Help getting granted: Holly Loff leaving Eagle River Watershed Council, seeks to advise other Vail area nonprofits |

Help getting granted: Holly Loff leaving Eagle River Watershed Council, seeks to advise other Vail area nonprofits

Outgoing executive director wants to help other organizations in the same way she helped the local river advocacy group

Holly Loff with the Eagle River Watershed Council is vacating her position as executive director in an effort to disperse her talent for grant writing across the Eagle River Valley through a new business called Sage Grant Writing and Consulting.
Chris Dillmann/Vail Daily

Holly Loff was a grant writer when she arrived in the Eagle River Valley in 2009.

Loff used that skill to help local nonprofit organizations, and when in 2013 the opportunity to focus her abilities on the natural environment arose with the opening of the executive director position at the Eagle River Watershed Council, she embraced it and began the task of growing the nonprofit river advocacy group.

The Eagle River Watershed Council has more than doubled its annual fundraising totals since Loff arrived while tripling volunteer participation, which made the group’s recent announcement especially difficult.

On Thursday, Eagle River Watershed Council announced that Loff will be leaving the organization after a transition period in which it will try to find someone to fill her position.

In a release announcing Loff’s departure, Board of Directors President Tom Allender said Loff’s shoes will be difficult to fill.

“Her service to this community, and to the natural rivers and streams that we value so much, cannot be understated,” Allender said.

Loff said she intends to go back to her original passion, grant writing for nonprofits, as that’s the area she feels she can be of most help to the community right now.

“I think that there’s a huge need for grant writers and people who understand the challenges of the nonprofit sector,” Loff told the Vail Daily on Thursday.

Gift of grant

Loff’s new business, Sage Grant Writing and Consulting, will seek to help those nonprofits which need help writing grants and formulating programs which receive grants, along with nonprofits which have the experience to form programs and identify grants, but don’t have enough staff time to actually write the applications.

In Eagle County, both such organizations exist, Loff said.

Loff said through her work at the Eagle River Watershed Council, she felt there were times when even she could have used outside grant writing help.

Holly Loff addresses a crowd at a previous Riverfest. The Eagle River Watershed Council has more than doubled its annual fundraising totals since Loff arrived while tripling volunteer participation, which made the group's recent announcement especially difficult.
Courtesy photo

“I have a background in grant writing, and there were a lot of times when I couldn’t find the time in my schedule to do it, because nonprofits are busy and they wear a lot of hats,” Loff said.

Loff focused a lot of her energy on passing along her skills to others at the Eagle River Watershed Council, which also prepares her to help local nonprofits on the other side of the coin — those which might have time, but lack training and experience in grant writing.

“We didn’t have a development coordinator until December of 2019, so prior to that, staff was doing the grant writing,” Loff said. “So for the most part, I was teaching employees how to write grants.”

Loff was able to grow her staff at the Watershed Council from herself and one part-timer when she started in 2013 to five full-time employees today. She said in seeking funds through grants, she was able to go from writing the grants herself to reviewing and editing the work of those she trained.

“So the work that I’ll be doing as a consultant is very similar to what I’ve been doing at the Watershed Council,” she said.

Original goal attained

The Eagle River Watershed Council was formed in response to chronic spills of heavy metals from the Eagle Mine into the Eagle River, which turned the river orange and impacted the fishery on numerous occasions throughout its history.

In 1986, U.S. Environmental Protection Agency added the Eagle Mine Superfund site to the National Priorities List of Superfund sites due to continued uncontrolled metals discharges into the environment.

In 1996, several existing groups unified under the Watershed Council name, and the organization attained 501c3 status in 2004.

In September, the EPA announced the deletion of a portion of the Eagle Mine Superfund from the National Priorities List, meaning all response activities in the area are complete and pose no unacceptable risk to human health or the environment under the current land use. Therefore, EPA and the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment have determined that no further cleanup response is necessary at OU2 of the site.

The deleted part of the site consists of the abandoned mining Town of Gilman Operable Unit 2, which covers approximately 50 acres and includes an estimated 90 buildings within its boundaries.

“The deletion of Operable Unit 2 at the Eagle Mine Superfund site reflects the significant progress that has been made to secure the site and protect human health and the environment,” said Betsy Smidinger, director of EPA Region 8’s Superfund and Emergency Management Division.

Longtime Eagle River Watershed Council Executive Director Holly Loff at the banks of the Eagle River near the town of Eagle on Friday. Loff on Thursday announced her current role to start a new grant writing business, saying the decision to leave was extremely difficult but she’s confident the organization is in a good place to start a new chapter.
Chris Dillmann/Vail Daily

Work ahead

In the evolution of the Eagle River Watershed Council, however, many new issues have presented themselves over the years.

The council’s river and highway cleanup efforts have become important community gatherings, and the group has completed more than 20 river restoration projects in Eagle County during Loff’s nearly nine years with the organization.

Today, the group’s four major areas of focus include monitoring, advocacy, education and restoration efforts for local creeks and rivers.

The looming impacts of climate change and population growth mean that the Watershed Council’s work has become increasingly important in the years to come, as well, Loff said.

“The next 5-10 years are going to be particularly critical to our watershed, and I look forward to seeing this amazing organization continue to rise to the challenge,” she said.

Loff said the decision to leave was extremely difficult, but she’s confident the organization is in a good place to enter its next chapter.

“Looking back over my time here, I am proud of the restoration projects we completed, the education programs we implemented and much more, but all of it comes down to the great people in our community and those involved with the Watershed Council. Our donors and sponsors, our hard-working volunteers, the great folks on our board (past and present) and our absolutely stellar staff. It was an honor to work among all of them,” Loff said.

Will be missed

Kate Burchenal, one of the Eagle River Watershed Council’s earliest employees, began working at the organization around the same time as Loff. Burchenal was a recent college graduate at the time.

“I was so glad to have (Loff) to learn from,” Burchenal said. “Her fundraising and grant writing expertise allowed the Watershed Council to more than double its staff, and in doing so greatly expand its project work, partnerships, and education throughout the valley. Holly’s passion for river recreation has made her an approachable and knowledgeable leader which in turn has deepened already strong partnerships with other nonprofits, the county, and towns, as well as local businesses.”

Eagle County Commissioner Kathy Chandler-Henry was serving as the organization’s president of the board of directors in 2013 when Loff was hired.

“Holly took the helm at the Eagle River Watershed Council after a period of change, organizational development and growth,” Chandler-Henry said. “She has advanced the Council forward into a well-respected scientific, educational and advocacy organization. Her ability to see beyond the current work to imagine what’s possible, and her knack for developing partners in projects and research have paved the way for the next iteration of this important watershed group.”

Burchenal now serves on the Watershed Council’s Board of Directors. She said Loff’s leadership, enthusiasm and laughter will be greatly missed.

“She always welcomed new projects and challenges, shepherding a vision for the Watershed Council that has kept pace with our growing valley and the water challenges we continue to face,” Burchenal said.

Chandler-Henry said she too will be sorry to see Loff go.

“Eagle County’s rivers and tributaries, and all the residents of this great place, have benefited immensely from Holly’s leadership,” she said.

This story contains material supplied by the Eagle River Water and Sanitation District and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency

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