Chaffee Planning Fee Approves Outside Recreation Administration Plan – by Jan Wondra

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In an overwhelming vote that included several outcomes and some conditions, the Chaffee County Planning Commissioners approved the county’s draft Outdoor Recreation Management Plan during their Tuesdays. June 29th regular meeting. The plan is now being recommended to the local council for review and final approval.

The proposed management plan has received significant public comments, both for and against the plan, since the draft was presented. “Some of the concerns may stem from an incomplete understanding of what it is trying to achieve and having the authority to achieve,” said Anderson Horne, chairman of the planning committee.

The plan is the result of 29 months of meetings, contributions, drafts, adjustments; a joint effort by federal and state agencies, organizations, and individuals working with the Chaffee Recreation Council. Efforts go back to the creation of the Chaffee County Envision. More than 70 groups were represented at the meeting, which often nearly 100 people were present.

Colorado bighorn sheep. Image courtesy Colorado Parks and Wildlife

“Our landscape and our fauna are fundamental to our quality of life. We have seen tremendous changes in the past few months, ”said Greg Felt, chairman of the Chaffee Board of County Commissioner. “This is an opportunity for joint management – it is embraced by the land authorities, our local area and civic groups, and the governor’s recent executive order.”

“It’s also a representation of our community values ​​- thinking outside the box, working across disciplines like a data-driven approach,” added Felt, who represented the BoCC’s role on the Recreation Council. “This is a living plan … its plan, do, adapt, repeat …”

He pointed out that the landscape of this plan, which is regulatory, personal, and human, and includes ideas from across the spectrum, is not new to this county. “This is how we set up the Arkansas Headwaters Recreation Program and the Volunteer Flow Program 30 years ago,” added later: “This is not off the shelf, it is ready to use immediately – the timeframe is short.”

ATV drivers. Photo by Elievan Junior for Unsplash.

The overriding goal – the reason for the drafting of the outdoor leisure plan is as follows: “Our forest, our waters and our wildlife are healthy and in balance with outdoor leisure.”

The working sessions came back with around 120 ideas, and they prioritized 30 goals that were brought back to the community. Strategic action planning teams then held dozens of meetings on the action plans. The draft came together in May 2021, then it was offered to parishes for parish comment, along with a website that around 3,000 people viewed. Hundreds of comments were logged.

Needless to say, these comments can be found everywhere from people who support wildlife to those who want to protect their personal experiences in the great outdoors (which some believe is behind the 65 percent decline in wildlife activity in the County) a reality that apparently point to the need for a good balance between these experiences and wildlife.

“This is a document and plan that CPW is really excited about,” said Jamin Griggs, senior wildlife manager, Colorado Parks and Wildlife. “We’re even more excited about the process behind it. For so long we have talked with our colleagues about how we can proactively work on these topics on a landscape scale … .. it used to be project-related. It’s scenic and cross-jurisdictional … it’s a cool thing. “

“We know we are seeing a tremendous influx of people into Colorado and onto public land,” he added. “The cost of doing nothing will be enormous … we have to plan.”

“If anyone has any concerns about this, go back 12 to 15 years of historical records. This confirms what we have heard from groups, long-time staff and newcomers, a bit of truth that comes out of all of this, ”said Commissioner Keith Baker. “This reflects the round table … a focus on clean air, clean water, land in agricultural production. We did this through the Browns Resource Mgmt Plan and have received further confirmations since then. “

Colorado Parks and Wildlife has created habitat maps of 40 different species in Chaffee County that can be used to identify sensitive habitats in the county. Last year the BLM published a state wild animal list for the purpose of impact planning. Its leaders know that recreational activities displace wildlife; amplify the behavior changes and amplify the effects on summer range.

Public comment on the plan has been primarily positive, with representatives from both ends of the county reiterating the need to act quickly. Others suggested that this plan should work in conjunction with and overlap other plans, such as the county’s multimodal transport plan.

Chad Hixon said he was concerned that there might be backlash to the motorized community and the creation of some sort of bureaucracy. He encouraged the PC to consider maintaining a multi-user experience.

Others pointed to worrying growth even during the pandemic: Alan Robinson presented some alarming figures: 26 percent more urban road traffic, an increasing number of overnight campers, and ATVs using 86 percent in just one year. The number of overnight campers in the Four Mile area has tripled in just a decade.

Chuck Cichowitz, with 38 years of leadership experience in the backcountry field here and in Gunnison and Leadville, said he has seen phenomenal changes in the backcountry in the Browns Creek area. “The plan is characterized by two things – there is already tremendous community support. And secondly, as a result of our survey work, the value of ecological sustainability – we are motivated to preserve it for the next generation. “

The county is one month into another season of massive visits. Chaffee Recreational Council members in attendance urged the planning committee not to hesitate, noting that this was already having ramifications for the county’s wildlife and recreational experiences. They described the plan as “a one-time funding opportunity” and indicated that it was time to take advantage of this plan and our joint funding.