The National Forest Foundation (NFF) will invest $765,000 in 12 forest health and sustainable recreation projects and programs this year on Colorado’s White River National Forest (WRNF). This is the first round of projects selected via a re-envisioned process which engages Eagle County and Summit County, Colorado communities in setting priorities for forest health and sustainable recreation projects supported by NFF’s WRNF Ski Conservation Fund.
Since its inception in 2007, the Ski Conservation Fund has invested close to $8 million in 33 community organizations to support on-the-ground work benefiting the WRNF. Funds are generated via an innovative partnership between the NFF, Vail Resorts (Breckenridge, Keystone, Beaver Creek, and Vail), Copper Mountain, Arapahoe Basin, and Beaver Run Resort. Guests of these resorts are able to donate a dollar or more to the NFF when purchasing online tickets and season passes or staying at their lodges. The NFF then provides a 50-cent match on every dollar donated by guests and oversees the investment of those funds in forest stewardship projects on the WRNF. Summit County also provided funding support to WRNF Ski Conservation Fund projects in 2022, further leveraging the impact of this effort.
Over the last year, the NFF, in partnership with Vail Resorts, established two Community Advisory Committees (one in Eagle County and one in Summit County) to outline shared community stewardship priorities and recommend projects for funding that align with those priorities. These committees, which include representatives from land management agencies, local government, tourism and lodging sectors, recreation interests, and ecological health groups, each met three times in 2021.
“It was gratifying to see these groups come together for engaging and thoughtful conversation with the Forest Service around shared priorities for stewardship in and around their communities,” said Jamie Werner, WRNF Stewardship Coordinator for the NFF. “This year was a great start for the re-envisioned Ski Conservation Fund, and the NFF looks forward to the continued evolution of the program as we work with the WRNF to develop larger-scale, more holistic projects for potential funding in future years.”
The community stewardship priorities outlined by the Eagle and Summit County Committees include the following broad categories: watershed-scale ecological health, sustainable recreation, water quality, education and outreach, access and diversity, and community protection.
Following review and discussion of these priorities, WRNF staff brought forth potential projects and programs for funding consideration that both aligned with the stewardship priorities and were ready to be implemented in 2022. The NFF is investing funding in the following projects and programs based on alignment with Committee priorities and readiness:
Eagle County (via contributions from Vail Resorts):
- Wearyman Creek Water Quality, Recreation Access, and Flood Resiliency Improvements (Eagle River Watershed Council)
- Noxious Weed Suppression and Backcountry Trail Maintenance (Eagle Summit Wilderness Alliance)
- Trail and Campsite Maintenance and Improvements (Rocky Mountain Youth Corps)
- Adopt-A-Trail and Wildlife Ambassador programs (Vail Valley Mountain Trails Alliance)
- Eagle Valley Young Professionals Development Program (Walking Mountains Science Center)
- Haymeadow to Grouse Lake Trail Construction (Volunteers for Outdoor Colorado)
- Mill Creek Trail Construction (Vail Valley Mountain Trails Alliance)
- Yeoman Park Campground Hazard Tree Removal (Beetle Kill Tree Guys)
Summit County (via contributions from Vail Resorts, Copper Mountain, Arapahoe Basin, Beaver Run Resort, and Summit County):
- Eagle’s Nest Access and Trail Improvement Project (Rocky Mountain Youth Corps and Friends of the Dillon Ranger District)
- Peaks Trail Boardwalk Replacement (Wildlands Restoration Volunteers)
- Trail Maintenance, Public Outreach, and Youth Education programs (Friends of the Dillon Ranger District)
- Winter Backcountry Safety Education Program (Friends of the Colorado Avalanche Information Center)
Total funding was evenly distributed between the two regions.
“This is an impressive list of much-needed projects our partners will now be able to complete on the Dillon and Eagle-Holy Cross Ranger Districts thanks to these contributions from the Ski Conservation Fund. These projects will benefit the forest and the public,” said Eagle-Holy Cross District Ranger Leanne Veldhuis.
Looking ahead, WRNF staff in both regions are undertaking planning efforts to implement larger scale projects in future years.
“We are grateful to the NFF and participating resorts for this innovative partnership – and to the many people who chose to donate directly to the Fund through their pass and lodging purchases,” said Dillon District Ranger Adam Bianchi.
Vail Resorts contributed over $1.5 million to the WRNF Ski Conservation Fund in 2021 (of which over $700,000 will be invested in 2022 projects) and remains committed to working with communities in Eagle and Summit Counties to ensure those funds are invested in transformative projects that align with community priorities.
“Through our partnership with the National Forest Foundation, we’re dedicated to creating sustainable recreation opportunities on Colorado’s White River National Forest while protecting the incredible natural landscapes surrounding our resorts,” said Nicky DeFord, senior director of community investment at Vail Resorts. “Thanks to the hard work of our dedicated local committees, as well as generous EpicPromise guest donations, we’re thrilled to help bring so many purposeful projects and programs to life in these communities.”
The Community Advisory Committees will reconvene in early summer 2022 to revisit the stewardship priorities and provide feedback on future funding priorities for WRNF consideration.