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The Chaffee Common Ground Citizens Advisory Committee released its 2020 Annual Report this week, detailing the nearly $2.85 million invested in Common Ground programs to date.

As presented to the Chaffee County Board of County Commissioners, it laid out the county-wide investment in the resources that Chaffee residents have said is important to protect “what makes Chaffee — Chaffee.”

Commissioner Greg Felt pointed out that the report actually covers, not just the past 12 months, but the past 18 months since the Common Ground grant structure was solidified.

The view from the roof of an F. St. building in downtown Salida as the Decker fire blew up  along the front of Methodist Mountain. Merrell Bergin photo. CPA 2019 Best News Photo of the year.

“The annual report was a commitment we made to the voters – it wasn’t in the documents, but we promised to communicate with the people,” said Commissioner Greg Felt. “When we made that promise, we didn’t do one the first year, because we spent the first half of 2018 creating this [structure] and did our first grant cycle in the fall of 2019. What this represents is a year and a half of actual grant applications and funding and implementation. It makes it even more impressive.”

The Common Ground grant funding goal over time is divided roughly as: about 25 percent forest health, 25 percent agriculture, with smaller grant percentages for a “Recreation in Balance” effort and a reserve.

“Our administrative costs are five percent or less of the collected funds. We have tried to keep a balance a split between forest health, agriculture, and five percent is directed to managing the impacts of recreation,” added Hum.

For the past fiscal year, the grant funding breakout was as follows:

Forest Health and Fire Resilience: 47.7 percent

Sustainable agriculture:                    52.7 percent

Managing Recreation:                      5.6 percent

A view across the meadows of the Centerville Ranch, the subject of a conservation easement as part of the development agreement. Courtesy photo.

“We’re wanting to keep a balance here. There is going to be a lot of activity,  for instance supporting sustainable agriculture will stay high,” added Hum. “We’re working on a master plan for the ‘rec in balance’ effort. But that won’t ever be more than 10 percent of the fund allocation.”

The Common ground effort is remarkable for several reasons. First, in two short years,  a county fund has been established to protect forests, waters, and working lands from our dual threats of severe wildfire, and the impacts from growing population and tourism. Results are already becoming apparent.

Second, these results have been accomplished through citizens, non-profits, agencies, and local governments working together in innovative and strategic ways.  Not every county or region could do this. But Chaffee County has.

Third, the funds supplied by the Common Ground taxing authority are considered a pump primer: allocating these funds is opening the opportunities for matching grants many times the size of the original funds. Some key outtakes from the Common Ground report:

The Methodist Front project

Photo courtesy of Chaffee County Recreation in Balance.

Building on Common Ground seed funds, project partners raised $2.3 million in 2020 to begin a project that will ultimately treat more than 8,000 acres over the course of two years. This is considered a top county priority for wildfire prevention and protection, with high community benefit.

While the Envision Forest Health Council was formed to deliver treatments to enhance forest health and decrease the risk of severe wildfire, this project funds the collaboration with the U.S. Forest Service, Colorado State Forest Service, Colorado Parks, and Wildlife, Bureau of Land Management, electric power providers, water interests, local fire departments, officials from three local governments, private landowners and our state government.

Recreation Management

The 21-member Chaffee Recreation Council is working with community members from 30 groups to deliver a science-based recreation management plan by next year. Given the public sentiment that our beautiful Arkansas River Valley is being overused, the council’s community goal is to maintain our exceptional outdoor experiences while protecting natural resources and the benefits of our recreation-driven economy.

Conservation Easements

The Common Ground Fund has at its heart collaborative arrangements. Over the past year, collaboration  is also the cornerstone of three conservation easements, funded by over $100,000 in local donations, Common Ground, and state entities. The easements will permanently preserve more than 2,000 acres of some of the valley’s key agricultural lands and views.

The message to the Chaffee Community from the Chaffee Common Ground Citizens Advisory Committee is a clear message of gratitude.  “Thank you all for taking action to protect and enhance the forests, waters, wildlife, and working lands that make Chaffee County such a special place to live and to visit,” said Chair Cindy Williams.

The full report, detailing the nearly $2.85 million invested through the Chaffee Common Ground program to date, can be viewed on the Common Ground website.