Print Friendly, PDF & Email

Born from Envision Chaffee County and a desire to protect Chaffee County’s recreation opportunities amidst a growing population, Recreation in Balance (RiB) is seeing significant public support in its infant stages. The program is one of the prongs of the Chaffee Common Ground effort, funded by voter approval of Ballot Issue 1A last November.

Realizing a future of healthy public lands amidst the Chaffee County’s crucible of growth depends on community involvement, say leaders of the effort. The goal: to protect what residents love about Chaffee County. The effort is heavily dependent upon volunteers.

Twin Lakes in October 2018. Photo by Ark Valley Voice

“Many of the deliverables of the RiB group are contingent upon volunteers and local citizens to help implement projects where agency resources and staff time are limited,” said Colorado Mountain Club’s Conservation Director, Julie Mach. “I believe there were over 100 people at the stakeholder meeting in Poncha Springs about a month ago.”

Thus far, public participation has been the catalyst for RiB and its torrid beginning. This fact is not lost on Central Colorado Conservancy (CCC) board president, and RiB Leadership Team member, Cindy Williams.

“I think that’s the most exciting thing about the progress [so far]” Williams said. “Just seeing the involvement from the agencies, local nonprofit groups and all the clubs.”

The RiB leadership team alone consists of 15 individuals representing 12 unique entities; many of which are local clubs and businesses.

RiB is comprised of the leadership team, a task force, and the networks each task force member comes from.

Nathan Flowers elk hunting in September 2018. Photo by Ark Valley Voice.

“The Task Force has 38 people on it, representing 24 ‘groups’.” Said CCC’s Kim Marquis, “This is significant because the “task” of the Task Force members is to bring the progress and work to their constituents and come back with feedback.”

Measuring the exact number of individuals involved through the task force is hard. However, with 24 different groups represented in the task force, it’s easy to conclude that support for RiB filters through the ranks of recreators in Chaffee County.

“Keep in mind that GARNA (Greater Arkansas River Nature Association) is a sponsor. They have 300-plus members,” said Marquis. “Envision Chaffee County has a 1,200-name email list of people that have opted in to receive information and updates on all of our topics, including RiB.”

Currently, 25 individuals are signed up to receive training to use the Recreation Impact Monitoring System Application (RIMS) once it is launched. Marquis estimates the total number of direct contributors at around 70 community members.

Williams pointed out the community’s ability to offer legitimate, noteworthy solutions. Not only that, but Williams says she loves seeing the government agencies like the Bureau of Land Management and the U.S. Forest Service listening to and employing those solutions.

Tourists along the Arkansas River. Photo by Ark Valley Voice.

“What’s really exciting is seeing the community come with solutions from the ground up, and the agencies engaging them,” Williams said.

The teamwork demonstrated during the beginnings of the RiB program appears to bode well for the future. Mach echoed William’s comments with some of the same observations.

“Land managers have also been involved from the start and it is great to see interagency collaboration during this process,” Mach said.

With growth, contention and conflict imminently loom. For example, consider the Centerville Ranch project. The project is a microcosm of the issue Chaffee County is facing and will face. How do we grow without destroying what residents love, and the very reasons why the Arkansas Valley is seeing such significant growth?

As the county continues to develop and population levels rise, the RiB program embodies the sentiments of Chaffee residents.

“Chaffee County is one of the fastest growing counties in Colorado,” Williams stated in the CCC’s public meeting concerning the Conservation Easement on Centerville Ranch. “We want to make sure we grow smart.”

‘Growing smart’ is critical to the Ark Valley’s future. With RiB already seeing tremendous support and gaining momentum, we are heading in the right direction.