West Elk trails funding uncertain

December 10, 2012

Garfield County

*Disclaimer: Peggy Tibbetts is secretary, treasurer, board member, and trail volunteer for the West Elk Multi-Use Club (WEMUC). However the following post reflects her opinion alone, and should not be interpreted as the opinion or policy of WEMUC or its members. WEMUC is a non-profit organization and has never advocated or campaigned for any candidate or political issue. This may seem complicated to some, but it’s really quite simple. At From the Styx, Peggy Tibbetts expresses her opinions, and not those of any club or organization.

West Elk trailhead -- December 2010

West Elk trailhead — December 2010

As many of you know, Tod and I manage the West Elk trails on the Flattops through a partnership with West Elk Multi-Use Club (WEMUC) and the White River National Forest. WEMUC is an all volunteer, non-profit corporation registered with the state of Colorado.

This year with the ski season upon us – it’s snowing! – the club is facing a funding crisis. WEMUC Executive Director Tod Tibbetts has had to make some difficult decisions. Read all about it at the WEMUC blog:

West Elk Multi-Use Club 2012-2013 Season

As you can discern from this diplomatic explanation of the situation, WEMUC’s funding crisis is largely due to the fact that Garfield County approved the grant then changed the requirements for receiving the funds, making it impossible for the club to meet those requirements.

According to Tod Tibbetts: “When the West Elk grant was approved at the BOCC meeting in September, my understanding was that part of the funds granted were supposed to be earmarked to pay for the costs to achieve 501c3 status. Then in November, I received an email from a county staffer stating that the club needs to provide proof of 501c3 status in order for the county to release the funds. Since then my efforts to resolve this misunderstanding have stalled because no one has returned my calls.”

This is Peggy Tibbetts speaking as the WEMUC treasurer: “I can assure you, the club could continue to exist in its present status. Even with the small group of volunteers, if the club makes cutbacks to their grooming program, they can keep the trails open. But equipment maintenance and fuel costs are such that the club can’t do it without additional funding above and beyond what the members contribute. Member contributions only cover the club’s liability insurance.”

The problem in Garfield County is the lack of a recreation and/or trails department to secure, manage, and disperse funds to trails organizations. Every year county trails organizations must go begging for member contributions and to the BOCC for grant money to build and maintain county trail systems. And you should know that most of the grant money for trails comes from Colorado lottery funds dispersed to the county. This current process often puts trails organizations in competition with one another for limited funds and matching grants, instead of working together as they should be. The result is an inability for trails organizations to grow or trail systems to expand due to uncertainty about funding from one year to the next.

Amendment 1A would have provided a source for trails funding in Garfield County. Trails organizations – including WEMUC – were counting on its passage. However it was defeated. It’s easy to guess why the voters shot it down. Sales taxes are already high in Garfield County. Voters are aware that the county is sitting on millions in oil & gas severance taxes and they believe the county should fund trails — not more sales taxes on the public. This is not an unreasonable expectation. Even though I voted for 1A, I can see their point.

In the meantime, trails organizations like WEMUC struggle to stay alive. There is no doubt trail users appreciate and enjoy the West Elk trails. Along with cross-country skiers and snowshoers, many more trail users including bikers, hikers, and horseback riders would love to see the trails better maintained and expanded. The public has asked WEMUC to provide a seasonal warming hut and develop a winter sledding hill. WEMUC already has the approval from WRNF for all of these goals and projects. But none of this is possible without volunteer support and most of all — FUNDING.

The question is — how do we fund these trails?

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