Coordinator for public lands volunteers to work with Partners youth programs

Even though the Mesa County Commission kept its promise and did not hire any new employees this year, it did fund one: a public lands volunteer coordinator.

The position is intended to manage volunteers and match them with appropriate public lands-improvement projects. The position is paid for out of PILT dollars, money the federal government pays to counties in lieu of property tax for federal lands.

“That was an appropriation that I did not support,” said Commissioner Steve Acquafresca.

“I was against it because I am really tight with county money. I did not believe this was essential ... and I did not hear a clear voice of support from federal and state agencies whose volunteers the county will be working with.”

Acquafresca said the money would have been better spent on specific needs such as repairs to the Forest Service’s visitor center on Grand Mesa or the building of rest rooms at trailheads.

The public lands coordinator, who already has been hired, will actually be working for Mesa County Partners, a nonprofit that assists troubled youth by placing them in work and mentoring programs. The county has a contract to pay Partners $50,000 to hire a volunteer coordinator.

Partners already has the organization in place that could manage a group of volunteers. Partners also has its Youth Conservation Corps, which organizes youth and volunteers and dispatches them to build trails, pick up trash, clear brush and accomplish other tasks on public lands, whether it be Bureau of Land management, U.S. Forest Service or Colorado National Monument.

Joe Higgins, director of Partners, said the county approached him in the fall.

“A lot of these groups want to do volunteer improvement projects on public lands and the BLM and the Forest Service would like to see those projects done, but they do not have the money to do those projects or the staff to coordinate the work,” Higgins said. “So it is really going to be us doing the coordination.”

Commissioner Janet Rowland, who favors having a contract with Partners for the coordinator, said the position with Partners may only temporary.

“We decided we would fund it for one or two years and see how it goes,” Rowland said.

Last summer the local BLM office called John Redifer, executive director of Natural Resources and Land Policy Institute of Mesa State College, and asked him to study the concept of a volunteer coordinator position.

Redifer said his study should be done next month.

He said the study will be of great assistance to whoever takes on the role of coordinating public land volunteers.

“There are way more projects than there are resources or manpower,” Redifer said.

About 75 percent of Mesa County is public lands. They are a major draw for tourists, said Commissioner Craig Meis, who originally pitched the idea of organizing volunteers for public land managers late last year.

“One of the underutilized assets in Mesa County are volunteers,” Meis said. “Let’s use this underutilized asset in the community.”


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