By Sheridan Block
Following another successful year of the Alpine Ranger, supporters met at Silverton Town Hall on Tuesday to discuss how to build and maintain support as well as improve the program in the coming years.
What started as a four-county effort between Ouray, San Miguel, San Juan and Hinsdale counties has expanded to a growing partnership with public land agencies, state parks, backcountry clubs and rental and tour companies among many others.
The major topic of discussion was the issue of funding to continue to keep the program moving forward. The Alpine Rangers serve as "ambassadors" for the backcountry, promoting safe use of trails and vehicles along the Alpine Loop. However, in order to maintain itself, the program is seeking more funding to keep going.
Colorado Parks and Wildlife's Trails Program administers grants for trail-related projects each year to local governments, federal agencies and other organizations responsible for the management of public lands.
Ryan Crabb, CPW trail coordinator from Durango, said the program generates approximately $4.2 million annually and will award nearly $2.3 million in funding for all counties next year. While the money does not go directly to counties, federal land agencies including the BLM and Forest Service use the money to maintain and improve trails and campgrounds, he said.
However, some organizations, including OHV clubs, have been denied grant applications for three years because some counties have policies that do not align with state regulations.
"We can't fund things that are in conflict with regulations," said Crabb.
Nonetheless, the Alpine Ranger program is looking to its supports and partners for funding help.
Ouray County Commissioner Lynn Padgett said the Alpine Ranger program has been very successful within the county, however with a tight budget the county is struggling to continue its support for the program. Padgett mentioned that the county will be losing about 16 percent of property tax revenues over the next two years, a large portion of which will cut money appropriated for the Road and Bridge and General funds. Likewise, the county is unsure whether it will receive Payments in Lieu of Taxes (PILT) funding from the federal government next year, which would help offset losses in property taxes. PILT funds compensate counties for loss of tax revenue from federal lands.
Additionally, Padgett mentioned, Ouray County could be looking at $90,000 in costs to plow the roads before the summer season in addition to vehicle and equipment repair and replacements, not to mention the county is planning to pitch a one percent sales tax increase to voters this November to try to ease the loss of revenue.
"How are we going to fund the Alpine (Ranger) program, which honestly saves lives and saves costs…?" said Padgett. "We've got to find other opportunities to keep the Alpine Loop functional for all of our communities and all of our counties for the next couple of years."
Padgett also brought up an offer made by Ken Brinks, Assistant Director for Parks and Outdoor Recreation with the CPW in Montrose, for organizing a neutral third party-facilitated discussion on possible legislation for 2014, which many other supporters agreed would be an ideal next step. Legislation would discuss lining up safety regulations to reduce the number of accidents and fatalities the counties saw from OHV incidents this year.
In addition, the counties and organizations involved with the Alpine Ranger program will look to discuss the possibility of applying for a joint grant for the CPW OHV grant. Applications for the grant are due Dec. 1.
The 2013 Alpine Ranger annual report revealed another "great" year for the ranger program. In a letter from Thomas Reyburn, Alpine Ranger for San Juan and Hinsdale Counties (Alpine Ranger Program East), he expressed the need for growth in support of the program.
"Several businesses, not-for-profits and federal agencies supplied 38 percent of this year's funding. I would like to see that surpass 50 percent for the long range benefit of the program," Reyburns letter reads. "These supporters are crucial to the program."