The Great American Outdoors Act (GAOA) was enacted in 2020 and is the single largest investment in public lands in U.S. History. GAOA funding provides federal land management agencies with critical resources to address deferred maintenance on our public lands. Through this funding, the National Forest Foundation has partnered with the U.S. Forest Service to plan, design, and implement projects that address overdue and much-needed maintenance on the Grand Mesa, Uncompahgre, and Gunnison National Forests.
The Forest Service stewards an impressive portfolio of landscapes across 193 million acres of National Forests and Grasslands in the public trust. From the Superior National Forest in Minnesota to the Cibola National Forests in New Mexico, and the Midewin National Tallgrass Prairie Illinois, each unique. Though across all, the top priority remains the same; to maintain and improve the health, diversity, and productivity of the nation’s forests and grasslands to meet the needs of current and future generations. They do this all within several interconnected programs of minerals and geology, plants, rangelands, recreation, restoration, water, wildlife, and fish.
In the summer of 2022, the NFF partnered with the Grand Mesa, Uncompahgre, and Gunnison (GMUG) National Forests to replace buck-and-rail fences at campgrounds in Taylor Canyon in the Gunnison Valley of Colorado. This project was an effort to help the Forest Service rangelands and recreation programs better align.
Every year, ranchers who have livestock grazing permits on National Forest lands in the area, move their cattle from low elevations where they have been for winter and spring – often on private lands – to higher elevation public lands for summer and fall. The cattle drive goes through the Taylor Canyon, an area that sees a significant amount of recreation, including river rafting, rock climbing, mountain biking, and hiking.
Taylor Canyon is also a popular camping area, with more than half a dozen campgrounds. Keeping these recreational sites separate from areas used for agricultural purposes is important for the safety of campground users, helpful for the cattle grazers to ensure cattle do not wander into the campgrounds, and limits impacts from grazing on vegetation at campgrounds.
The Gunnison County Sustainable Tourism and Outdoor Recreation (STOR) Corps – a jobs-creation program modeled in part after the Civilian Conservation Corps of the 1920s and in part after the youth corps model that is so successful today – led the first-year effort to replace degraded buck-and-rail fences at select campgrounds. The locations for the fences were selected by the GMUG National Forests staff and prioritized for funding through the Great American Outdoors Act (GAOA) for implementation funding.
The project was started in the summer of 2022 and will be completed in the summer of 2023. When complete, a total of 5,898 linear feet of fence will be replaced on the Gunnison Ranger District. Work will also occur on three other Ranger Districts – the Norwood, Ouray, and Grand Valley – for a total of 32,084 linear feet of fence replacement.
We are appreciative of the dedication and craftsmanship of the crews on this noteworthy project. Boots-on-the-ground support for critical multiple use projects such as this can be a daunting task and we are grateful for the partnerships with the Gunnison County Sustainable Tourism & Outdoor Recreation (STOR) Committee, the STOR Corps and the NFF.
Recreation infrastructure is an integral component of public land management, but the maintenance and management of these facilities often go un-noticed. Buck-and-rail fence may seem like it’s just a part of the landscape, due to its rustic appearance that blends in with the surrounding environment. But the fences serve an important purpose, and it requires a skilled crew and manual labor to construct properly. Thanks to the GMUG staff, the STOR Corps, and the GAOA, the fence replacement project is helping to protect the many recreational, economic, and lifestyle uses of the Taylor Canyon.
Funding from REI catalyzed GAOA dollars to make this $432,250 dollar project possible.