All of them were on the agenda of the Tri-County Work Session Tuesday at Ridgway’s 4-H Event Center. Tri-County’s quarterly meetings, where commissioners from Montrose, San Miguel and Ouray counties get together in one place, are devoted to issues of interest to all three counties.
This meeting was hosted by Ouray County, and Commissioner Lynn Padgett first called for an update by Bill Steele of the Public Land Partnership, a broad-ranging public forum that receives some funding from the three counties. Steele talked about how PLP and UP (Uncompahgre Partners) volunteers had renovated the Columbine and Iron Springs campgrounds on the Plateau, facilities that the Forest Service had threatened to close for lack of maintenance money.
He briefly touched on a number of PLP-sponsored discussions involving public agencies. Then he opened a rhetorical can of worms regarding PLP and its non-profit umbrella group Unc/Com (an acronym dictionary should have been provided). Memoranda of understanding (MOUs) needed to be clarified and rewritten, Steele reported.
Wait a minute, said San Miguel County Commissioner Art Goodtimes. “This is the first I’ve heard of this. I’m concerned about an entity over PLP, which has always been a loose forum roundtable. As long as we’re funding this,” Goodtimes said, “if Unc/Com is going to have control over PLP, I’m going to have heartburn.”
Steele explained that the changes were necessary to clarify relationships between the Forest Service and the local volunteer non-profits, who will all be working together on the just-approved Collaborative Forest Landscape Restoration Plan. “We can’t really funnel all these millions of dollars to the UP without more formally recognizing our relationships,” Steele concluded.
The commissioners agreed to take up the issue again at their next meeting.
Next up was Karen Tuttle, executive director of Voices for Children, a non-profit that will be asking for county monies in the near future. Tuttle’s presentation detailed how her group, through its two programs, CASA and SEPT (more acronyms to learn), provide crucial services to “children of parents in conflict.”
CASA stands for Court Appointed Special Advocates. Tuttle’s program trains volunteers throughout the region to be advocates for abused or neglected children. They serve as fact-finders for the judge in these cases, speak for the child in court, and stay involved to act as “watchdogs for the child during the life of the case.” This year CASA’s 45 volunteers have assisted 72 children with upwards of 2,200 hours of service. “And they have helped bring about many good outcomes,” Tuttle said, “meaning a better chance for these kids to break out of the cycle of abuse and neglect.”
SEPT stands for Supervised Exchange and Parenting Time. This program arranges for safe, neutral visiting times and places for children of difficult divorces or separations. Mary Jo Mills, the SEPT coordinator, described their careful protocols for both “bringing” and “visiting” parents. “We arrange staggered arrival and departure times for the parents. This only works when we have agreement between both parties. The visits last an average of one-and-a-half hours at an average cost to the parents of $10 per hour, based on their ability to pay. I think we are the only trained, volunteer organization that the court appoints in visitation cases.” SEPT has served 46 children so far this year and is starting to “get backlogged.”
Tuttle explained that Voices for Children is funded entirely by grants and donations, but “we are lacking local support from counties and municipalities, and that support is important in getting grant funding. We will be submitting requests to the counties soon.”
Regarding the organization’s $196,000 budget, Voices board member Lynne Sprowls told the work session, “You’re not teaching these children art; you’re not putting them on horseback. You’re saving their lives.”
Commissioners thanked them for their presentation.
They then heard an update from Paul Gray of Region 10 on its Regional Transit Coordinating Council. Committees are up and running in all four counties (including Delta), he said. And the work is crucial, because “data show that more and more people in the region do not have access to automobiles, and it’s increasingly important for economic development that these people have transportation back and forth to work. And, as we know, they may live and work in different parts of the region.”
Dave Kauffman, a long-time Associate Field Manager for the Bureau of Land Management based in Montrose, next updated the commissioners on highlights of his agency’s year. “We are knee-deep in developing alternatives in the new RMP (that’s Resource Management Plan),” he said. “Sometimes it does seem like all the government does is plan.” And here he shared a self-aware chuckle with the room.
One area where the BLM was actually able to “get something on the ground” was the Dry Creek Basin west of Montrose and Olathe. “The Dry Creek Travel Plan is in place now,” Kauffman said. “It’s kind of fun to finish a plan and move into implementation with facilities, trails and volunteers.”
He mentioned the agency’s ongoing scoping with stakeholders on possible Wild and Scenic River designations on the San Miguel and Dolores Rivers. And he mentioned progress, however slow, on the single-track trail system outside Ridgway that has “involved a lot of help from locals.” Be patient, he cautioned. “We didn’t plan to have to do all this planning all at once.”
Forest Service Recreation Staff Supervisor Kathy Peckham (Norwood) was in a hurry to get a grant application in to support the Alpine Ranger program. This is the very successful effort to have seasonal Off High Vehicle patrols on the high-country jeep roads, primarily on Black Bear, Imogene and Ophir passes. Peckham told the commissioners about a Colorado State Parks OHV grant that is due Dec. 3.
But here the conversation became sticky. There’s a problem, Peckham said, “because all four counties (including San Juan and Hinsdale) have OHV regulations that are more restrictive than the state regs.” The grant could be refused on technicalities. Commissioners Goodtimes and Padgett both chimed in, and it became clear that confusion over regulations and enforcement remained, even after many years of work on the issue.
Kirstin Copeland, who is the Park Manager at the Ridgway State Park weighed in with her belief that the state attorney general needed to rule a new statute governing OHV use.
Goodtimes, showing some frustration, said, “This is a plegal issue. It’s political as well as legal. I think it’s very important we push this issue forward. And applying for the grant is a way to do that.”
Ken Emory, who advocates for OHV user groups, told the commissioners that “local motorized would be in favor of supporting these grants,” largely because the Apine Ranger program is more educational than it is a ticket-writing, enforcement program.
Peckham concluded, “We’re rarin’ to go. We really can get it [the grant application] done by Dec. 3. We just need a letter of support from you.”
Finally, Copeland spoke to the assembled about the state parks and how “there is a new law as of July on sound emissions for both snowmobiles and OHVs. It’s actually very technical,” she said of the procedures required to measure sound in the field. “Most likely this will result in checkpoints,” she said, “like the ones set up to check for DUI.
“Most modern machines are not going to have any trouble with this,” she added, “unless they’ve been modified, for performance or whatever.”
San Miguel’s Goodtimes complained mildly near the end of the meeting that while the reports had been informative he hadn’t heard enough from fellow commissioners about goings on in the other counties. “There’s something happening with the hospital [in Montrose], for example, that I don’t understand,” Goodtimes said, referring to the effort to make the hospital there a private non-profit. Montrose County Commissioner David White was present, but didn’t have an opportunity to address the topic. The group agreed to give each county time at the next meeting in February to recap news and progress in their respective counties, in addition to time hearing agency reports and requests for help.