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Projects topping the Chaffee Common Ground awards list this year are no surprise to those residents who have been tracking the dual challenges of wildfire danger and the explosive growth of recreators in the Arkansas River Valley. The programs approved for funding include forest fuel reduction, ‘virtual’ livestock fencing, campground and trail restoration projects, and portable toilets to support recreation growth.

The list of recommendations by the Citizen Advisory Committee was reviewed in the Chaffee Board of County Commissioners (BoCC) Monday, May 9 work session and approved during their May 10 regular meeting. The BoCC has awarded $890,005 in grant awards to 14 recipients during the Spring 2022 Chaffee Common Ground funding cycle.

In total, nineteen applications were received, requesting a total of $1,167,837.

The grant funding package includes:

  • $519,205 for forest health and wildfire resilience
  • $208,100 to sustain rural landscapes
  • $162,700 for recreation management that protects watersheds and landscapes in Chaffee County.
  • Matching cash and in-kind funds total $1,787,370.

This year marks the fourth funding cycle since the voter-approved ballot measure generating Common Ground revenues passed in 2018. To date, $5.9 million has been awarded to 28 local groups and partnerships for 50 programs and projects. Matching investments for these grants will bring $24.7 million in value to the community by 2026.

Programs and projects by category:

A. Forest Health & Wildfire Resilience

Mesa Antero Fuels Reduction

An award of $202,205 over two years to the Colorado State Forest Service will create a five-mile-long fuel break along roads in the Mesa Antero subdivision, to improve firefighter access and resident evacuation in the event of a wildfire and help protect 210 homes. The project connects to two existing fuel breaks to the south. The landscape is identified as a Treatment Priority Area in the Chaffee County Community Wildfire Protection Plan.

A view of the 2019 Decker Fire, looking south on Grant, just off U.S. 50 in Salida. Photo by Jenny Wright.

Wildland/Mitigation Coordinator

$180,000 is awarded to Chaffee County Fire Protection District to create a full-time staff position for three years to manage wildfire mitigation programs. The fire department is required to provide proof of a sustainable funding source to receive recommended funds in the third year (2024).

Forestry and Prescribed Fire Module

The Colorado Firecamp will receive $95,000 for personal protective equipment and a utility terrain vehicle (UTV) outfitted with a water tank and pump. The equipment will be used for Firecamp’s field exercises that include slash pile and agricultural ditch burning, forest thinning, and additional forest mitigation work.

Low-Tech Process-Based Restoration Assessment for Forest & Watershed Health

$42,000 has been awarded to the National Forest Foundation for a pilot project to create manmade beaver dams that commonly result in beaver recolonization. Restoration can help restore wetlands and reduce post-wildfire sediment transport resulting from flooding.

B. Sustainable Agriculture

Cattle drive along the Ute Trail. Spring to fall, cattle are often moved to higher pasture on U.S. Forest Service grazing permits.. photo credit-S. Hobbs

Upper Arkansas Virtual Fencing

$123,750 was awarded to Central Colorado Conservancy to partner with the U.S. Forest Service to analyze the use of virtual fencing for livestock operations. The funding pays for radio towers, tower trailers, and radio collars that could eliminate the need for traditional fencing and help agricultural operators more efficiently manage livestock on private and public lands.

During discussion, BoCC Chair Greg Felt pointed out “We have a lot of dynamic tensions with recreation around agricultural gates, and fences —  people just not educated. They don’t see a cow, so they let the gate down. A good person would put the gate back up, but they don’t. This virtual fencing could be a game-changer.”

M&S Quarry Water Point

The TN Bar Cattle Company was awarded $57,350 to move water away from the quarry site, a popular recreation destination, to ensure that grazing livestock and wildlife can continue to drink from the only source in the area. Funds pay for a well, pump, and associated infrastructure. Water will remain in the quarry for visitor use.

Missouri Park Ditch Bank Vegetation Management

Ditch maintenance is critically important to keep irrigation ditches functional. Photo courtesy of Central Colorado Conservancy.

A $20,000 award was granted to the Missouri Park Ditch Company to pay for a Southwest Conservation Corps crew to cut and pile willows along a portion of the ditch to increase water delivery. The slash will be burned in a separate project. Ditch water from the South Arkansas River irrigates about 2,000 acres of agricultural lands north and northwest of Poncha Springs.

Soil Health and Grazing Speaker Series

$5,000 mini-grant to Upper Arkansas Conservation District to support education about grazing management techniques, drought resilience and profit management for local agricultural producers.

Berry Patch

A $2,000 mini-grant was awarded for Colorado Farm to Table to purchase a cooler to store fresh berries for The Berry Patch Project, an educational farming experience on the Shine Farm. The organization is required to raise equal matching funds to receive the grant.

C. Recreation Management

Monarch Park Improvements

The National Forest Foundation was granted $60,000 to to assist in the renovation of the U.S. Forest Service Monarch Park Campground, a project that was selected for Great American Outdoors Act funding. Local funding mitigates the impact of recreation on nearby streams and riparian areas, by reducing user-created social trails, grading eroded areas, and revegetating old campsites. Campground renovation is prioritized in the Chaffee County Outdoor Recreation Management Plan.

Porta-Potties on Public Lands

The Greater Arkansas River Nature Association (GARNA) was awarded $48,000 over the course of three years to place 22 portable toilets at 11 popular areas on public lands, to support recreation management as outdoor use grows.

Whipple Trail Restoration

The town of Buena Vista Recreation Department received a grant of $44,700 to address the impacts of overuse on the Whipple Trail. The project is a top priority in the Chaffee County Outdoor Recreation Management Plan. To restore the trail to industry standards, the award will fund improvements to three access points to the river, naturalize numerous social trails, and enhance two existing overlook areas.

Chubb Park Dispersed Camping Cleanup

A $5,000 mini-grant was awarded to the Colorado State Land Board for materials such as wooden posts, metal campfire rings, and an informational kiosk to transition to camping in sites that are designated on the Chubb Park State Land Trust parcel.

Portable Toilets at Salida Trailheads

Salida Mountain Trails received a $5,000 mini-grant for portable toilets at three popular trailheads on CR 108, CR 110, and Spiral Drive.

For those new to this area, Chaffee Common Ground is a conservation funding program addressing landscape challenges for the community. It invests a 0.25 percent sales tax to strengthen forest health and reduce wildfire danger; conserve and support working agriculture and rural landscapes; and manage the impacts of growth in outdoor recreation.

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Featured image: U.S. Forest Service building fire lines for the Grizzly Creek Fire. Courtesy image.