A Summit County trailblazer passes the torch
Odds are if you’ve been hiking on a trail in Summit County, the Friends of the Dillon Ranger District had something to do with it.
The Dillon Ranger District covers roughly the same land area as Summit County, and the friends help maintain and restore the trails and habitat throughout.
“If you stretched it from end to end, the amount of trails we maintain would go from the western border of Colorado to the eastern border,” said FDRD’s executive director, Jessica Evett.
Evett and her family are moving out of state, but the executive director wants to make sure the nonprofit’s legacy lasts.
“FDRD is an amazing, successful program,” she said. “It really is one of the most exciting local place-based stewardship groups out there.”
The friends organization serves as a liaison between volunteers and the U.S. Forest Service to complete more than 60 projects annually improving trails, planting trees, pulling invasive weeds and educating forest visitors on federal forest land.
The nonprofit was incorporated in 2005, and employs two full-time staff members and four seasonal employees.
It also gets a lot of outside help. From late May to early October every year, the organization leverages about 8,000 volunteer hours.
“Summit County is a fantastic community,” Evett said. “I think the reason FDRD is so successful is because that community spirit really comes out in our volunteer community.”
Sarah Slayton is the friends program manager and the organization’s other full-time staff member. Anyone who is hoping to fill Evett’s shoes, she said, should be not only a great manager and fund-raiser, but also a great people person.
“We are really a relationship-based organization,” Slayton said. “Without our volunteers we could raise all the money in the world, but if we don’t have the ability to connect with them, then money is useless.”
When Evett looks back on her three years with the Friends of Dillon Ranger District, she said she is constantly surprised by the energy and enthusiasm of the volunteers and how much they are willing to give. She is also proud to have helped expand the organization’s work with children.
“Youth under the age of 18 are really starting to become a bigger part of the organization because we want to be as family-friendly and inclusive as we can,” Evett said.
The organization also has expanded to include new partners in the community, and has taken on more projects.
“It has been cool to diversify a little bit,” Slayton said. “Jessica has pushed us in a few different directions besides the same projects we do every year — which are always fun. But volunteers can only haul so many rocks before they won’t want to come back.”
Funding has increased under Evett’s leadership, and operations have stayed within budget despite the expansion of programs.
“Jess has done an excellent job working the board, staff, volunteers and partners,” said Kari Kronberg, FDRD’s board president.
“The board is grateful to Jess for leaving FDRD in a strong position with a long-range vision for our future,” she said.
When Evett joined the group, she said it already offered fantastic programs, but it also operated like many young nonprofits: Staff members worked hard and with enthusiasm, but lacked organization.
“I wanted to make sure we could sustain growth by getting systems in place,” Evett said. “We are really in a good spot.”
Slayton is also proud the friends nonprofit operates smoothly and consistently.
“I feel like as an organization as whole we’ve become a lot more solid figuring out the little nitty-gritty details that are important,” she said.
Evett said she will stay onboard with the organization as they hire and train a new executive director.
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