It was a small ceremony held during the San Juan County commissioners meeting in Silverton last week. But it was a big deal for Silverton, Lake City and thousands of visitors who tour the Alpine Loop every summer.
Three local Trout Unlimited members presented San Juan County with a $600 donation from area TU chapters to its Alpine Ranger program. That money, along with additional donations expected from a four-wheel enthusiasts’ club based in Montrose and the BLM, will help ensure that the program will run through its full summer season in 2012 and for a little extra time in the fall.
“Because of budget shortfalls, we were anticipating reducing the alpine ranger’s hours in 2012,” San Juan County Administrator William Tookey said in an email detailing the program.
Focused on the high-country Alpine Loop in San Juan and Hinsdale counties – a 65-mile tour on rugged four-wheel-drive roads linking Silverton, Lake City and Ouray – the ranger program is separate from a similar ranger program based primarily in Ouray and San Miguel counties and staffed by the U.S. Forest Service, Tookey said.
The presentation by Doug Wallis and Ty Churchwell of Durango and Brian Haselnus of Ouray on behalf of the local Five Rivers TU chapter and the Gunnison Gorge Anglers TU chapter based in Montrose and Ouray has helped reverse Tookey’s prediction. And no one is happier about that than Lake City resident Tom Reyburn, who patrolled the popular Alpine Loop last summer as the ranger and plans to do it again in 2012.
“Last year was the fourth year of the program, and thanks to some of the help, we’re on for this year,” Reyburn said. “I couldn’t be happier. This is best job I’ve ever had. I get to spend my day from 11,000 to 13,000 feet, and the people I meet up there are almost always happy to see me.”
Reyburn’s report from 2011 supports that claim. Out of nearly 2,500 contacts, or conversations with visitors lasting more than a minute, Reyburn had to issue just a handful of warnings and wrote only three citations between the middle of June and Labor Day. A certified emergency first responder, he drove San Juan County’s 2003 Jeep Cherokee ranger rig more than 3,500 miles while offering help, directions and advice to folks from as close as Durango and Montrose to as far away as England, Germany and France.
“A GPS will show you that there is a road to get you from the top of Engineer Pass down to Ouray,” Reyburn said. “But it doesn’t tell you that you better not try it unless you’re driving something with the ground clearance of a jacked-up Jeep.”
While Reyburn’s report from last year reveals how much he cares for Alpine Loop visitors, it doesn’t reveal how much he respects the resource. He does, deeply, and knows how big a part the alpine gem plays in boosting the local economies of the area.
“People just love this area,” he said. “They want to see it kept clean, and they get very upset if they see somebody driving or behaving badly. They want to see riders stay on the designated roads and trails, and see the whole Loop looking just as beautiful the next time they visit.”
That same motive, keeping the Alpine Triangle as it is, formed a large part of the TU chapters’ willingness to help fund the ranger program.
“This program greatly enhances the tourist experience within the Alpine Triangle and up on the Alpine Loop,” Wallis said. “It supports our local economies, our businesses and residents, and the support from TU and from Sportsmen Ride Right is a natural extension to our commitment to preserving the sporting values in the Alpine Triangle.”
In total, the financial donation to the Alpine Ranger program this year from TU-affiliated programs equals $1,200. In addition to the donation made to San Juan County on Dec. 15, an $600 more were presented to Hinsdale County on Wednesday. The total included $250 from the Gunnison Gorge Anglers, $250 from the Five Rivers chapter and $500 from TU members in Lake City. An additional contribution from TU’s Sportsmen’s Conservation Project and Sportsmen Ride Right (SRR) rounded out the sum.
Organized last year, SRR is a coalition of sportsmen and women who use motorized vehicles to access hunting and fishing on public land. Its goal is to educate sportsmen about the responsibilities of riding and driving responsibly while advocating for continued motorized access on public land.
With financing secured, Reyburn was happy to announce that the program will be extended this year to the end of September.
“That’s important for the folks we refer to as the ‘leafers,’” he said. “They’re the folks who come a little later in the year to see the aspens in the fall, and economically, they’re the most important. They tend to be a little older, they spend every night in a local motel, eat all their meals in a restaurant and do a lot of shopping while they’re in town. We want to make sure they come back to the high country again.”
Program supporters want to make sure a ranger is there to greet them on subsequent visits, and Reyburn agrees.
“It would be nice to have a little extra in the budget going forward,” he said.
Gregory Moore is a communications specialist for Trout Unlimited in Durango. Reach him at email@example.com.