Frequent Floor awards $890,005 for forest well being, rural landscapes and recreation administration – by Jan Wondra


Projects topping this year’s Chaffee Common Ground Awards list come as no surprise to residents who have followed the twin challenges of wildfire danger and the explosive growth of recreation seekers in the Arkansas River Valley. Programs approved for funding include forest fuel reduction, “virtual” cattle fences, campground and trail restoration projects, and portable toilets to support recreational growth.

The Citizen Advisory Committee’s list of recommendations was reviewed at the Chaffee Board of County Commissioners (BoCC) working session on Monday, May 9, and approved during their May 10 regular meeting. The BoCC awarded $890,005 in grants to 14 recipients during the Spring 2022 Chaffee Common Ground funding cycle.

A total of 19 entries totaling $1,167,837 were received.

The scholarship package includes:

  • $519,205 for Forest Health and Wildfire Resilience
  • $208,100 to preserve rural landscapes
  • $162,700 for recreation management that protects watersheds and landscapes in Chaffee County.
  • The related cash and in-kind funds total $1,787,370.

This year marks the fourth funding cycle since the voter-approved Common Ground revenue-generating ballot measure passed in 2018. To date, $5.9 million has been awarded to 28 local groups and partnerships for 50 programs and projects. Matched investments for these grants will add $24.7 million in value to the community by 2026.

Programs and projects by category:

A. Forest health and forest fire resilience

Reduction in Mesa Antero fuels

A $202,205 over two-year award to the Colorado State Forest Service will create a five-mile fuel break along roads in the Mesa Antero subdivision to improve access for firefighters and evacuation of local residents in the event of a wildfire and help protect 210 homes. The project connects to two existing focal points in the south. The landscape is a priority treatment area in the Chaffee County Municipality Wildfire Protection Plan.

A view of the 2019 Decker Fire looking south at Grant, just off US 50 in Salida. Photo by Jenny Wright.

Wildland/Denial Coordinator

$180,000 will be awarded to the Chaffee County Fire Protection District to provide a three-year full-time position to administer wildfire response programs. The fire service must demonstrate a sustainable source of funding in Year 3 (2024) to receive recommended funding.

Forestry and Mandatory Fire Module

The Colorado Firecamp will receive $95,000 for personal protective equipment and an all-terrain vehicle (UTV) equipped with a water tank and pump. The equipment will be used for Firecamp’s field exercises, which include burning cleared land and agricultural ditches, forest thinning and additional forest mitigation work.

Process-based, low-tech restoration assessment for forest and watershed health

$42,000 was awarded to the National Forest Foundation for a pilot project to create artificial beaver dams, which often lead to beaver reintroduction. Restoration can help restore wetlands and reduce flood-induced sediment transport after a wildfire.

B. Sustainable agriculture

Almabtrieb on the Uteweg. From spring through fall, cattle are often moved to higher pastures with grazing permits from the US Forest Service. Picture credits-p. hobbs

Virtual Fencing in Upper Arkansas

$123,750 was awarded to the Central Colorado Conservancy to work with the US Forest Service to analyze the use of virtual fences for livestock operations. The funding funds radio towers, tower trailers and radio collars that could eliminate the need for traditional fencing and help farm operators more efficiently manage livestock on private and public lands.

During the discussion, BoCC Chairman Greg Felt pointed out: “We have a lot of dynamic tensions with recreation around agricultural gates and fences – people who just aren’t literate. They don’t see a cow, so they lower the gate. A good man would put the gate back up, but they don’t. This virtual fencing could be a game changer.”

M&S Quarry Water Point

The TN Bar Cattle Company received $57,350 to remove water from the quarry, a popular recreation area, to ensure grazing livestock and wildlife can continue to drink from the only spring in the area. The funds finance a well, a pump and the associated infrastructure. The water remains in the quarry for visitors.

Missouri Park Ditch Bank vegetation management

Ditch maintenance is vital to keep irrigation ditches functional. Photo courtesy of Central Colorado Conservancy.

A $20,000 grant was awarded to the Missouri Park Ditch Company to pay a Southwest Conservation Corps crew to cut and stack willow along part of the ditch to increase water supplies. The slash is burned in a separate project. Ditch water from the South Arkansas River irrigates approximately 2,000 acres of farmland north and northwest of Poncha Springs.

Soil health and grazing speaker series

$5,000 mini-grant to Upper Arkansas Conservation District to support education on grazing techniques, drought resilience and profit management for local agricultural producers.

berry spot

Colorado Farm to Table received a $2,000 mini-grant to purchase a cooler to store fresh berries for The Berry Patch Project, an educational farming experience at The Shine Farm. The organization must raise equal funds to receive the grant.

C. Recovery Management

Improvements in Monarch Park

The National Forest Foundation received $60,000 to help renovate the US Forest Service Monarch Park Campground, a project selected for funding from the Great American Outdoors Act. Local funding will mitigate the recovery’s impact on nearby streams and riparian areas by reducing user-created social pathways, grading eroded areas, and replanting old campgrounds. Campground renovation is a priority in the Chaffee County Outdoor Recreation Management Plan.

Porta-potties on public lands

The Greater Arkansas River Nature Association (GARNA) received $48,000 over three years to place 22 portable toilets in 11 popular locations on public lands to support recreation management as outdoor use increases.

Whipple Trail Restoration

The City of Buena Vista Recreation Department received a $44,700 grant to address the effects of overuse on the Whipple Trail. The project is a top priority in the Chaffee County Outdoor Recreation Management Plan. To bring the trail back to industry standards, the award will include fun improvements to three river access points, the naturalization of numerous social trails, and the improvement of two existing scenic areas.

Chubb Park Scattered Camping Cleanup

A $5,000 mini-grant was awarded to the Colorado State Land Board for materials such as wooden stakes, metal campfire rings and an information kiosk for transition to camping at locations designated on the Chubb Park State Land Trust property.

Portable toilets at Salida Trailheads

Salida Mountain Trails received a $5,000 mini-grant for portable restrooms at three popular trailheads on CR 108, CR 110 and Spiral Drive.

For those new to the area, Chaffee Common Ground is a conservation funding program that addresses landscape challenges for the community. It invests a 0.25 percent sales tax to strengthen forest health and reduce the risk of forest fires. that maintain and support functioning agriculture and rural landscapes; and to manage the impact of growth in outdoor recreation.

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Featured image: The US Forest Service builds fire lines for the Grizzly Creek Fire. With kind approval.