Lower Blue stakeholders to form nonprofit | SummitDaily.com

Lower Blue stakeholders to form nonprofit

summit daily news
Summit County, CO Colorado

SUMMIT COUNTY ” Anglers, rafters, landowners and wildlife biologists will form a nonprofit group to help develop a management plan for the lower Blue River, but commercial raft operators feel left out of the process.

The 15-mile reach downstream of Green Mountain Reservoir is considered to be a relatively pristine stretch of water, although flows are mostly dependent on releases from the reservoir. Overcrowding and competition between different user groups, along with trespassing and conflicts about access, are affecting natural resources and the user experience, according to County Commissioner Tom Long.

At the latest in a series of meetings aimed at developing a management plan, the major stakeholders agreed to formalize their involvement with formation of a nonprofit.

“We agreed to have a legal entity responsible for management actions and proposals, encompassing everybody on that river,” said County Commissioner Tom Long. The group will include county representatives, the Colorado Division of Wildlife and at-large members representing angler, rafters and private landowners along the river.

Early talks have included ideas like permits and overall caps on river use. Once it’s formed, the nonprofit group will “hang some meat on the bones of the plan,” Long said. As envisioned, the group’s role would be advisory to the Bureau of Land management and the U.S. Forest Service. Those agencies wouldn’t be obligated to accept the recommendations, Long said.

A nonprofit organization could also be set up to accept donations and disburse the funds to provide needed signage and perhaps even pay for a patrol officer, Long said.

“Doing nothing is not an option. There will be a plan,” Long said. “This is the only way locals really get to have a say in local management,” he added.

Working toward a management plan along the Lower Blue hasn’t been without controversy. At a late winter meeting in Silverthorne, some local residents said the entire effort is skewed toward protecting private landowner interests at the expense of public access.

That section of the Blue River was also recently identified as possibly qualifying for the federal Wild and Scenic River program. Long said the push toward local management is on a separate track, but the potential for wild and scenic designation certainly looms as a factor in the discussions.

One group that isn’t represented on the proposed board is the commercial rafitng industry.

Bill Dvorak, of the Colorado River Outiftters Association, recently sent an email to the Blue River stakeholders, asking to be included formally on the board of the nonprofit group.

“As I know you are aware, there is definitely interest in commercial outfitting on the Blue. I highly recommend that you make up for this discrepancy and get someone to your meetings that has this interest,” Dvorak wrote.

Providing commercial rafting operations on the Lower Blue would help ensure public access for the 98 percent of the population that can’t raft the stretch on their own, Dvorak said.

“You can see by the makeup of the board that they haven’t considered that,” Dvorak said.

It’s very viable,” Dvorak said. “I’m not saying there should be a huge allocation, but they should at least consider it (commercial rafting).

Dvorak said he didn’t know about the series of recent meetings on the Lower Blue. In his e-mail he suggested that the Colorado River Outfitters Association could appoint someone to serve on the nonprofit group.

Dvorak said he’s raised the issue with Bureau of Land Management officials who are involved in steering the planning process, but hasn’t received an adequate response.

Long said there’s no intent to exclude any single group. Rafting interests have been represented by American Whitewater.

As far as commercial use, Long said that, once the committee is formed, it will listen to proposals for different activities, including potential commercial trips.

For more information, go to the Summit County government web site at http://www.co.summit.co.us/ and click on the Blue River plan link on the right side of the home page.

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