Middle Park Conservation District outlines focus for 2022

The organization asked for a continued contribution of $10,000 from Summit County to fund its work

The Blue River Horse Center is pictured April 9 at the 80-acre former Hillyard Ranch property 15 minutes north of Silverthorne. The center is one of the many partners of the Middle Park Conservation District.
Joel Wexler/For the Summit Daily News

At the same time as the Great Depression was a severe and long-lasting drought in the Dust Bowl region of the Great Plains that launched the formation of conservation districts in the 1930s. Today, Summit County’s Middle Park Conservation District is still working to combat ecological disasters, protect natural resources and promote the wise use of land, soil, water and air.

During a Summit Board of County Commissioners’ work session meeting Tuesday, Oct. 26, district Executive Director Kaitlin Miller gave an update about the organization’s work in the past year followed by what it plans to focus on in the year ahead.

The Middle Park Conservation District encompasses Summit and Grand counties, and Miller explained that it largely focuses on helping private landowners conserve their properties. In the past year, Miller said the organization has partnered with various local and state entities in recovery efforts after the East Troublesome Fire in Grand County.

In addition, Miller said the district began partnering with Friends of the Lower Blue River to work on a climate resiliency and soil health initiative. Miller explained that a consultant will be hired to do some groundwork and studies on different ranch properties in the lower Blue River Valley to determine soil health and make recommendations for how to improve, especially as it relates to carbon sequestration, the process captures carbon dioxide from the atmosphere in an effort to reverse the impacts of climate change. One way to help this process along is by improving the soil structure and reducing erosion, Miller said.

John Longhill, who sits on the organization’s board of supervisors and represents Silverthorne, explained what’s causing the most soil erosion in Summit County.

“The disturbance in soil in Summit County is primarily from development: parking lots, roadways, housing — all of that,” Longhill said. “That’s where the soil gets (destroyed) and not restored.”

Longhill noted that for many development projects, the topsoil is discarded and thrown away. He called this practice a crime.

“I wish there was something, (like) an ordinance or something, about preserving topsoil that’s excavated from wetland areas because it’s not useful for any type of structural fill or anything like that,” Longhill said. “… This is topsoil that’s taken tens of thousands of years to form, and to see it just get thrown away is really a crime.”

Longhill advocated to the board and asked if there was anything they could do in the future to stop this practice and preserve the resource.

As the organization looks ahead to the next year, Miller said her team will rely on a community-needs survey completed this year to help them determine their focus. From that survey, Miller said they identified why some ranchers are not currently doing any kind of conservation work.

“When we look at what are some of the most common reasons why people aren’t doing conservation, it’s that they don’t know what to do. They don’t know who to ask. They don’t have the skills or the equipment. They don’t have the time, and conservation practices are too expensive,” Miller said about the responses.

From the survey, respondents also listed some areas of highest interest, including wildfire prevention and mitigation, forest health, water conservation and drought. To cater to these interests, Miller said her team will continue working with Friends of the Lower Blue River, and she proposed developing some kind of plan for the county to combat drought impacts.

To wrap up her presentation, Miller requested the county continue to give $10,000 to the Middle Park Conservation District.

Both Summit County Commissioners Josh Blanchard and Tamara Pogue said they were supportive of the work the group was doing. Summit County Commissioner Elisabeth Lawrence was not in attendance for this portion of the meeting.

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