Nearly $1.5M invested in Spring 2023 funding cycle

Irrigation improvements & wildfire mitigation top awards list; infrastructure grants to support dispersed camping management

May 9, 2023 — The Board of County Commissioners approved $1,474,543 in grant awards to 18 recipients during the Spring 2023 Chaffee Common Ground funding cycle. Recommendations by the Citizens Advisory Committee were approved today.

Twenty six applications requesting $1,506,033 were received. 

The grant funding package includes $455,451 for forest health and wildfire resilience, $602,792 to sustain rural landscapes, and $416,300 for recreation management that protects watersheds and landscapes in Chaffee County. Matching cash and in-kind funds total $2,865,711.

This marked the fifth funding cycle since the ballot measure generating Common Ground revenues passed in 2018. To date, $7.7 million has been awarded to 38 local groups and partnerships for 70 programs and projects. Matching investments for these grants will bring $27.5 million in value to the community by 2026. Programs and projects by category:

Forest Health & Wildfire Resilience

Fourmile Creek Multi-Benefit Restoration
$119,701 over two years to Envision Chaffee County, in partnership with EcoMetrics, to create manmade beaver dams on Fourmile Creek that commonly result in recolonization, which can help restore wetlands and reduce post-wildfire sediment transport resulting from flooding. The project will restore a reach of the creek while providing documentation of results so that methods could be applied in additional areas.

Track Loader Mulcher & Pile Burn Crew
$330,750 over three years to Colorado Firecamp to build capacity for wildfire mitigation projects through the purchase of a compact track loader/mulcher and dump trailer, plus funding for staff to include a half-time forestry technician and seasonal work crews from Southwest Conservation Corps.

Fire Danger Signage
$5,000 mini grant to Chaffee County Fire Protection District to purchase three new and replace two older fire danger signs, to provide greater visibility and notification to visitors about current fire danger and fire restrictions at the department’s stations throughout the county.

Sustainable Agriculture

Ankele & Nelson Pasture Spring Developments
$12,553  to V Bar X Ranch to develop springs in summer pastures northeast of Salida behind S Mountain. Three new water points will improve pasture on up to 5,000 acres of National Forest and private lands for the ranch, which is a branch of Everett Land and Cattle Company.

Chubb Park Fencing & Improvements
$50,000 to Tri Lazy W Ranch to protect Chubb Park resources from dispersed camping expansions and destruction from outdoor enthusiasts driving ATVs, motorbikes and vehicles on unauthorized lands, providing wildlife and livestock the ability to graze several thousand acres without being harassed.

Murray Ditch Restoration
$45,000 to Murray Ditch Company to repair bank damage and remove debris piles caused by a flash flood in 2022. The ditch, located on the South Arkansas River in Poncha Springs, serves 67 owners as well as 440 acres of agricultural and livestock land.

Rangeland Infrastructure Improvements & Maintenance
$80,000 to U.S. Forest Service Salida Ranger District to reduce conflicts between agricultural operations and outdoor recreation uses by installing and maintaining cattle guards, stream culverts and educational signs in multiple areas, plus a well and stock tank in Browns Creek.

Riverside Ditch Improvements
$19,595 to Riverside Ditch and Allen Extension Company for improvements and maintenance that will improve flow and conserve water on the ditch located along the Arkansas River north of Buena Vista. Funding pays to install two racks at culverts so that debris can be removed, and to excavate sediment and vegetation overgrowth from the ditch bed.

Sunnyside Park Ditch Rehab 2
$49,700 to Sunnyside Park Ditch Company to complete an underground piping project partially funded by Common Ground in 2021, that experienced cost overruns due to inflation and unexpected construction challenges. The ditch runs along the Arkansas River for about two miles and irrigates land on both sides of Highway 291 north of Salida, serving ranches that can be viewed from the Scenic Byway.

Upper Arkansas Agriculture Resilience Projects
$79,000 to Upper Arkansas Conservation District for three projects that involve maintenance on the Cottonwood Maxwell and Burnett ditches, and post-wildfire mitigation seeding on property owned by Bernard Post, to benefit a total of more than 40,000 acres of agricultural land and seven ranching operations raising 1,100 tons of hay in Chaffee County.

Virtual Fencing Phase 2
$200,000 over two years to Central Colorado Conservancy for the continuation and expansion of a virtual fencing project for livestock operations. Funding pays for radio towers, tower trailers and radio collars that could eliminate the need for traditional fencing and help agricultural operators more efficiently manage livestock on private and public lands.

Williams and Hamm Bank Stabilization and Inlet Improvement
$53,018 to the Williams & Hamm Ditch Company for bank stabilization, and to install culvert and bridge crossings, to improve access to many parts of the ditch for maintenance to avoid bank failures. Located southwest of Highway 291, the ditch serves 30 working ranches and ends in Smeltertown. Its water covers about 856 acres, supporting more than 20,000 acres for grazing, wildlife habitat, hay production, and vegetables for a non-profit organization.

