Chaffee Common Ground gives $2.45M in local grants

Wildfire risk reduction, irrigation ditch repairs and recreation ‘Rangers’ top awards list 

June 1, 2021 — The Board of County Commissioners approved $2,448,241 in grant awards to 18 recipients during the Spring 2021 Chaffee Common Ground grant funding cycle. Recommendations by the Citizens Advisory Committee were approved today.
Twenty applications requesting $2.92 million were received. The grant funding package includes $2,015,600 for forest health and wildfire resilience, $249,640 to sustain rural landscapes, and $183,001 for recreation management that protects watersheds and landscapes in Chaffee County. Matching cash and in-kind funds total $10.5 million.
This marked the third funding cycle since the ballot measure generating Common Ground revenues passed in 2018. To date, more than $5 million has been awarded to 23 local groups and partnerships for 36 programs and projects. Matching investments for these grants will bring $22 million in value to the community by 2026. This year’s programs and projects by category:

Forest Health & Wildfire Resilience

Monarch Pass Forest & Watershed Health Project
$50,000 in 2021 to Arkansas River Watershed Collaborative (ARWC) to complete a 125-acre portion of the 2,809-acre U.S. Forest Service Monarch Pass Vegetation Management Project. Planned treatments are located on the lower slopes of Monarch Ridge near Monarch Park and both sides of U.S. Highway 50 near Old Monarch Pass Road and Monarch Mountain ski area. ARWC’s mission is to serve the Arkansas River Basin by addressing locally identified watershed issues for economic, ecological and social benefit.
Focused Fuels Reduction for Fire Ready Communities
$215,000 over three years to Colorado State University/Colorado State Forest Service for 260 acres of wildfire risk reduction and forest restoration work in five locations: Broadview along County Road 289; Three Elk’s community green space; Kiowa Road near Mesa Antero; County Road 325 south of Lost Creek Ranch; and Poncha Pass. Roadside thinning protects watersheds and structures, and it improves emergency ingress for firefighters and egress for residents and visitors.
Chaffee Chips Fire-Adapted Communities
$93,600 over 3 years to Chaffee County Fire Protection District to help provide a simple method for residents to dispose of wood slash to decrease wildfire risk. Chaffee Chips service areas are identified as high priority for treatment by the Chaffee County Community Wildfire Protection Plan (CWPP) with approval by the Envision Forest Health Council. Funding pays for equipment rental and staff through 2023.
Upper Arkansas Forest Fund
$1,640,000 over five years to the National Forest Foundation (NFF) to leverage funding through the Upper Arkansas Forest Fund (UAFF) to support forest treatments across 30,000 acres of priority areas identified by the community wildfire plan. Funding beyond 2023 is contingent on the NFF raising $4 million in new cash funds by 2023.
Chaffee Front Fire Patrol
$15,000 in 2021 to Chaffee County Fire Protection District to implement Chaffee Front Fire Patrol during the 2021 summer recreational season. The program targets dispersed camping areas to educate visitors about campfire safety and fire restrictions. Staff will ask violators for voluntary compliance. Abandoned campfires will be extinguished and reported to the proper jurisdiction.
Evaluating Wildfire Risk & Public Perceptions Mitigation Activities
$2,000 mini-grant to Chaffee County Fire Protection District for a collaborative wildfire risk assessment, data collection and education in the Shavano Front landscape.

Sustainable Agriculture

Bowen Ditch Maintenance Project
$42,500 in 2021 to the ditch company to replace the head gate on Chalk Creek and the downstream aqueduct. The 14.5-mile ditch provides water to 1,020 acres of hay fields and supplements area aquifers that provide residential water.
Sunnyside Park Ditch Rehab Project
$100,000 over two years to the ditch company to install water pipe to eliminate leakage on a small section of the ditch. The ditch runs along the Arkansas River and irrigates land on both sides of Highway 291 north of Salida, serving ranches that can be viewed from the Scenic Byway.
Lewis Ranch Conservation Easement
$100,000 in 2022 to Central Colorado Conservancy to support a conservation easement protecting 191 acres of agricultural land and water rights near Poncha Springs on County Road 250. The ranch supplies beef for local buyers and sells cattle. Conservation of the ranch will protect wildlife habitat and scenic views.
Colorado Farm to Table Sustainability Farm Hand Position
$2,500 mini-grant to Colorado Farm To Table Inc. to support a part-time farm hand on the historic and working Shine Farm, to manually control weeds that were previously managed chemically.
SOIL Sangre de Cristo Monthly Speaker Series
$1,000 mini-grant to SOIL Sangre de Cristo to continue producing a monthly speaker series about sustainable agriculture and ranching best-practice topics. SOIL Sangre de Cristo supports small farmers, ranchers and food producers while creating awareness of the connection of food from earth to table. SOIL is the acronym for Slow Opportunities for Investing Locally.
Securing a Future on the Land
$3,640 mini-grant to Guidestone Colorado to improve the effectiveness of the organization’s Land Link database by recruiting more landowners to match with land seekers.

