Summit County funlovers’ fund White River National Forest preservation
A gentle breeze wafted through the trees and the evening sun radiated a comfortable heat onto a gathering at the Peaks Trailhead in Frisco on Monday.
The group — made up of individuals from the Dillon Ranger District, ski resorts and nonprofits — came together to celebrate improvements to the White River National Forest made possible by the Ski Conservation Fund.
Vail Resorts, Copper Mountain and Arapahoe Basin Ski Area give park visitors the opportunity to contribute small donations — in $1 and $2 increments — to a fund that helps local forests. This simple concept has turned into a huge source of funding for local nonprofit programs and projects.
“Through their, what I call, micro-donations we are really able to pull together a lot of money,” said Marcus Selig, the director of the National Forest Foundation’s Colorado program.
Since its inception in 2006, the conservation fund has raised more than $3 million and has contributed to more 75 projects through the work of 19 nonprofits.
“Here in Summit County our partnership has allowed us, our guests and all of our partners to fund local nonprofits who do the most critical work here,” said Nicky DeFord, the manager of community connections at Vail Resorts.
The program is vital to maintaining the integrity of the country’s most-used national forest, the local representatives said.
“Our forest is under tremendous pressure,” said Gary Rodgers, president and COO of Copper Mountain. Federal budget constraints are making it harder to accomplish needed work on forestlands, he said.
“If we are reliant on the government right now to do some of the things we know need to be done to our forest, they aren’t going to get done. The resources just aren’t there,” Rodgers said. “This is an opportunity for us to take care of our own backyard.”
Bernie Weingardt, a retired U.S. Forest Service official, was at the forefront of the Ski Conservation Fund’s inception. He said the generosity of the county’s recreationists is at the heart of the fund. Without their donations, he said, none of the work could be done.
This year, contributions from guests at local ski areas are providing more than $600,000 in funds for projects in the White River National Forest.
Some of the Summit County organizations benefitting from Ski Conservation funds include the Blue River Watershed Group, Colorado Fourteeners Initiative, Colorado Mountain Club, Friends of the Dillon Ranger District, Friends of the Eagles Nest Wilderness, Rocky Mountain Youth Corp, Student Conservation Association and Wildland Restoration Volunteers.
Nonprofit representatives at Monday’s event said the support they receive from the Ski Conservation Fund is integral to the success of many of their projects.
Laraine Martin, a project manager for Rocky Mountain Youth Corps, said her organization benefits greatly from conservation funds. The youth corps currently has 11 different groups working throughout the state, including two in Summit County.
“We wouldn’t exist if it weren’t for the project funders that support our work,” she said. “The National Forest Foundation has been a big funder of our crews.”
Representatives at Monday’s event expressed interest in finding ways to expand the Ski Conservation Fund in the future, as well as to help other communities residing near forestland to come up with similar conservation models.
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