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New faces at Friends of the Dillon Ranger District

Janice Kurbjun
summit daily news
Summit Daily/Mark Fox
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Jessica Evett considers her new position as executive director of Friends of the Dillon Ranger District a “dream job.”

It’s her overall passion to be a part of volunteer organizations that work on public lands – which is the mission of FDRD. The nonprofit promotes stewardship of the White River National Forest in Summit County through partnerships, volunteer service, education and support. Since its inception in 2004, more than $1 million in volunteering, money and in-kind donations have been generated in the district.

Dillon District Ranger Jan Cutts sees the organization as more than a partner. They are a complement to the forest service staff in Summit County.

“They help have a presence in the forest where we can’t and help get a ton of work done,” Cutts said, adding that the volunteers do work the agency couldn’t otherwise fund.

Before coming on board about three months ago, Evett served as the development coordinator for Wildlands Restoration Volunteers based out of Boulder. She also worked as the volunteer manager for the Colorado Fourteeners Initiative.

“I enjoyed the focus on development in my previous role, but I missed being involved in the program side,” she said.

She added that she wanted to get back to the mountains, like when she was living in Montana as a crew leader for the Montana Conservation Corps and Northwest Youth Corps. In the spring, the family – which includes her husband, Ben Roberts, who works for the Professional Ski Instructors of America’s headquarters in Lakewood, and 18-month-old son, Henry – plans to move to Summit County. Currently, she combines a commute and working from home.

“We like sliding on snow,” Evett said. She added that she’s looking forward to becoming part of the community it’s her duty to excite and encourage.

“Summit County is unique,” she said. “The level of support is incredible.”

Evett is in the learning stages of her job. She doesn’t have extravagant plans in place for 2011, or even 2012, for several reasons. Mostly, though, she wants to make sure new programs or programs taken in new direction have volunteer support and have sustainable funding.

Currently, FDRD operates on about $120,000 per year, Evett said, which is a small budget for what the organization offers. She said in 2010, FDRD volunteers provided more than 7,000 hours of work to the Forest Service, including 4,371 hours of trail work.

However, Evett does have immediate goals that are less flashy. With a growing volunteer base, the need for organizational infrastructure is paramount. Efficient systems for keeping track of volunteers, participation in programs, partnering relationships, long- and short-term goals and more are some of the things on Evett’s checklist for 2011.

She also has a major dedication to diversifying, and hopefully expanding, the funding base. None of these projects she’s starting from scratch, but she sees it as a critical component of making volunteer programs more successful – which is the overall purpose of any changes.

Looking further into the future, Evett’s goals are less refined partly because much of it depends on feedback she gets in her current research phase – getting to know the community, current and potential partners, and identifying new projects and project extensions without duplicating what’s already being done.

Eventually, she wants to develop a five-year plan for the organization. As the arms and legs of the Forest Service, FDRD is completely intertwined with the agency – and its changes. Cutts said current agency conversations about doing projects that address a “landscape view” instead of specific project view would translate into the on-the-ground work of FDRD volunteers.

“I am hesitant to grow too fast and expand too quickly,” Evett said, adding that she wants to get community and agency feedback because, “I want to be sure I’m not pulling (ideas) out of thin air.”

Still, Evett has ideas – which is part of the reason getting fresh, experienced blood into the position is so important, Cutts said. If former directors Scott Fussell and Guff Van Vooren got the energy going, it’s up to Evett to keep up the momentum and take it to the next level, Cutts added.


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