Wednesday, December 03, 2014

Dillon Ranger District’s nonprofit arm boasts mighty army of volunteers

#Summit County, Colorado.

Courtesy Friends of the Dillon Ranger District

Though Summit County is home to hundreds of nonprofits, few can boast volunteers who contribute thousands of hours every summer for environmental stewardship projects.
“We’re probably the largest volunteer-based organization here,” said Mike Connolly, executive director of the Friends of the Dillon Ranger District.
“We can marshal up to 700 people to go out and work on things,” he added, speaking of the number of volunteers who helped FDRD last season.
Created in 2004, the nonprofit supports the local Forest Service agency that manages White River National Forest lands that make up three-quarters of the county.
The organization has leveraged the power of volunteers for the last decade to ensure the national forest lands enjoyed by millions of people each year aren’t negatively impacted by their popularity.
With more than 60 projects last season, FDRD volunteers maintain and improve trails, plant trees, pull invasive weeds and educate forest visitors.
Now the nonprofit is celebrating its 10th anniversary and its continued growth. For the first time, the organization will have three full-time employees through the winter.
“We’ve got a whole new staff in here, but the mission and goals are all the same,” said Doozie Martin, programs manager.
Martin recently replaced Scott Fussell, and Connolly took the reins from former executive director Jessica Evett.
Connolly graduated from the University of Michigan and Dartmouth College and worked as a business executive for more than 25 years, specifically in finance and corporate partnerships.
Not long after he moved to Summit County seven years ago, he started volunteering with the FDRD as a ranger patroller. In 2012, Connolly joined the FDRD board, and he was named treasurer a year later.
Connolly became the primary administrator and grant writer of the FDRD’s small staff in September.
He has also volunteered as a firefighter, Girl Scouts leader and United Way organizer. Locally, he’s a member of the Rotary Club of Summit County and has been active with Mountain Mentors, the Summit and Breckenridge Chambers and Summit County Social Services as a foster parent.
Martin recently moved to Colorado and worked with FDRD over the summer before becoming programs manager.
He grew up in Kansas City and earned a master’s degree at the University of Missouri in parks, recreation and tourism with a focus on natural resource management. While in school, he worked on a forestry crew felling trees and maintaining city trails.
With the FDRD’s $250,000 annual budget this year, its leaders created a third year-round position.
Jasmine Hupcey is now the nonprofit’s office administrator in charge of marketing and outreach.
Born in Colorado, she returned to the state in 2008 after 14 years in New York where she received a BFA in neon and graphic design from Alfred University and started and managed two farmers markets.
Hupcey lives in Leadville and runs the SOS Learn to Ride program there.
FDRD also saw some changes to its board this fall. Its members are now Gail Shears, Daryl Roepke, Marcia Newhart, Suzanne Reed, Beth Rognerud, Linda Tatem and Forest Service representative Ken Waugh.
Martin said he’s thrilled to coordinate projects that strengthen people’s appreciation for nature and help the Forest Service, which employed two people full-time last summer to manage about 400 miles of trails.
With volunteers, he said, “we’re able to do in a day what would take over two weeks for the Forest Service trail people.”
This summer, volunteers cut about a mile of new trail and did maintenance work on 4.5 miles.
Martin’s job also involves managing the ranger patrol program, where volunteers complete a minimum of four four-hour hikes on Summit County trails and talk to those they meet about local history, leash laws, wildflowers, mushrooms and animal tracks.
The volunteers act as the eyes and ears for the Forest Service, reporting anything hazardous or illegal.
This summer, Martin said, ranger patrollers completed 202 hikes, patrolled nearly 1,100 miles of trail and talked to 4,153 trail users.
From the outside, the FDRD seems quiet through the winter months. Its staff members stay busy, however, writing grant applications, securing more funding, strengthening partnerships and doing community outreach.
On Tuesday, Dec. 9, the nonprofit is hosting an event for Colorado Gives Day at The Warming Hut restaurant in Breckenridge, which Connolly’s wife owns and manages. Martin said people can drop in between 5 and 9 p.m. for free food, cheap drinks and to learn more about the organization.
He hopes the event draws new potential members with fresh ideas and encourages those already familiar with the nonprofit to keep the organization in mind through the winter.
Then on Dec. 19, the organization will start its annual Ski With A Ranger program, where skiers and riders at Breckenridge Ski Resort and Copper Mountain Resort join a volunteer ranger for a couple runs to learn more about the area’s natural and cultural history.
Connolly said as executive director he plans to step up fundraising activities, involve the FDRD in larger projects and increase volunteer participation from younger residents who are already on the trails hiking and biking.
Courtesy of the Summit Daily News.