Volunteers answer call to the land

Kris Adams, right, is the public lands volunteer coordinator with the Western Colorado Conservation Corps. Adams was pulling dead weeds alongside her crew on Watson Island.



By LE ROY STANDISH

Volunteers are being organized to build trails, remove non-native weeds and do whatever tasks on public land that managers can throw their way.

At the start of the year, the Mesa County Commission authorized spending $50,000 to hire a person to coordinate volunteer efforts on public lands.

The commission gave the money to the Mesa County Partners’ Western Colorado Conservation Corps, which, in turn, hired a volunteer coordinator (for $25,000 a year) to organize volunteers for projects in cooperation with the Bureau of Land Management, the U.S. Forest Service, Colorado State Parks and other public land managers.

The volunteer coordinator is there to keep volunteers on task, coordinate their schedules and keep motivation high.

“There is no free lunch,” said Joe Higgins, director of Partners. “To really do a good job and to have volunteers work in a safe, efficient manner, I think anyone will tell you who has worked in those environments, you don’t just say ‘go.’ It takes a warm body to make those volunteers go.”

Kris Adams is that “warm body” who makes the program go.

Volunteers come from various organizations including the Colorado Mountain Club, the Western Slope ATV Association, the Colorado Plateau Mountain Bike Trail Association and Collbran Job Corps, and they are people who are just looking for a productive way to volunteer their time.

The idea for a public lands volunteer coordinator came from conversations the Mesa County Commission had with public land managers, said Commissioner Craig Meis.

“We are trying to take advantage of these idle labor pools to do more with less,” Meis said.

Doing more with less, in this instance, is also a way to increase tourism in the area, said Commissioner Janet Rowland. The work being accomplished by volunteers polishes the natural gems of Mesa County —  keeping public land user-friendly and as clean and as pristine as possible could add to the county’s economic vitality because of tourism, she said.

Already, Adams has raised $10,000 in grant money and, through the use of volunteers, has obtained nearly $16,000 of in-kind labor, Rowland said.

“I actually am surprised they have gotten as far as they have in such a short amount of time,” she said.

Volunteers have several accomplishments under their belts that include removal of noxious weeds at Island Acres State Park and at Watson Island and work on the Kokopelli and other trails.

Adams said “there is something really neat” about building trails. People can walk on them and point to them and say, “I built that. ... It’s fun work.”

Much of Adams’ time has been spent meeting with public land stewards, finding out where their needs are and building a solid list of reliable volunteers. As the heat of summer subsides this fall, Adams said her volunteers will become much more active.


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