Vail Resorts backs forest, stops wind
DENVER – Vail Resorts said Monday it is collaborating in a $4 million project to help Colorado recover from the worst wildfire in its history.
The company committed $750,000 toward the effort, which aims to plant trees, restore wildlife habitat and improve water quality in the area that was damaged in the 2002 Hayman fire. The blaze burned 137,000 acres in the Pike National Forest, affecting watersheds that feed into the Upper South Platte River, which is the main water source for Denver.
The Forest Service matched Vail Resorts’ contribution. The National Forest Foundation will aim to raise another $1.25 million, which would also be matched by the Forest Service.
At the same time, Vail Resorts said it will not renew its three-year commitment to purchase wind-energy credits to offset its electricity use.
The Hayman restoration announcement was made Monday at a press conference at the Denver Museum of Nature and Science with U.S. Sen. Mark Udall, Colorado Gov. Bill Ritter, Denver Mayor John Hickenlooper and U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack.
CEO Rob Katz said the project is, for one, the right thing to do for the environment. Secondly, the company’s product is the outdoors, and it wants to connect with its customers by talking to them about how special and beautiful the outdoors are, Katz said.
“It’s a great thing to do, and it’s good for business, too,” he said.
Vail Resorts also committed 1,500 hours of volunteer work from its employees.
Katz noted that the company’s two-year-old partnership with the National Forest Foundation has already raised some $1.5 million for the forest lands adjacent to the company’s ski resorts, including the White River National Forest, which makes up much of Eagle County.
This new project looks to the wider Colorado community, Katz said, noting that the Front Range is a big part of Vail Resorts’ business – Front Range residents are visitors and second-home owners in its Colorado resort communities.
The National Forest Foundation, a nonprofit partner of the Forest Service, identified the Hayman restoration as a needed project under its Treasured Landscapes program. Vail Resorts’ involvement was a catalyst in making the project happen, said Bill Possiel, president of the National Forest Foundation.
“Until Vail stepped up and agreed to provide significant funding, we weren’t ready to move,” Possiel said.
In 2006, in a similar press conference at the same Denver museum, the company announced it would buy 152,000 megawatt hours of wind-energy credits to offset its electricity use, making it the second-largest corporate buyer of such credits in the U.S.
Katz said Monday that the 2006 move spurred other companies’ interest in wind credits. He noted the company has dropped to No. 27 among companies that buy wind credits, demonstrating a surge of interest from other corporations. Now, Vail Resorts wants to focus on water quality while continuing to fight climate change, and this project achieves both objectives, Katz said.
The project takes place on 115,000 acres, with most of the work focuses on 45,000 acres of the most severely affected area. The area, which includes Cheesman Reservoir, is about 70 miles southwest of Denver.
Work on the project is expected to begin next year and be completed by 2012.
The 2002 Hayman Fire burned hundreds of homes, destroyed trees and other plants, harmed wildlife habitat and damaged recreation facilities. The fire continues to affect the water supply of more than 75 percent of Colorado residents.
Denver Water, the utility that owns Cheesman Reservoir, has spent about $8 million planting seedlings, building sediment traps, repairing roads, installing bigger drainage pipes and doing other work to protect the watershed.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.
Staff Writer Edward Stoner can be reached at 970-748-2929 or email@example.com.