Funding the forest |

Funding the forest

Sarah L. Stewart
Last summer, members of Ski & Snowboard Club Vail helped clear pine beetle-killed trees from the forest for firewood in West Vail.

Last summer, Gore Creek Campground became accessible to handicapped people. Water was diverted off Hanging Lake Trail to prevent erosion on the heavily used route. Thirty damaged acres in the Golden Horseshoe area near Breckenridge got new trees and other rehabilitation. And hundreds of kids and adults spent thousands of hours making White River National Forest a healthier, better place for both people and wildlife.When you bought last seasons ski pass, you may vaguely remember being asked to donate a dollar to help the national forests. You may even remember saying yes, since after all, whats $1 when youre already spending hundreds?If you did answer yes, then you are partly to thank for these projects and many others throughout Vails backyard national forest. In August 2006, Vail Resorts became the second ski area in the country and the first in Colorado to partner with the National Forest Foundation to fund conservation projects in the forests. By agreeing to join the program, which the Forest Foundation offers to all ski areas operated on national forest land, Vail Resorts solicits guests to donate $1 per season pass, $1 per lift ticket transaction and $1 per room, per night at the companys Colorado lodging.One dollar may not sound like a lot, but multiplied by the hundreds of thousands of visitors to the companys resorts and combined with 50 cent per dollar matching from the Forest Foundation, Vail Resorts has raised nearly $800,000 since launching the program, says Kelly Ladyga, the companys director of corporate communications.Heading into the second summer maintenance season since the program launched, that money has made a real difference both to White River National Forest and the nonprofit groups that receive funds to do the hands-on forest work, which include the Eagle County Youth Conservation Corps, Rocky Mountain Youth Corps, Friends of the Eagles Nest Wilderness, the Colorado Fourteeners Initiative and several others.The groups do everything from trail maintenance to pulling noxious weeds, allowing the Forest Service to focus on more technical work like fixing bridges and cutting down trees.Its a huge shot in the arm for us, says Don Dressler, trails program manager for the Eagle/Holy Cross Ranger District. We have limited resources in the Forest Service, and were able to really stretch those resources.

Within his district, Dressler oversees 380 miles of trails with a six-person crew and trails dont maintain themselves. Over time, the paths become overused and eroded, which can pose dangers both for the people who use them and the environment.Mountain bike trails can become so eroded that bikers pedals hit the sides of the trail, as has happened on some sections of Two Elk Trail through Vails Back Bowls, Dressler says. Erosion runoff can also harm stream quality and vegetation, he says.Regular trail maintenance helps prevent erosion by diverting water off the trail and re-routing sections that have become too worn. Were trying to make them sustainable, Dressler says.Last summer, the Steamboat Springs-based Rocky Mountain Youth Corps spent four crew weeks (a crew week equals 10 people working 40 hours per week) on the Lake Charles Trail in the Holy Cross Wilderness Area, worked on six different trails in the Dillon Ranger District, and spent five crew weeks in the Golden Horseshoe all financed by the Ski Conservation Fund.This is a huge positive impact on the environment and recreational opportunities for folks, says Gretchen Van De Carr, executive director the Rocky Mountain Youth Corps. Her organization received almost $93,000 from the Ski Conservation Fund last year and about $116,600 this year. That equates to about 17 percent of their total budget for summer conservation projects, or two 10-person crews working all summer long in the national forest, Van De Carr says.This year, their planned projects include four crew weeks on the Two Elk Trail, work on several other trails in the Dillon District and the Flat Tops Wilderness, and three crew weeks cutting down pine beetle-killed trees with cross-cut saws in the Eagles Nest Wilderness, where chain saws cannot be used.This kind of sustained, skilled effort helps the Forest Service with work on more remote areas, since crews camp out for the duration of the work weeks, Dressler says.Were all learning how to use it to its highest potential, he says.

The forest and streams arent the only beneficiaries of the Ski Conservation Fund, however. Young people also reap rewards from the program, through nonprofits like the Rocky Mountain Youth Corps and Eagle County Youth Conservation Corps. The Eagle County Corps pays student organizations sports teams, choirs, youth groups, etc. $10 per student, per hour of work they do in the forest. That money supports the purchase of uniforms, camp scholarships and other needs, and gives the kids a sense of accomplishment.Its not a free handout to them, says Jennifer Rose, program coordinator for the Eagle County Youth Conservation Corps. Its really teaching them accountability.The ski area contribution represents $30,000 of Roses $80,000 budget this year an influx that has made more forest projects possible. Last summer, the first season with the ski area funds, Rose noticed a big difference in her organizations ability to serve both kids and the forest.We were able to affect more kids and not be struggling so much, she says.The human value of the forest work is just as important as the work itself, says Mary Mitsos, the National Forest Foundations vice president for community conservation.Its about engaging people as much as it is about improving the health and well being of the area, she says.The program also directly affects locals and visitors who use the public lands. If the trail work and campground maintenance arent completed, the public lands wont be as easy to access and enjoy, and that isnt in anyones interest, says Kara Heide, of Vail Resorts corporate contributions department.What brings people here is the unique beauty of our mountain community, Heide says. You want it to be there for your kids kids, and it doesnt happen without advocates.The response to Vail Resorts Forest Foundation partnership has been overwhelmingly positive more than 90 percent of visitors answer yes when asked to contribute and the company is considering asking for a $1 donation per round of golf, Heide says.Representatives from all facets of the conservation fund see a bright future for the program.This whole partnership between the National Forest Foundation, Vail Resorts, the land managers and groups like ours, I think is an absolutely brilliant way to collaborate, Van De Carr says. Youve got a lot of people giving a little that adds up to a huge benefit.

Vail Resorts guests are asked to donate $1 per lift ticket, season pass and hotel room per night in the companys lodging…The National Forest Foundation matches the money raised 50 cents on the dollar …Groups that do conservation projects in and around White River National Forest ask forest managers what projects need to be accomplished, then petition the Forest Foundation to fund those projects…The Forest Foundation writes a check to each nonprofit to fund the approved projects…The groups perform trail maintenance, forest renewal, campground maintenance and other projects in the forest, at little to no cost to the Forest Service.

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