Hands for Lands
$5,000 mini grant to Central Colorado Conservancy to support management of the Hands for Lands volunteer program.

Farmers & Ranchers Career Pathways
$4,725 mini grant to Guidestone Colorado for education to teenagers that promotes careers in sustainable agriculture and food production.

No-Till Drill Rental Program
$4,200 mini grant to Upper Arkansas Conservation District to purchase a John Deere No-Till Drill (a type of seeder) to support a community rental program.

Recreation Management

All Lands Camping Infrastructure Improvement
$300,000 over three years to the National Forest Foundation to implement designated dispersed camping. Funding pays for infrastructure such as site posts, metal fire rings, signs, and barriers to protect the camping experience and landscape health. Funding also pays for planning and fundraising expertise to support a long-term countywide camping management transition.

Trails System & Conservation Plan
$70,000 over two years to Envision Chaffee County to create a strategic plan among coalition partners to conserve natural resources and provide a spectrum of sustainable, trail-based outdoor recreation experiences. The plan will include trailheads, trails and corridors and build on the Chaffee County Outdoor Recreation Management Plan. Coalition partners include Salida Mountain Trails, National Forest Foundation, Buena Vista Singletrack Coalition and the Chaffee Recreation Council.

Upper Arkansas Elk Monitoring
$25,000 over two years to Colorado Parks & Wildlife to track elk in the Upper Arkansas Basin using satellite to collect data for conservation purposes.

Wilderness Area Monitoring
$7,800 to Greater Arkansas River Nature Association to support Wilderness Area recreation impacts monitoring.

Midland Trails Waste Management
$3,500 mini grant to Buena Vista Singletrack Coalition to install five dog waste stations and two portable toilets in the Midland Trail System.

Volunteer Education Series
$5,000 mini grant to Greater Arkansas River Nature Association to educate volunteers so they can influence others to steward public lands through land, water and wildlife conservation projects. 

McPhelemy Park Learning Loop
$5,000 mini grant to Buena Vista Public Library, in partnership with the BV Recreation Department, to create a trail loop with educational signs around the town lake.

Common Ground 2022 Annual Report released

The Citizens Advisory Committee provides the Chaffee Common Ground 2022 Annual Report to the community to summarize program investments.

During the fourth funding cycle in 2022, $890,005 in grants were awarded, including $519,205 for forest health and wildfire resilience, $208,100 to sustain rural landscapes, and $162,700 for recreation management that protects watersheds and landscapes in Chaffee County. Matching cash and in-kind funds totaled $1,753,371.

To date, more than $6.1 million has been awarded by Common Ground to about 50 local groups and partnerships. Matching investments for these grants will bring $26.6 million in value to the community, meaning that the dedicated sales tax has been leveraged by four times to benefit the citizens of Chaffee County.

“In just four years, we’ve made dramatic progress in all three priority areas of Common Ground,” said Michael Hannigan, Vice-chair of the Citizens Advisory Committee. “Thank you all for your vision and actions to make our slice of Colorado a superb place to live, work and play.”

Major investments in 2022 include support for ongoing forest treatments as planned and executed by the Envision Forest Health Council, which is now comprised of 44 leaders who work together to implement the Chaffee County Community Wildfire Protection Plan, and its top goal to treat 30,000 priority acres by 2030. Grants also support staff and equipment for firefighters and foresters to complete the treatments.

Common Ground continues to directly support agricultural sustainability by funding conservation easement opportunities, irrigation ditch maintenance projects and additional programs that help keep ranches in operation as the county experiences a period of fast-paced growth and development. An innovative 2022 project tests the efficacy of virtual fencing to more efficiently manage livestock with radio towers and collars.

Investments in recreation management focused in 2022 on projects that protect watersheds and landscapes from the impacts of growth in outdoor visitation. Grant awards improve Buena Vista’s Whipple Trail and the Monarch Park Campground. A set of awards paid for portable toilets at a dozen popular recreation areas last summer, part of a Keep it Clean initiative outlined in the Chaffee County Outdoor Recreation Management Plan. 

Support for the Chaffee Rec Rangers and Chaffee Rec Adopters programs continued for a second season in the summer of 2022. The number of Rangers doubled to eight full-time seasonal staff working for the U.S.Forest Service Salida Ranger District, Bureau of Land Management and Arkansas Headwaters Recreation Area. Volunteer “Adopters” removed seven tons of trash and campfire ash during six cleanup events, and several dozen volunteers signed up to monitor and steward sections of public lands on an ongoing basis.

Information about project and program activities, as well as aggregated funding information, are provided in the report.