Friends of the Lower Blue River welcomes new director | SummitDaily.com

Friends of the Lower Blue River welcomes new director

A volunteer group with a modest annual budget, Friends of the Lower Blue River recently brought in a new executive director who aims to expand the nonprofit's reach, its fundraising capabilities and events calendar as she continues to chase some of its most important on-going initiatives.

Megan Vassar said she is especially interested in the Friends' efforts to help create more safe wildlife crossings over the High Country's busiest roads.

Admitting it's a tall order, another big initiative Vassar mentioned is lobbying for funding for the construction of a new cellphone tower to improve service in the Blue River Valley.

"It's a dead area down there," she said of the cellphone service, adding that the biggest problem to getting it fixed: "It's really, really challenging to get the funding we need for the breadth of the project that it entails."

The Blue River rises up in southern Summit County, flowing past Breckenridge and into Dillon Reservoir. From the reservoir, the river goes north into Silverthorne and runs along Colorado 9, through the Blue River Valley, until it joins the Colorado River near Kremmling.

Many of the nonprofit group's members are environmentally conscious individuals who own property in Summit or Grand County, and their mission can be broken down into a number of overarching, often overlapping, arenas, including educational outreach, environmental and historic preservation, public safety and more.

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Safety and preservation

Securing additional wildlife crossings pertains to public safety and to preservation. Vassar, who's lived in Summit County for five years now, first at Keystone and now in Frisco, has come to know the stretch of Colorado 9 running from Silverthorne to Kremmling as a treacherous one.

She's not alone in her assessment. In fact, more than 3,000 wrecks involve wildlife in Colorado every year, according to the Colorado Department of Transportation. Colorado 9 in the Blue River Valley, an 11-mile stretch of two-lane highway that cuts through the heart of prime elk and deer habitat, is one of the most notorious thoroughfares for such collisions. In the last decade alone, more than 650 wrecks involving wildlife have been recorded on that one stretch of highway with 16 fatalities.

However, the wildlife crossings that started going up there in 2015 and have since been completed — two overpasses, five underpasses and more than 20 miles of fencing guiding animals to the safe passages — have reduced the number of collisions in the Blue River Valley beyond even the most lofty expectations, up to 90 percent, according to the transportation department.

"We've seen a lot of positive results from the highway crossing implemented over the last year," Vassar said, explaining that creating more safe wildlife crossing is just one issue the Friends organization is trying to address. "Elk have been using (the crossings), moose have been using them, and it's proven. It's getting out there in the community, and that's really cool to see that."

Other efforts

The Friends group also works to mitigate fire concerns, both by taking preventative measures to stop fires before they flare up and by preparing plans in the event of a major blaze in the valley.

"We are here to help by all means," Vassar said. "A lot of this stuff is preventative and educational."

Another goal, according to Vassar, involves Slate Creek Hall being solidified as a community, historical and educational landmark. "There is a lot of potential to showcase this property for our community to experience," she said of the historic white Lower Blue River Valley building off Colorado 9, about a quarter mile south of Ute Pass Road.

And Vassar would also like to see more educational components, including regular reoccurring events, put on by Friends of the Lower Blue River. Vassar sees things the Dillon Ranger District is doing, events like the district's Ski with a Ranger series, and thinks Friends of the Lower Blue River could pursue similar outreach efforts.

"We have a lot of board members and neighborhood families and people that have been in the Lower Blue that have a lot of history and passion for where they live," Vassar said. "I'd love to partner with some of them to see if we can't do something like history hikes, or something like that, and get that consistently on the calendar, to invite people to come see what it's like out here."

The director

Growing up in a suburb of Chicago — Barrington, Illinois, which is well-known for it outdoors opportunities — Vassar moved to Colorado with intentions of developing her marketing career.

She started working for Vail Corporation as a Pilates instructor and spa concierge. After that, she got a foot in the door with the Keystone marketing team and worked there as a hospitality marketing coordinator for three years.

Vassar resigned from that position a few months ago to begin working for herself in freelance marketing and to become the fifth executive director behind Marty Richardson of the Friends group that was first formed in 1999.

The nonprofit is supported by membership dues and governed by a 16-member board of directors.

Also, Friends of the Lower Blue River is having its Highway Cleanup Day from 9-11 a.m. June 3 at Colorado 9 and Ute Park Road. Additionally, the group's biggest fundraiser of the year is coming up at the end of July.

For more on the group, visit their website at FOLBR.org or find them on Facebook.

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