Outdoors coalition launches statewide initiative, database map to improve local stewardship | SummitDaily.com

Outdoors coalition launches statewide initiative, database map to improve local stewardship

A volunteer works to re-route the trail with others during the Friends of the Dillon Ranger District's project day at Soda Springs Trail last August in Dillon. The volunteers worked to re-route the old rutted trail for mountain bikers.

Eight years ago, the Colorado Outdoor Stewardship Coalition was created at a forum entitled "Civic Engagement as a Natural Resource Management Strategy."

As a result of that forum, coalition member Ann Baker-Easley, executive director of Volunteers for Outdoor Colorado, said the main goal was to mobilize a million people who love Colorado to become more involved in stewardship.

But then, "the perfect storm" hit.

"In those eight years, so many things have happened in Colorado that I would call sort of the 'perfect storm elements,'" Baker-Easley said at Friday's Colorado Parks and Wildlife "Partners in the Outdoors" conference. "Even more people coming into Colorado. Even more use of our public lands. Even more stories about a stewardship ethic that is not first and foremost in many people's minds as they recreate and use the outdoors, as well as populations that are not, in fact, engaged in the outdoors."

Reflecting on the coalition's growth in the past eight years, Baker-Easley said progress occurred in a piece-meal fashion. And pressure began to grow from donors demanding a more coordinated approach to stewardship.

"And that conversation actually led to, 'How do you do stewardship in scale?'" she said.

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Speaking at the conference at Beaver Run Resort in Breckenridge on Friday, Baker-Easley said the coalition took a major step forward last year. That's when Great Outdoors Colorado — which invests a portion of Colorado Lottery proceeds to help preserve and enhance the state's parks, trails, wildlife, rivers and open spaces — invested $100,000 in the coalition's work. The result was a partnership between the two entities: The Statewide Stewardship Initiative.

The GoCo investment led to the hire of a consulting group that, in the past year, has helped the coalition to figure out new funding structures for stewardship across the state. And, speaking Friday to a room of outdoors professionals at the Partners in the Outdoors Conference, Baker-Easley said the coalition has conceived new strategies they hope will propel stewardship forward in the more concerted, coordinated fashion donors were demanding.

To start, the group is taking a closer look at metrics that examine impact. The coalition is currently populating an online statewide database and map for more uniform metrics that improve impact reporting.

"So we could really look at, 'OK, Colorado has 36,000 miles of trail, how many miles are actually maintained and constructed each year in a stewardship fashion?" she said. "How do we collect that?"

"That database can also be an asset map," Baker-Easley added. "So if you were interested in finding out who was in your area of the state doing stewardship work, or wants to do stewardship work, or land managers looking for volunteers, you can look at this active map on the website that shows you where people are."

The coalition is also creating a new "Best Practices Guide," for outdoor stewardship organizations across the state.

"Until now, there has not been a formalized way in which OSOs can share common standards of practice when working with land managers and other volunteer groups," Baker-Easley said.

The best practices are classified into four, as the coalition terms it, "main elements of effective volunteer stewardship." Those are volunteer management, working with land managers, safety and risk management, and data and impact reporting.

Each of these elements touches on best practices that include: building a sustainable volunteer capacity, developing volunteer leaders, rewarding volunteers, understanding authorized uses and resource impacts with land managers, contingency planning, better knowing volunteers through demographics and using visuals and storytelling in impact reporting.

Despite the completion of the guide, the coalition has bigger goals moving forward.

"We recognize that this is not a complete nor comprehensive guide," the guide reads. "For example, we have not addressed fundamentals of organizational structure such as governance structures, fundraising, and financial management, or investigated other important elements of organizational capacity building."

To read the full guide visit OutdoorStewardship.org/guide.