Public land projects get $400,000 boost |

Public land projects get $400,000 boost

AVON, Colorado – Volunteer work on public lands was once regarded as a bonus. Now it’s essential.

Scott Fitzwilliams, supervisor of the White River National Forest, was one of several happy land managers on hand Wednesday at Avon’s Walking Mountains Natural Science School, for the presentation of more than $400,000 in grants to help fund volunteer-driven projects.

“The work we get done with (volunteers) is the people’s work,” Fitzwilliams said during the presentation.

The money to aid more than a dozen conservation groups working in the region came from a couple of sources. The bulk came from the Ski Area Conservation Fund, a pool of money established by Vail Resorts, Copper Mountain and Arapahoe Basin. Guests are asked to contribute $1 from either lift tickets, rooms or golf rounds to help build the fund.

The National Forest Foundation, a national nonprofit dedicated to helping preserve and restore public lands, contributes $5 for every $10 donated by the ski areas, then provides money to various local volunteer groups to get the most bang for those bucks.

“We love the National Forest Foundation,” said Nicky DeFord of Vail Resorts. “The projects are local, and our employees get to touch and feel these projects.”

One of the projects this year’s grants will fund is touched and felt by thousands of people every year.

The Colorado Fourteeners Initiative has big plans for the main trail at the Mount of the Holy Cross. That project, which will use $85,000 of this year’s grant money, will make the trail to the summit more defined and easier to follow.

“That trail’s been the site of people getting lost and needing rescue,” said Lloyd Athearn of the Fourteeners Initiative. “I climbed that trail myself in 2010, and it’s easy to see why people get off-route.”

Beyond human safety, Athearn said that the habitat above timberline is remarkably fragile, and takes years to recover from damage. One person on the tundra does plenty of damage – add in a rescue crew to find someone who’s lost, and it can take decades for the landscape to recover.

Besides the trail work, the Fourteeners Initiative will also help clean up some of the campgrounds near the trailhead, and relocate campsites away from environmentally sensitive areas.

Beyond the projects funded by this round of grants, the National Forest Foundation has bigger plans for local forests. One of those projects, set to start this year, is restoration of the river environment through Camp Hale.

When the U.S. Army built the base for mountain troopers in the 1940s, engineers re-routed that stretch of the Eagle River into a straight channel, a move that’s had a lasting impact on the environment. The Camp Hale plan will put some meander back into the river through that high valley, and will help restore some of the stream’s natural balance.

Kim Langmaid, Colorado director of the National Forest Foundation, said the result of all these projects is to help create a more resilient ecosystem on public lands. The money helps volunteer organizations get more accomplished with the resources they have.

Dave Neely, who runs the Holy Cross and Eagle ranger districts, praised the efforts.

“It’s great to see so many people giving back to public lands,” Neely said. “We’ve got a great mechanism in place here.”

Business Editor Scott N. Miller can be reached at 970-748-2930 or

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