During their Nov. 19 regular meeting, the Chaffee Board of County Commissioners awarded six local grants during the first Common Ground Fund appropriations. The grants, totaling $660,716 follow the allotment percentages set per county voter’s 2018 approval of Ballot Issue 1A, known as Common Ground, which saw the county establishing a 0.25 Percent sales tax increase to fund issues voters consider critical to the county’s quality of life.

A Leaders Team Meeting for the Envision Chaffee County Fire and Healthy Landscape Partnership identified five goals for the county’s new Community Wildfire Protection Plan.

The motion to approve the recommendation was made by Commissioner Keith Baker, seconded by Commissioner Rusty Granzella and passed unanimously.

Once it is fully rolling, Ballot Issue 1A is projected to generate approximately $1 million per calendar/fiscal year. It will fund grants for programs to strengthen forest health and reduce wildfire danger; conserve and support agricultural lands and rural landscapes; and manage the impacts of growth in outdoor recreation.

“There is a difference between approving and appropriating (annual appropriations),” said Commissioner Greg Felt. “I’m the Common Ground liaison. We are investing the funds awarded here, to leverage them with other funding sources. People should know we’re looking at a seven or eight to one match; leveraging what our citizens’ are investing from this sales tax, with what it can gain us.”

The Nov. 19 approval followed the recommendation by the Citizens Advisory Committee, a seven-member board appointed by the BOCC in April to develop the Common Ground standards and grant application process, as well as vet the applicants and arrive at the final recommendation to the BoCC.

“To score higher levels of points, they have to have a record of being able to acquire significant matching funds,” explained Common Ground Citizen Advisory Committee member Patti Arthur. “We think a ratio of seven or eight [times]  one [grant] – that’s funds our grant can attract above the grant level, is the best case scenario.”

Winning programs and projects by category:

Forest Health & Wildfire Resilience

Chaffee County Community Wildfire Protection Plan Project Development — $82,017 to implement the new CWPP, awarded to the Colorado State Forest Service and Envision Chaffee County for technical resources and public outreach to decrease overall risk of wildfire and post-fire after effects.

Clearing dead and diseased trees and underbrush makes an entire community safer. Courtesy photo.

The program translates CWPP Treatment Priority Areas into on-the-ground projects such as fuel breaks, while empowering citizens to mitigate fuels by creating defensible spaces. This three-year program’s total funding is $246,050.

Sustainable Agriculture

Conservation Easement Acquisitions — $945,000 over two years to support three Central Colorado Conservancy easements that preserve large expanses of open land. The land provides irrigated agriculture, critical wildlife habitat and scenic views enjoyed by visitors and locals. The projects total roughly 2,000 acres across three, historic ranch areas: the Centerville, Tri-Lazy W and Arrowpoint ranches located between the Arkansas River and Collegiate Peaks Scenic & Historic Byway (Highway 285) in Chaffee County. The funding will go directly to landowners to purchase easement rights. It’s use requires roughly seven million dollars in matching funding and donations from landowners and other sources for completion.

Centerville Ranch looking west toward the Collegiate Peaks. Photo courtesy of Central Colorado Conservancy.

As undeveloped land, the hills and open grass parks of these private lands contain irrigated pasture and hay meadows, wetlands with springs and seeps, and habitat for species of concern, including a regionally important migration corridor for elk and mule deer.

All three ranches are ranked among the highest priority in the Collegiate Peaks Scenic & Historic Byway Conservation Plan.

Community Conservation Connection — this new program designed by an Envision Chaffee County task force to help keep working lands working in Chaffee County was approved to receive $75,000. The conservation offer would help agricultural operators with 160 acres or more who agree to limit non-agricultural development and continue basic management practices such as irrigation, this program compensates participating landowners on a per-acre basis for views, water, wildlife habitat and other values conserved by five-year, legally binding agreements.

Managed by Central Colorado Conservancy in partnership with Chaffee County, this five-year pilot program’s total funding is $500,000.

Recreation Impact Management

Enhanced Fourmile Recreational Visitor Education Materials and Media — $26,899 to the Greater Arkansas River Nature Association (GARNA) for revised maps, brochures and kiosks to enhance safety, reduce user conflicts and the risk of human-caused wildfire, and to minimize impacts on the natural landscape, wildlife and cattle grazing permits. The project includes signage for new trails and campsites, converting the focus of existing promotional materials to include responsible recreation education.

Dispersed Camping Containment Crews — $80,000 was awarded to the Southwest Conservation Corps for 12 weeks of work on dispersed campsite containment in the Fourmile Recreation Area, Browns Creek and Raspberry Gulch. These are among other areas defined as high-priority by the Salida Ranger District and Envision Recreation in Balance’s RIMS (Recreation Impact Monitoring System) smartphone data collection.

Work includes thinned high-density areas of lodge pole pine, constructed containment fencing around dispersed campsites, and closed-off areas to allow for re-vegetation.

Arkansas Hills/Methodist Mountain Portable Toilets — Salida Mountain Trails was awarded $3,600 to to add and service three portable toilets for two years to manage increased recreation use. The trails advocacy group will request use data from the vendor and potentially seek funding from the Bureau of Land Management to install permanent vault toilets in the future.

Chaffee Common Ground applications are subject to grant criteria that ties awards to values outlined in the ballot initiative. All recipients will receive grant letters we’ll produce grant agreement letters that include the requirements they must meet to get the funding.

The criteria was developed by the Citizens Advisory Committee and three Subject Matter Expert Boards. Applications are scored using a rubric similar to others around the state, such as Great Outdoors Colorado.

In addition to the awards for calendar year 2019, the BoCC also indicated the intention for Common ground funds to provide future support of $1,140,834 through 2024 for multi-year and future-year grant requests.

“Some of these projects, where our awards will attract matching funds, will take a while to submit and close,” said Common Ground Citizens Advisory Committee member Michael Hannigan. “The awards attract matching funds, and we’ve created a plan to never exceed any of the percentage limits on each of the areas. But it’s important that folks know that some of these are multi-year commitments, and aren’t out of this year’s funds.”

“This has been truly a journey,” said Felt. “It started late in 2016 with Envision, the county’s action plan, the ballot measure, the committee … it’s been hard work, but people really dug in and set us off with a really firm foundation of how to make the decisions, and to get this far.”

The next Common Ground grant cycle will open in the spring. For more information visit chaffeecommonground.org.