Recreation Management

Seasonal Closure Gates to Protect Wintering Wildlife
$23,000 in 2021 to the Quiet Use Coalition (QUC) to install gates on existing seasonal road closures to protect wintering wildlife on seven U.S. Forest Service roads and five trails. QUC works to preserve and create quiet use areas on public lands and waters while protecting natural soundscapes and wildlife habitat.
Chaffee Rec Rangers Pilot Program
$44,200 over two years to the U.S. Forest Service Salida Ranger District to create seasonal staff positions for regular patrols to manage growth in use on public lands, thereby improving the recreational experience, reducing human-caused wildfire risk and minimizing negative impacts on natural resources and agricultural operations.
Material Collection for Dispersed Campground Containment
$8,000 in 2021 to Southwest Conservation Corps for a chainsaw crew to collect lodgepole pine to be used for buck-and-rail campsite containment fencing.
Lands Volunteers in Action (LaVIA Chaffee)
$62,465 over two years to the Greater Arkansas River Nature Association (GARNA) for Chaffee Rec Adopters, a program that engages volunteers to monitor and steward dispersed camping sites in support of Chaffee Recreation Plan management objectives.
Heritage Investigations for USDA Forest Service Camping Management Plan
$40,000 over two years for the U.S. Forest Service to hire a contractor to complete a required Cultural Resource Investigation to advance the camping management plan as outlined in the Chaffee Rec Plan. The National Historic Preservation Act of 1966 requires federal agencies to do this preliminary work.
Expand Wildlife Education
$4,386 mini-grant to GARNA to create and enact place-based education, videos, presentations and materials to educate residents and visitors about wildlife and habitat.


Common Ground 2020 Annual Report released

Jan. 28, 2021 — The Chaffee Common Ground Citizens Advisory Committee releases its second annual report today. In 2020, the program invested $450,753 in 10 local programs and projects and recommended an additional $580,442 for multi-year proposals. 

Since voter passage of a dedicated county sales tax in 2018 for the Common Ground Fund, nearly $2.8 million in grants has been awarded to 15 local groups and partnerships for 18 programs and projects. Matching investments for these grants will bring nearly $9 million in value to the community by 2024.

“In just two years, the fund established to protect forests, waters and working lands from our dual threats of severe wildfire and impacts from growing population and visitation has delivered significant results,” Common Ground Citizens Advisory Committee Chair Cindy Williams said. “These results are accomplished through citizens, non-profit organizations, agencies and local governments working together in innovative and strategic ways.”

The 2020 report is the second installment of a commitment to accountability made during the 1-A ballot measure campaign that funded the program through a 0.25% sales tax. “Together, we are helping to ensure the future the ballot initiative promised,” Williams said. 

Investments in forest health and wildfire resiliency include two community fuel breaks and support for Chaffee Chips, a wood slash removal and chipping service. These programs advance implementation of the county Community Wildfire Protection Plan that was updated in 2020. Through the plan, the Envision Forest Health Council is working to complete 30,000 acres of forest mitigation work by 2030 on both public and private lands, and is leveraging Common Ground funds to accomplish the goal, Williams said.

Williams said Common Ground programs also are taking shape in recreation management, as user groups, non-profit organizations, agencies and governments have worked collaboratively to deliver on-the-ground success toward the community goal of maintaining exceptional outdoor experiences while protecting natural resources and the economic benefits of recreation. Examples include better signs, restrooms, dispersed campsite containment and public lands restoration.

Williams said that collaboration also is at the cornerstone of three conservation easements that will permanently preserve more than 2,000 acres of some of the valley’s key agricultural lands and views.

The Citizens Advisory Committee oversees the grant process and makes recommendations to the Board of County Commissioners, which approves funding. Project and program activities and funding information is provided in the annual report.

Common Ground invests in 2020 projects

July 7, 2020 — Chaffee Common Ground will invest $450,753 in 10 local programs and projects this year, plus an additional $400,352 in 2021 and 2022 for multi-year projects that address the program’s community goals. Matching funds total nearly $2 million.

The funding package recommended by the Common Ground Citizens Advisory Committee was approved by the Chaffee Board of County Commissioners on July 7. This marked the second funding cycle since the ballot measure generating revenues passed in 2018. In 2019, $660,716 was awarded for six grants, and the BoCC indicated the intention to provide future support of $1,140,834 through 2024 for multi-year and future-year requests. Matching funds so far will bring nearly $9 million in value to the community.

“Investments last year had a strong agricultural focus due to timely opportunities to protect rural landscapes through conservation easements,” Committee Chair Cindy Williams said. “This time, excellent forest health and wildfire protection opportunities ranked very well, providing a balance in investments over time as promised.”

Sixteen applications were submitted during the Spring 2020 grant cycle. Due to unknown economic impacts of the COVID-19 outbreak, the committee decided to recommend a conservative funding package, Vice-chair Rick Hum said. “The program is sales-tax dependent so we will continue to track revenues and evaluate available funds,” he said, adding that the next grant cycle is likely to take place in early 2021. The Citizens Advisory Committee is a seven-member board appointed by County Commissioners. Spring 2020 winning programs and projects by category:

Forest Health & Wildfire Resilience

Chaffee Chips Fire-Adapted Communities Implementation — $34,000 to Chaffee County Fire Protection District to purchase trailers to haul slash, chain saws and other materials, rent a chipper and pay for labor for Chaffee Chips, a program that provides professional assistance to landowners to decrease wildfire risk while implementing the Chaffee County Community Wildfire Protection Plan.

