Managing the impacts of growth in outdoor recreation

Quality outdoor recreation is an essential part of the Chaffee County lifestyle as well as a key economic driver. While recreation use is growing and that’s good for the economy, recreation is a consumptive use that can cause negative impacts to the natural environment. 

Chaffee Common Ground funds planning and management solutions that address impacts on landscape and watershed health resulting from outdoor recreation use. Investments include “hardening” recreation sites, restoring impacted areas, managing waste and educating visitors to encourage responsible behaviors. Revenues are generated by a sales tax measure approved by county voters in 2018. Funds are appropriated to local organizations, entities and groups through a transparent process that leverages local tax revenues with state, federal and private funding and support.

Common Ground helps preserve our community’s unique character and enhances the assets that support our local economy. Investments protect some of the county’s most spectacular scenic views, the health of forest ecosystems, watersheds and wildlife and their habitats. The Common Ground Citizens Advisory Committee oversees the program and recommends grant awards to the Chaffee Board of County Commissioners, which makes final decisions. To date, more than $340,000 in grants has been awarded to seven different groups and partnerships for a dozen recreation management programs and projects.

Collaborative community planning is accomplished under the Chaffee County Outdoor Recreation Management Plan, which was approved in 2021 and added to the County Comprehensive Plan. Broad initiatives outlined in the 5-year plan help keep the outdoors clean, fun and wild into the future. Details encompass nine objectives and more than two dozen strategies as well as an estimated $20 million cost for new infrastructure and maintenance. The plan’s goals are to achieve a balance among natural resource health, quality outdoor experiences and tourism’s economic benefits that are closely tied to outdoor recreation.

A Common Ground planning grant in 2020 supplied matching funds for the plan’s facilitation through more than two years of community meetings, and tools that included wildlife mapping by the Colorado Forest Restoration Institute at CSU to identify important habitat for recreation planning. Envision Chaffee County is responsible for facilitating recreation plan implementation through the Chaffee Recreation Council. Envision is a community planning initiative convened by the county to enlist citizens with diverse backgrounds and views to listen, learn from each other and build solutions together. Major grant funding for planning was from the Colorado Parks and Wildlife Colorado the Beautiful program and Great Outdoors Colorado (GOCO).

In addition to planning, recreation management investments by Common Ground include restoration projects in Fourmile’s Midland area, Collegiate Peaks Wilderness and popular dispersed camping areas across the county, as well as support for visitor education materials, general education about wildlife and their habitats, and seasonal closure gates to protect wintering wildlife on national forest lands.

Common Ground also supported the new Chaffee Rec Rangers patrol in 2021, to help address the impacts of dispersed camping through education, engineering and enforcement, and Chaffee Rec Adopters to monitor and steward public lands through volunteerism.

Additional investments are wide-ranging, from temporary public toilets on Salida’s trail system to a resource study by the Forest Service that is required to advance new camping management across the county’s public lands— a top strategy listed in the community recreation plan.

Citizens, non-profit organizations, user advocacy groups, land management agencies and municipalities are all partners in these innovative projects that address impacts on landscape and watershed health resulting from growing outdoor recreation use.

Read more Stories of Impact from Chaffee Common Ground.