A few extra dollars can go a long way toward protecting forests of the San Juan Mountains.
This year, Purgatory Resort and Hermosa Tours, a mountain bike tour company, will take part in the National Forest Foundation’s Ski Conservation Fund, which tacks on a couple of dollars to purchases that ultimately go toward projects in the local forest.
“We’re all responsible for the stewardship of the land,” said Colin McBeath, general manager for Purgatory. “A healthy forest is a benefit to us. It makes sense we do this.”
Matt McFee, owner of Hermosa Tours, said the local economy is driven in large part by the national forest.
“It’s pretty easy for me to get behind anything we can do to help protect it,” he said.
The National Forest Foundation’s Ski Conservation Fund was started about 10 years ago, and since then, the program has collected more than $4 million in guest contributions, resulting in more than $22 million in conservation projects.
Emily Olsen, Colorado program manager for the National Forest Foundation, said the program varies for each community. But essentially, a business, usually a ski resort, funnels a few dollars from its ski passes to the fund.
That money gets directed toward the National Forest Foundation. The foundation, in turn, matches 50 cents on the dollar.
Those funds then become available for local nonprofits to apply for grants for projects, such as trail work, water restoration projects or campground improvements.
“By asking for these donations, it’s a way for guests to give back in a way that doesn’t affect a resort’s bottom line,” Olsen said. “And by bringing in new funding, it helps local nonprofits and the Forest Service take care of the forest, which is getting harder each year ... as budgets continue to decline.”
Depending on the ski resort, donations can range from $10,000 to $100,000 in a season, Olsen said.
In the White River National Forest, home to Arapahoe Basin, Copper and Vail ski resorts, among others, decades-long participation in the Ski Conservation Fund has been able to help up to 12 nonprofits a year undertake a range of projects.
“Its been a huge success,” Olsen said. “As we’ve seen the program grow, it’s been a sustainable source of funding for forest projects.”
In Southwest Colorado, Purgatory Resort won’t add an extra charge for guests. Instead, the ski resort will take money out of its own pocket for the conservation fund, subtracting $2 from season passes and $1 from a night’s stay at its resort.
Hermosa Tour’s McFee said the company will add $10 to every reservation made in the Durango area. The program collected a couple hundred dollars this past summer, but McFee is expecting even better returns in the program’s second year.
“In an average year, I’m imagining we’ll be able to contribute $500 to $1,000 for the fund,” McFee said.
It’s too early to know what projects will be undertaken in the San Juan National Forest. Once a full season is complete, stakeholders get together to review the grants to choose projects they believe will benefit the forest best.
Any business is encouraged to partake in the Ski Conservation Fund, which McFee says benefits mostly every business in town.
“Durango is very much a tourist destination, and the reason people come to Durango is to see the beautiful area,” he said. “With the cuts to the Forest Service’s budget, they don’t have as much money to maintain or build new trails, that sort of thing.
“We all benefit because of our surroundings.”