This summer, the Grand County Wildfire Council (GCWC) coordinated efforts with local fire departments to host five free community Chipping Days throughout the county. Starting with Kremmling in late June, they hosted their fifth and final day last Saturday, August 24th, in Granby.
According to GCWC chairperson, Schelly Olson, the event has seen steady growth each year. The program began in 2016, where 109 attendees dropped off 265 loads in that first year. Two years later, it grew to 181 attendees dropping off 408 loads in 2018.
In the first three years, a total of 409 individuals have participated in the program: 186 from Grand Lake; 80 from Granby; 71 from Tabernash; 30 from Kremmling; 27 from Fraser; 10 from Hot Sulphur Springs; 3 from Winter Park; 1 from Tabernash/Fraser and 1 from Parshall. Through 2018, 647.5 acres were mitigated, 3,835 hours expended and 911 loads chipped.
The volunteer-driven organization is still in the process of tallying 2019 numbers, but expects that the numbers will exceed last year. “It is really catching on and we see more and more people utilizing the program,” said Olson.
At Tuesday’s Board of County Commissioners (BOCC) meeting, Commissioner Merrit Linke, who is also the GCWC Board Vice Chair, reported that Saturday’s event in Granby saw 48 individual residents and 74 loads of material. “This has been a very successful program. People are very motivated to clean up their lots.”
Olson noted last year’s Golf Course, Sugarloaf and Silver Creek fires really spurred community interest and participation. “The work is never done. After clearing so many dead trees due to the pine beetle epidemic, people have gotten sour to the idea of cutting trees that are alive, but when you have live green lodgepole pines growing a few inches apart, you have to cut them.” Good healthy trees should be spaced between 8-12 feet apart to foster healthy growth into the future.
As can be expected, the growth of the program has resulted in increased annual costs, going from $7,000 in 2016, to about $19,000 this year. GCWC utilizes funds received through grants from agencies such as the Bureau of Land Management, Northern Colorado Water Conservancy District, Middle Park Conservation District, the Grand Foundation, BOCC and Winter Park donor-advised funds and individual donations to pay for the annual program. “It is a challenge to find continued sources of funding,” said Olson, adding, “I wish Grand County would step up and support the program with access to chipping sites and increased funding”.
Finding locations with adequate space to accept and process material is always a challenge. Fire departments are ideal to use as collection sites, but not all of them work well in accommodating the traffic created by the event. “We want to avoid lining traffic on busy highways,” said Olson. Locations for next year’s events are still to be finalized, but they are considering a collection point at the Red Dirt Hill Fire Station, at the turnoff to Snow Mountain Ranch.
Members of the GCWC board, steering committee, fire departments and County Natural Resources volunteer at the collection sites, but Olson says they are always looking for a few more volunteers to help out.
Once the events are finished, they are tasked with finding ways to distribute the chipping biomass. Snow Mountain Ranch takes truckloads of the product to use on their trails, and homeowners are welcome to take as much of the product as they would like to help with landscaping and erosion control. Olson said product is still available for the taking at the Granby and Grand Lake collection sites.
The free community Chipping Days are just one example of Grand County Wildfire Council’s ongoing efforts to support their mission, “Through education and action, promote wildland fire prevention, preparedness, mitigation, and survival.” To learn more about GCWC, visit their website: bewildfireready.org.