Vail Resorts a key player in forest project
Vail CO Colorado
EAGLE COUNTY, Colorado – A restoration project around Homestake Creek scheduled to start this summer is about more than the vegetation and watershed the project aims to improve and protect.
It’s an effort between the U.S. Forest Service’s Eagle/Holy Cross Ranger District and the National Forest Foundation that aims to make it easier for large-scale restoration projects to happen. Officials also want to make it easier for community members and groups to get involved.
“What it’s really about is doing our jobs, taking care of the land, restoring landscapes and enhancing ecosystems in a way that’s more efficient and allows us to more efficiently partner with all of these groups interested in helping us,” said Dave Neely, district ranger for the Eagle/Holy Cross Ranger District.
Neely said his district is lucky because there are so many groups that want to help. From Vail Resorts and its charitable Echo program to local nonprofits like the Eagle River Watershed Council and the Eagle County Youth Corps, Neely said the Forest Service is practically tripping over groups that want to lend a helping hand.
“We have such incredible resources,” Neely said. “So how do we build a system that lets us define broad-scale areas we should focus on and involve those groups?”
More projects ahead
It’s a question that Scott Fitzwilliams, forest supervisor for the White River National Forest, began asking about a year ago. He started looking at how the Forest Service could get projects done that are critical to forest health that also included community groups interested in helping.
Vail Resorts Echo was one of the groups ready and willing. Vail Resorts has raised about $500,000 a year for the National Forest Foundation’s Ski Conservation Fund – more money than the ski company ever thought it would raise simply by asking guests to donate a dollar to the fund, said Nicky DeFord, who heads up charitable contributions for Vail Resorts Echo.
With that money, DeFord said it became obvious the fund could go toward even more conservation projects. DeFord said Vail Resorts figured it could fund one big special project a year that would cost in the $200,000 to $250,000 range.
“For us it’s about getting behind this comprehensive effort of the White River National Forest,” DeFord said. “We’re committed to doing this each year. Supporting the projects that the Forest Service thinks are the most critical for forest health – that’s where we want to help.”
And while the Forest Service is still fine-tuning this new way of thinking about how to get projects done with community collaboration, it’s identified Homestake as a project it can initiate this summer.
Neely said Homestake is an area that has a lot of overlapping priority projects such as bridge and trail repairs, campsite rehabilitation, the cutting of beetle killed trees posing safety concerns in the area and improving the fish habitat in the creek.
“It’s a good starting place for us while we continue to build the process,” Neely said.
Homestake Creek’s banks have suffered in areas where campers walk down to the creek and trample vegetation, he said. There are also concerns about where people dispose of human waste and where they collect firewood.
“Campsites are a concern for the stream,” Neely said.
As for how much the project will cost, Neely said that costs from the federal side really just amount to the time employees spend on the project. Vail Resorts Echo has committed about $200,000 from its partnership with the National Forest Foundation and the Ski Conservation Fund for the project.
Neely said more projects will be identified as the Forest Service continues its planning for 2012 and beyond. The Forest Service will be looking for priority projects throughout the entire district that focus on restoration and enhancement.
The projects also have more positive impacts locally than just the effects on the environment, he said.
“If we’re maintaining a healthy landscape in this area, the tourism economy stays strong,” Neely said.
Community Editor Lauren Glendenning can be reached at 970-748-2983 or email@example.com.