailDaily.com
Eli Pace
epace@summitdaily.com

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White River conservation fund doles out $4.5M to nonprofits in 10 years

Throughout the past decade, the White River National Forest Ski Conservation Fund has funneled millions of dollars to local conservation groups, helped restore nearby forests and waterways and engaged tens of thousands of youth and volunteers.

To celebrate the 10th anniversary of the conservation fund, representatives of the National Forest Foundation, the White River National Forest, nearby ski resorts and Friends of the Dillon Ranger District, among others, came together on July 8 for a barbecue at Frisco Historic Park.

Fueled largely by donations from skiers and snowboarders at Copper Mountain Resort, Arapahoe Basin Ski Area, Breckenridge Ski Resort, Keystone Resort, Beaver Creek and Vail Mountain — starting at $1 each — the conservation fund uses that money to support more than 132 "on-the-ground projects" in the White River National Forest.

But Wait, there's more

“We’re part of this community, and again, our guests are willing to give a little to sustain the health of these lands, the waters and all the wildlife here.”Rick CablesVice president of natural resources, Vail Resorts

"We feel like it's a way our guests can give back to these iconic landscapes that everyone's here to have fun and enjoy and recreate," said Rick Cables, vice president of natural resources at Vail Resorts.

But that's not it. For every dollar donated, the National Forest Foundation puts up a 50-cent match. So far, the conservation fund has resulted in more than $4.5 million in grants awarded to local nonprofit organizations, according to Emily Olsen, Colorado program manager for the National Forest Foundation.

Cables recalled being involved in creating the fund when discussions first began in 2006. By collecting money from ski resort guests, pairing it with the 50-cent match and further leveraging that money through local nonprofits, he called it a "win-win-win."

"We're part of this community, and again, our guests are willing to give a little to sustain the health of these lands, the waters and all the wildlife here," Cables said.

This year alone, they will be doling out about $600,000 to 12 organizations, Olsen said, and those groups include the Colorado Fourteeners Initiative, Colorado Mountain Club, Eagle River Watershed Council, Friends of the Dillon Ranger District, Roaring Fork Outdoor Volunteers, Rocky Mountain Youth Corps — Colorado, Student Conservation Association, Vail Valley Mountain Bike Association, Volunteers for Outdoor Colorado, Walking Mountains Science Center, Wilderness Workshop and Wildlands Restoration Volunteers.

In addition to driving much-needed funding to local nonprofits, the conservation fund is also credited with generating tens of thousands of jobs for youth and improving nearby forestland and waterways.

Including the volunteers and matching dollars, the total value of the conservation fund to date is estimated at $13.8 million, and it's credited with helping to employ more than 7,000 youth during the past 10 years with agencies such as Rocky Mountain Youth Corps, Student Conservation Association and Walking Mountains Science Center.

Maintaining our landscapes

Other program results supported by the conservation fund include maintaining more than 1,500 miles of trail and 216 campsites; installing or servicing 1,643 trail drainage structures and 68 road crossings; restoring more than 3,000 acres of natural habitat, 100 acres of wetlands and 350 miles of streams; and planting more than 31,000 trees, according to figures provided by the National Forest Foundation.

The fund's money has also helped thousands more become involved through educational programs and youth volunteer days. To date, the fund is said to have engaged 22,054 volunteers who put in a total of 221,593 volunteer hours.

At Arapahoe Basin Ski Area, they ask for $2 donations, said Mike Nathan, sustainability manager at A-Basin, and then turn around and provide their own $2 match, effectively turning each skier's donation into a $4 boost for the fund.

"It's funny. I've worn a lot of hats at the Basin over the years, one of them being the assistant manager at the ticket and pass office," Nathan said. "Being the one asking people if they want to donate, it's incredibly surprising how many 'yeses' we get. Almost everybody you ask."