Copper Mountain Resort environmental endowment carries on into 10th year | SummitDaily.com

Copper Mountain Resort environmental endowment carries on into 10th year

A community youth education staple turns 10 this year, and plans to continue charging forward.

Founded by Copper Mountain Resort employees in November 2007, the Copper Environmental Fund just wrapped up its 2017 grant cycle to reach a grand total of more than $230,000 in donations over a decade's time. Through average annual gifts of $5,500 to each recipient, the employee-funded, 100 percent resort-matched nonprofit presses on in making a healthy difference for several Summit and Lake County organizations that emphasize programming for strengthening school-aged children's understanding of their natural surroundings.

"That's the real pride we take, the sustainability and environmental impact to youth," said Steve Miller, lodging general manager at Copper Mountain and president of the fund. "Then the younger generation can teach the older generations, things like recycling and how to be stewards of the land, and we're all better off in the end."

This year's beneficiaries include Friends of the Dillon Ranger District, the Keystone Science School, High Country Conservation Center, Cloud City Conservation Center in Leadville, Mountain Top Children's Museum in Breckenridge and Blue River Explorer. Past recipients have also included the Girl Scouts of Colorado, Lake Dillon Preschool and Great Heights Academy.

Starting out as just a grassroots idea among a group of committed resort workers, the fund became a fully recognized nonprofit organization just a couple years later. At a voluntary donation rate of $2 per paycheck — some contributors opt to give more — Copper employees have helped to generate a consistent fund that furnishes between $23,000-$30,000 each year. For some local entities, the financial pledge is the total difference between having a curriculum or not.

"Our program is not possible without the CEF," said Keystone Science School's director of education and program sustainability Dave Miller (no relation). "It wouldn't happen without them and their generous support."

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The science-based supplemental institution uses the Copper funding toward its Education in Action program, teaching the county's eighth graders the ins and outs of area water management. KSS staff collaborates with teachers at Summit Middle School for in-class and in-the-field lessons on how to properly measure snow-water equivalency and, based on expert panel discussions, make decisions concerning water quality and quantity.

Similarly, HC3 has turned several years of funding into two grade-school education programs. The Energy Explorers initiative introduces renewable energy concepts like how energy is used and transferred; and the newer Water Warriors module teaches kids about the hydrological cycle and human impacts on water systems.

"They're both really great programs and help us get in classrooms to talk about various environmental issues in Summit County," said Jessica Burley, HC3's community programs manager. "The donation allows us to target as many grade levels as we do, and provides the hands-on learning, with equipment we're able to purchase, like solar panels and wind turbines, so kids can actually feel and connect with the program so it's the most effective way to reach out to youth."

Friends of the Dillon Ranger District, the nonprofit that supports the local White River National Forest station through volunteer-based summer trail and maintenance projects, is also a repeat award winner. The funds this year will help FDRD to expand into more youth-focused, year-round programming, including a new curriculum on snow science and partnerships with the Snowy Peaks High School, SOS Outreach and other local youth groups.

"We're extremely proud of the generosity of our employees, and our ability to act as facilitators of funds to the right organizations," said Steve Miller. "We're not always able to fully grant everything — we like to help the larger ones, but the satisfaction and mission is also in helping some of the smaller groups. Some of these folks would struggle or not exist if we weren't around, so we 100 percent fund in some cases, and just make sure to take care of the majority where we can and try to spread it out evenly across the requests."

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