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The Chaffee County Outdoor Recreation Management Plan was adopted by the Chaffee County Planning Commission on June 29. Recent opinion pieces have raised concerns about the plan. Unfortunately, this is the result of a deliberate misinformation campaign driven by special interest groups. In reality, this plan was developed through diverse stakeholder input to provide public land managers with creative strategies for addressing the growing environmental and social impacts of outdoor recreation, while also providing clear support for implementation. This is exactly what the land management agencies need.

The plan was developed over 29 months through the work of the Chaffee Recreation Council. The Council was convened by Chaffee County and includes representatives from all three municipalities and the county, state, and federal land management agencies, Colorado Parks and Wildlife, and a broad spectrum of stakeholders. Diverse user groups and agency staff are further engaged through the Chaffee Recreation Taskforce, which is open to all community members. Hundreds of comments collected during a month-long feedback opportunity reflect strong support for the recreation plan. The Chaffee Recreation Council considered all feedback and revised the plan in response.

The plan supports continued multi-use. It is not restrictive or prescriptive. It proposes no new fees and closes no existing legal access to public lands. It is not an end-run by “an unelected third party” and does not intend to replace or sidestep federal processes like the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) and the USFS Motorized Travel Management Plan.

Rather, it allows the county to better align with, participate in, and support, public land management. The plan follows best-practice recommendations as outlined in the National Association of Counties (NACo)-USDA Forest Service Guidebook for Working Together, which encourages local plans to provide meaningful engagement between diverse interests and achieve shared objectives.

The plan’s wildlife map was developed with agency direction and is a data-driven tool for balancing wildlife needs with recreation. One proposal is voluntary wildlife restrictions — an opportunity for the public to defer to the needs of wildlife at certain times of the year and in sensitive areas.

The map does not mean there is no support for new trails, nor that they must be located near our population centers. Specifically, the plan discourages new recreation development in the county’s remaining high-quality undisturbed habitat. This is a recommendation to be proactive to protect wildlife, whose populations are declining in part due to growing human presence tied to outdoor recreation activities encroaching into critical habitat.

The plan also supports some expansion of designated dispersed camping areas. It encourages sustainable user behaviors and rule enforcement and proposes supports for ranchers who struggle with the costly impacts of recreation growth on their operations. New programs involve more agency field staff and volunteers to monitor and clean up the busiest dispersed camping areas.

Our community has proven its ability to raise millions of dollars for the implementation of our visions through programs like Chaffee Common Ground and the Forest Health Council (FHC). For example, FHC partners including the National Forest Foundation are raising more than $8 million to spend on Chaffee County treatment projects designed to reduce wildfire risk and benefit wildlife. Strategic, citizen-supported, and collaborative plans like this make funding requests from a community like ours very compelling, improving Chaffee County’s ability to leverage our tax revenues most fully.

The recreation management plan aims to raise $20 million in five years to fund infrastructure while helping land managers maintain the county’s recreation assets. This means planning for new restrooms, parking capacity, trail maintenance, and signage, along with new developments such as connecting the town of Poncha Springs with Salida’s trail system.

A healthy landscape is critical to local quality of life and livelihoods both now and long into the future. And not just in Chaffee County. Work on the recreation plan is serving as a statewide model for other communities facing similar recreation growth challenges. In fact, Colorado Parks and Wildlife just awarded our community a $95,000 Regional Partnerships grant to begin implementation elements of the plan. I look forward to working with all user groups, individuals with diverse interests, and agency staff in a spirit of collaboration to implement the plan’s strategies for the long-term benefit of our environment and economy.

Greg Felt

Chair Chaffee Board of County Commissioners