Protecting ‘rugged and wide-open’ Summit County river |

Protecting ‘rugged and wide-open’ Summit County river

Caitlin Row
Summit County, CO Colorado
Mark Fox/Summit DailyThe Lower Blue is home to most of the remaining ranch land in Summit County, County" some of which has been preserved

SUMMIT COUNTY, Colorado ” After the birth of Myrth McDonald’s twin boys ” John and Jay ” six months ago, the Summit County,Colorado mother changed her priorities.

“I wanted to devote myself to family and the community,” the 32-year-old Silverthorne resident said.

So, she left her resort job to become the executive director of Friends of the Lower Blue River, a position that allows her to work from home to help protect the rural nature of the county.

“These are the real mountains ” rugged and wide-open,” she said. “I want to preserve that.”

Cradled by the Gore Range on one side and the Williams Fork Mountains on the other, the Lower Blue River Valley features the Blue River, unspoiled National Forest, wilderness and some of the county’s last private ranches.

The Lower Blue River Valley encompasses everything below Dillon Reservoir, said Mark Leidal, director of community development for Silverthorne. Heeney is included.

Friends is a volunteer group of dues-paying Summit County residents, property owners and others who want to maintain the rural character and quality of life in the valley.

After two months at the helm, McDonald’s biggest goal is to refocus ” meaning she’ll be examining all pressing issues, like forest health and open space protection. Friends is also interested in water, fire protection improvement, interfaces with national forest and wilderness, preserving access to the forest and recreation for everyone.

McDonald is planning a Friends retreat for May, where the board of directors will discuss big concerns for the group and prioritize them. She also said she’ll continue efforts to “revitalize and grow membership.”

“Communication is a huge part of our mission ” making members aware of events and news pertaining to the Lower Blue,” McDonald said. “The main task is being the eyes and ears for the members and just making them aware of things that are happening in the valley that could affect them.”

She also attends community meetings that pertain the Friends.

Several Lower Blue ranches have participated in conservation easements ” an agreement between landowners and a land conservancy to keep a parcel largely undeveloped ” to aid in the maintenance of the Lower Blue’s rural character, McDonald said.

Friends is not a land conservancy, but it promotes conservation, McDonald said.

“If we want to save the reason that we all want to be in Colorado, we have to provide this type of counterbalance” to development in the Lower Blue, said John Hillman, a Friends board member and doctor who practices in the High Country. “Obviously, we want to try to do it so it has the least impact on the visual qualities that we all love.”

Friends should not be confused with the Lower Blue River Citizens Alliance ” a group separate from Friends that formed to combat Xcel Energy’s proposed substation sites on the Daley and TYL ranches. Despite being separate entities, the alliance and McDonald agree that the proposed Xcel substation needs to be built in a way that won’t disrupt view corridors.

McDonald, originally from Madison, Wisc., grew up vacationing in Colorado with her family.

“Skiing brought be back,” she said.

After four years at Middlebury College in Vermont, McDonald couldn’t resist the call of Colorado. For the past nine years, she’s worked at Copper Mountain Ski Resort in various capacities.

Karn Stiegelmeier, now a Summit County commissioner, was executive director for six years before McDonald took the reins.

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Caitlin Row can be reached at (970) 668-4633 or at

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