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Pitkin County Healthy Rivers board approves grants for conservation, preservation, and more

The Roaring Fork River in south Glenwood Springs in March
Caroline Llanes
Aspen Public radio
The Roaring Fork River in south Glenwood Springs in March

Pitkin County’s Healthy Rivers and Streams board has $200,000 in grants to provide to community organizations doing important water-related work in the Roaring Fork Watershed. So far this year, the board has approved just over $114,000.

Asks over $15,000 must go before the Pitkin County Commissioners. In its most recent round of funding, the board unanimously agreed to fund three of these larger requests.

The Roaring Fork Conservancy will get $37,000 from Pitkin County’s Healthy Rivers and Streams board for its education programs.

That includes the Watershed Pen Pal program, which connects middle schoolers from the Roaring Fork Valley with middle schoolers in Aurora. Some of Aurora’s municipal water comes from the headwaters of the Roaring Fork River, which is diverted over the Continental Divide.

The goal of the program is to help students across Colorado better understand where their water comes from–from river to tap.

Megan Dean, the Roaring Fork Conservancy’s education director, said even though water is the focus, the connections often go further.

“Kids are developing relationships,” she said. “I’ve been told by teachers that they’re continuing those relationships, like setting up times to play different video game things. I don’t know what they are, but they love them!”

She said their programs emphasize holistic water education, to help kids understand that it’s not just humans that rely on Colorado’s rivers and streams, but whole ecosystems.

Carbondale-based Wilderness Workshop got $35,000 from the board in support of its campaign to get the Crystal River a federal “Wild and Scenic” designation.

The “Wild and Scenic” designation grants certain rivers federal protections, and mandates that they be preserved in a “free-flowing state.”

The funds from Pitkin County would be specifically for legislative advocacy and communication.

Wilderness Workshop’s director, Will Roush, said a very long engagement process with the community has already helped shape potential proposals asking for federal support.

“That ‘go slow to go fast’ mentality and exercise in building trust, I think sets us up really well,” he said. “Both for just a good community process, but also for what we ultimately need, is for our senators and representatives to say, ‘I trust this process, and I’m gonna carry a bill on this.’”

He said the Wild and Scenic steering committee has already begun consulting experts in drafting legislation, to help strengthen their appeals to lawmakers.

The third big ask was from the Roaring Fork Community Development Corporation, the group that operates the Three Mile Mobile Home Park in Glenwood Springs. The board approved just over $30,000, with the money going towards a hydrologic analysis of Three Mile Creek within the park’s boundaries.

That will serve as a guide to help restructure roads, home sites, and infrastructure in flood-prone areas. The park is also hoping to build a new bridge to access homes, and the study will help determine a suitable elevation and location.

The Healthy Rivers board also approved a number of smaller grants. One of those was $5,000 for the Institute of Arctic and Alpine Research at University of Colorado Boulder. The institute is studying heavy metals in Lincoln Creek east of Aspen, specifically the sediment in the stream bed.

CU is one of several entities forming a working group to monitor the status of Lincoln Creek. Pitkin County has agreed to manage the working group, especially when it comes to money and administrative issues. The Roaring Fork Conservancy and Pitkin County Environmental Health both visited the site last month to collect initial water samples.

Caroline Llanes is a general assignment reporter at Aspen Public Radio, covering everything from local governments to public lands. Her work has been featured on NPR. Previously, she was an associate producer for WBUR’s Morning Edition in Boston.