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The San Juan Mountains tower over the changing Fall colors on County Rd. 7 between Ridgway and Telluride in October 2019.

A new initiative made up of public, private and nonprofit groups has chosen part of Southwest Colorado as a project area to increase forest restoration and recreation.

The Rocky Mountain Restoration Initiative, which was formed earlier this year and is made up of 30 organizations, said the project will “pool resources to make transformational differences in protecting the things Coloradans value most: recreation opportunities, water resources, communities, forests and wildlife habitats.” 

The project will take place on 750,000 acres between Cortez and Durango along the Highway 160 corridor, and could take up to a decade to complete. 

Among RMRI’s members are the Western Slope coalition Club 20, National Wild Turkey Federation, The Nature Conservancy, USDA Forest Service, the U.S. Bureau of Land Management, Colorado Department of Natural Resources, Colorado Parks and Wildlife, Xcel Energy, and Denver Water.

RMRI said any projects it undertakes could “address multiple goals,” ranging from forest restoration, improving recreation, waterway restoration, and wildlife habitat restoration. 

“Improving forest health and protecting communities, watersheds and wildlife habitats requires significant resources and partnerships,” Colorado Department of Natural Resources Executive Director Dan Gibbs said. “While the Southwest Colorado Project rose to the top, we know there is a lot more work to do across Colorado and look forward to harnessing the best practices and methods of this process for more Colorado communities.”

Samantha Albert, deputy director of Colorado Outdoor Recreation Industry Office, which is part of the initiative, said the partnership would be important to the outdoor industry. 

“Thoughtful community-driven forest health solutions and collaborative partnerships are imperative to the success of sustainable outdoor recreation, tourism, and economic development,” Albert said.

The initiative said its next step is to find funding opportunities and develop strategic planning for the project.


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