Friday, May 01, 2015

Ski Conservation Fund grants $500K for White River National Forest projects

#Summit County, Colorado.

Special to the Daily

Though most people in Summit County on ski vacations have packed up and left for the season, the visitors will leave their mark on the High Country landscape for years to come thanks to small donations that benefit forest stewardship.
In late March and early April, the National Forest Foundation (NFF) awarded roughly $500,000 in grants to 11 nonprofits working in partnership with the Forest Service on the White River National Forest to restore wildlife habitat, improve watersheds, enhance recreation opportunities and engage community members in forestry efforts.
The money was raised through the Ski Conservation Fund, an ongoing partnership among Vail Resorts, Copper Mountain Resort, Arapahoe Basin Ski Area, the U.S. Forest Service and the NFF.
The fund works like this: Patrons of Copper, A-Basin and Vail Resorts’ four Colorado mountain resorts can choose to donate $1 or $2 when purchasing ski passes or staying at lodges. Then the NFF matches those funds (50 cents to the dollar) and invests them in White River National Forest stewardship grants.
Grant recipients leverage the investment further by bringing more matching resources, such as volunteers and additional grant funding.
“We’re pretty lucky in Summit that all four ski areas participate in the program,” said Bill Jackson, Dillon Ranger District district ranger, “so with those funds we’re able to put them right back on the ground here on the district and across the forest.”
Without the funding that local forest-focused nonprofits have come to depend on, the Dillon Ranger District wouldn’t be able to accomplish some projects or finish them as quickly, he said.
The National Forest Foundation was created by Congress in 1991 to be the official nonprofit partner of the U.S. Forest Service and to help conserve, restore and enhance the country’s 193-million-acre National Forest System.
Established in Colorado in 2007, the Ski Conservation Fund has invested more than $4 million on the White River National Forest and supported 20 community-based partner organizations that have completed more than 70 stewardship projects.
The fund’s only costs to the ski areas are in transferring donations to the NFF, and they benefit from the forest stewardship work as do their clients, said Marcus Selig, the NFF director for the Southern Rockies region.
Without the White River National Forest, he said, “Summit County would not be the destination it is. It’s a completely forest-dependent community.”
This year, the Ski Conservation Fund’s largest grant was awarded to Friends of the Dillon Ranger District, the nonprofit partner of Summit County’s Dillon Ranger District.
Director Mike Connolly said the $85,000 grant amounts to 35 percent of the nonprofit’s $250,000 budget for the year, and the money will be used for trail projects, restoration work on the Swan River and youth programs with local organizations such as Keystone Science School and SOS Outreach.
The second largest grant went to the Rocky Mountain Youth Corps, which brings young people to work in Summit’s forests every summer. Colorado Fourteeners Initiative, which promotes conservation around Quandary Peak, Grays and Torreys, and the state’s other 14ers, received $58,000, and the Blue River Watershed Group, which is completing restoration on the Tenmile Creek next to Copper, received $40,000.
Other organizations that received grants from the fund this year include Eagle River Watershed Council, Roaring Fork Outdoor Volunteers, The Student Conservation Association, Vail Valley Mountain Bike Association, Volunteers for Outdoor Colorado, Walking Mountains Science Center and Wildlands Restoration Volunteers.
In 2014, the success of the Ski Conservation Fund spurred the NFF to launch a new guest contribution program called the Summit Fund.
That fund expands the concept of the Ski Conservation Fund to all businesses in Summit County, and the money is used only for projects in Summit instead of the entire White River National Forest.
Breckenridge Grand Vacations and Beaver Run Resort and Conference Center have been contributing to the new fund, and Selig is actively recruiting more businesses.
For the next few years at least, the fund will go toward the Swan River restoration project undertaken by the Forest Service and local government and nonprofit partners. Summit County government recently estimated the multi-year project would costs roughly $2 million.
The Swan River project will benefit from another $100,000 from the Ski Conservation Fund this year, and Jackson said the Summit Fund now produces about $25,000 a year.
“The more that pot grows, the more projects we can get done in the Swan River,” he said.
To learn more about the Summit Fund and business participation, contact Marcus Selig or 720-437-0290. For more information about the National Forest Foundation, visit .
Courtesy of the Summit Daily News.