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The numbers speak to the need: Chaffee County’s population grew 5.6 percent from 2015 to 2017. The price of a single-family home increased 65 percent from 2011 to 2017 while median household income increased only 13 percent.

Roughly 30 percent of Chaffee County’s agricultural land has been lost since 1982, and roughly 110,000 hikers summited local 14ers in 2017. Meanwhile, the health of local forests has been diagnosed as critical.

With Envision’s Community Action Plan just completed, Chaffee County Commissioner Greg Felt remains impressed with people’s eagerness to participate in the process, which has advanced a total of 40 programs and projects to guide Chaffee County into the future.

The projects range from establishing the Chaffee County Community Foundation – a wide-reaching measure to support nonprofits – to smaller but significant projects such as Chaffee Green, which aims to reduce or eliminate the use of plastic bags.

Felt said the group’s original nine organizers were right: “There really is a common ground on which to build our future, regardless of political affiliations or north-south county affiliation.

“People who have chosen to move here or have chosen to stay in Chaffee County generally have a vision that is guiding them,” he said. When it comes to improving and protecting quality of life and natural resources, “they have perseverance and are willing to make the sacrifices of time and energy.”

One of the keys to Envision’s success so far, he said, is its inclusive, countywide scope, including public and private lands, state and federal agencies, the county and its municipalities. All county residents were invited to participate, and the turnout included fifth-generation ranchers, students, retirees and new residents.

Envision officially launched with a unanimous vote of support by the Chaffee County Board of Commissioners. Felt said Envision gained its strength through citizen participation – in this case a series of six public meetings attended by 300 people over five months, a community survey completed by 1,203 residents, and interviews with 95 citizens, service organizations and town councils. All told, it has involved 1,500 citizens, four local governments and 72 nonprofit groups, businesses and agencies.

“This truly was a grassroots effort,” Felt said, comparing it to top-down approaches by officials that leave people skeptical and hesitant to become involved.

Envision developed action teams that identified the 40 projects and laid the groundwork for the Community Action Plan, which contains four visions for long-term strategies:

Our forests, waters and wildlife are healthy and in balance with outdoor recreation. With fire risk and forest health as a major concern among the public and agency officials, the Fire and Healthy Forests Partnership is an effort to reduce fire danger and to increase collaboration between citizens and local, state and regional organizations to improve forest health and wildlife habitat.

Outdoor recreation continues to be a top priority for locals and the driving reason visitors choose Chaffee County. The Recreation in Balance Task Force aims to develop citizen-driven monitoring and solutions that are supported by the community and inform agency actions. The Balanced Recreation Asset Plan is an expansion of a comprehensive trails plan that includes trails, developed and dispersed campsites, and natural resources such as wildlife habitat, riparian areas and historic ranch land.

“Now THIS is How We Recreate” complements the Asset Plan by creating a campaign to develop an environmental ethic of caring for Chaffee County’s natural assets. The program name connects with the county’s previous slogan, “Chaffee County – Now THIS is Colorado.”

Community members are able to live locally and benefit from a resilient economy. Housing was the top future concern among survey respondents, many of whom expressed concern about the increasing costs of living in Chaffee County and the fact that the majority of new housing in the past 15 years has occurred in low-density, non-municipal areas – generally unsuited for workforce housing.

The Action Team set goals to develop housing that supports socioeconomic diversity, meaning that workers can afford to live here.

The Housing Director Rocketship plan enables the new County housing director to fast-track results with consolidated information and recommendations for a regional housing plan. It also examines what other communities have done to facilitate affordable housing.

Our community remains friendly, engaged and culturally connected. The Chaffee County Community Foundation already has a board and advisory team and is close to hiring an executive director. The foundation will be a connector between nonprofits and funding sources, a means to increase local philanthropy and build community leadership, as well as a way to reduce duplication of services.

It’s also a vehicle for volunteerism. “It will help people find their way to organizations that match their interests,” Felt said.

We have sustainable agriculture, beautiful rural landscapes and development focused in and around towns. Ninety-seven percent of survey respondents said Chaffee County’s rural, working landscapes are an important local asset. Yet, those lands are disappearing as population grows. Similarly, 90 percent of local producers want to keep their agricultural lands in production.

Envision’s Rural Landscapes Action Team has created projects that could be potential game changers in protecting Chaffee County’s agricultural landscapes. The Community Conservation Exchange will develop a conservation lease agreement or payment for an ecosystem services model to preserve critical community assets such as wildlife habitat, open space and aquifer recharge by compensating agricultural landowners for the essential services they provide in maintaining these attributes.

The Working Lands Helping Hands project has several components to help local agricultural producers, including the Conservancy’s ditch-cleaning program, and Legal-Ease, a program to provide pro-bono or discounted legal services to agricultural landowners.

The program also reaches out to the real estate community with Realtors for Rural, providing coursework for Realtors and educational materials for new landowners to help educate new residents about living in a ranching community.

Cindy Williams, who led the Envision effort along with Commissioner Felt, said the Community Action Plan shows how passionate Chaffee County citizens are for their community and environment.

“The level of engagement is phenomenal,” she said, adding that many programs are already attracting the interest of other communities who may want to adopt them.

“The involved citizens and strong leadership here make Chaffee County a great place to invent things,” she said. Many of the issues identified in the plan are, in a word, big. “But we can do it. There’s no end to what we can accomplish when we work together for the good of the county.”

To view the Community Action Plan, visit