Coyote Valley Road Community Fuel Break — $4,652 to Colorado State Forest Service to begin work on a 2-mile-long, 400-foot-wide community fuel break south of the Mesa Antero subdivision west of Hecla Junction. The fuel break designed by the Envision Forest Health Council will improve firefighting capabilities in the event of a wildfire in the Collegiate Peaks Wilderness, improve egress for residents and visitors and protect structures in the surrounding area. The committee recommended $163,998 to complete the project in 2022.

Methodist Front Wildland Urban Interface Forest & Watershed Health Restoration Project — $341,545 to Chaffee County for a multi-jurisdictional wildfire mitigation project within the foothills of Methodist Mountain, planned and executed by Envision Forest Health Council partners to create a 5-mile-long area of fuel breaks to protect the southern flank of the Salida and Poncha Springs communities of 7,000 people. Specifically, funds are for forest treatments on city, state and privately owned lands to create the fuel breaks. The two-year funding recommendation is $545,000.

Sustainable Agriculture

Chaffee Provides — $2,442 to Envision Chaffee County in partnership with Guidestone Colorado and the Kelly Ranch, for a marketing and educational program that connects agricultural producers and local consumers during a time of food insecurity due to COVID-19 and build community support for local agriculture. The two-year funding recommendation is $4,884.

Kelly Ranch Equip Irrigation System — $40,000 to ranch owner David Kelly to install a pipeline and irrigation system to capture and transport water to 40 acres of the 389-acre Kelly Ranch, delivering increased production of 60 to 80 tons of hay annually. The ranch west of Johnsons Village is on the National Historic Register of Places and under a conservation easement since 2011. Irrigation supports the burrowing owl, a state threatened species, as well as elk, antelope and deer, and the property contains one of the largest natural high-altitude fen wetlands in Colorado.

Land Link Lunch & Learn Online Series — $2,000 to Guidestone Colorado to support a new, year-long virtual online learning series through Colorado Land Link, a program that encourages conversation and resource development for land access and farm succession.

Sunnyside Park Ditch Feasibility Study — $8,000 to Sunnyside Park ditch company to conduct a feasibility study to explore options for long-term repairs and reinforcements of the ditch serving ranches north of Salida on both sides of Highway 291.

Recreation Impact Management

Chaffee County Recreation Plan — $10,152 to Envision Chaffee County to support the delivery of a strategic plan to manage outdoor recreation growth and support the goals developed by the Envision Recreation in Balance program, which are to enhance or maintain natural resources, exceptional user experiences, and the economic benefits of recreation. The two-year funding recommendation is $40,609.

Fourmile Midland Road Restoration — $3,812 to Wildlands Restoration Volunteers to close and revegetate a 3,200-foot road section in the Fourmile/Midland recreation area as requested by Bureau of Land Management partners, to help direct recreation to less sensitive areas and allow deteriorated natural areas to recover for a better overall user experience.

Healthy Horn Fork — $4,150 to the Greater Arkansas River Nature Association (GARNA) in partnership with Noah’s Ark Rafting & Adventure Co., U.S. Forest Service and Envision Chaffee County to plan and implement stewardship activities in Horn Fork Basin, a 6,000-acre area west of Buena Vista encompassing Bear and Kroenke lake drainages and three Fourteeners in the Collegiate Peaks Wilderness. The project is designed to serve as a model for long-term stewardship of Wilderness areas.

Common Ground 2019 Annual Report released

March 1, 2020 — The Chaffee Common Ground Citizens Advisory Committee releases its first annual report today. In 2019, Common Ground invested over $673,000 in projects managed by five nonprofits and a nonprofit/land agency partnership for eight different projects and programs. Additional future support of $1,140,230 was indicated for multi-year and future-year grant requests. Matching investments for these grants will bring $7 million in value to the community.

Prior to the first grant cycle in 2019, the Citizens Advisory Committee developed overall program goals, agreed to written guiding principles, and created a citizen-led allocation system. All activities and detailed funding information is provided in the 2019 Annual Report. A printed copy is available at the Chaffee County Administrative Offices, 104 Crestone Ave., Salida.

Citizens Advisory Committee members agree on Guiding Principles

May 6, 2019 — All seven members of the Citizens Advisory Committee agreed to sign and abide by Guiding Principles in their positions on the committee. They agreed to:

Follow spirit and letter of the Colorado Open Public Meetings Act.
Encourage public input. Consider large community meeting when grant applications are rolled-out.
Disclose personal and professional relationships with grant applicants. The other members are to determine if the conflicted member will refrain from discussion and voting.
Fully support majority-vote decisions and not express individual opposing views.
Work for the best interest of the program and not act as a representative of one of the funding areas or region of the county.

Not represent interests of any nonprofit, government agency or contractor.
View complete Citizens Advisory Committee Guiding Principles here. Committee members agreed to also sign the county’s conflict-of-interest policy.