Yampa Valley Sustainability Council celebrates 10 years with new endowed fund | SteamboatToday.com

Yampa Valley Sustainability Council celebrates 10 years with new endowed fund

Children hold soon-to-be-planted trees at one of the Yampa Valley Sustainability Council’s first ReTree events on Mount Werner in 2013. The ReTree program is one of the Sustainability Council’s oldest programs and started as a one-time event in 2010.

Editor’s note: This story was updated to include more information about the city’s hybrid fleet and transit vehicles. 

STEAMBOAT SPRINGS — This year, the Yampa Valley Sustainability Council is celebrating 10 years of working to make Routt County's environment healthier. With a newly established endowed fund at the Yampa Valley Community Foundation, the Sustainability Council hopes to continue that work for years to come.

The Sustainability Council recently created an endowment fund through the Community Foundation's Nonprofit Endowment Matching Challenge. The Community Foundation matched the Sustainability Council's $10,000 initial investment with a $2,500 contribution.

In addition to this match, any donations to the Sustainability Council's endowment fund will be matched dollar for dollar, up to $15,000, thanks to contributions offered by a private donor.

"This provides yet another funding source that would be in perpetuity," said Anne Mudgett, Sustainability Council communication and marketing director. "It provides funding that will allow us to be nimble and respond to needs as they arise."

10 years of sustainable solutions

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The Yampa Valley Sustainability Council evolved out of the city of Steamboat Springs's Green Team in 2008. The Green Team was a coalition of city staff members who volunteered time toward sustainability goals.

Those Green Team goals looked loosely like what the Sustainability Council does today, including encouraging more green building practices, supporting Yampa Valley Recycles, finding alternative fuel options for city transit and fleet vehicles and hosting educational seminars for contractors, developers and the public.

Then, when the city decided not to create a sustainability coordinator position, the first Sustainability Council board came together. They worked collaboratively with the city and the county, but Angela Ashby, founding board member and eventual chair of the board, said local governments needed some assurance there was a need for the organization in the community.

To provide that assurance, the Sustainability Council met with other environmental organizations to make sure they weren't duplicating efforts already being made by nonprofits such as Yampatika and the Community Ag Alliance. These meetings evolved into the Sustainability Council's monthly community meetings, Ashby said.

"From there, we would kind of grasp on to programs that would get our name out there and do some good," she said.

Today, many of the Green Team's goals are a reality.

City bus drivers are now behind the wheel of nine hybrid buses, and there are four hybrid vehicles in the city’s fleet. Yampa Valley Recycles lives under the Yampa Valley Sustainability Council's umbrella, and the Sustainability Council's recycling drop-off evolved from 430 vehicles in November 2010 into a twice-a-year recycling extravaganza with almost double the participation. Earlier this year, 741 vehicles dropped off recycling items.

Those Green Team educational seminars became the Sustainability Council's Talking Green monthly event. It expanded well beyond the construction and green building community into discussions about the sustainability of clothing, sustainable farming, water and converting waste into energy.

In fact, the Sustainability Council's Talking Green programs predate the Sustainability Council itself. The Sustainability Council came together in 2008 and was incorporated as 501-c3 nonprofit organization the following year. Talking Green started in April 2007, with a presentation by architect Rob Hawkins on green building.

Another of the Sustainability Council's programs, ReTree, grew out of what was intended to be a one-time event. In 2010, volunteers planted thousands of lodgepole pine and blue spruce as the mountain pine beetle tore through lodgepole pines in Routt County. Today, the program has shifted its focus to restoring forests along the banks of the Yampa River to improve habitat and cool down the warming streamflow.

The organization operated with a volunteer board for about four years, Ashby said. Many board members worked full-time jobs on top of managing the organization. Mudgett was the first paid employee in 2010. Now, the organization supports five employees focused on waste, energy and outreach.

Volunteers sort recylables at an early Yampa Valley Sustainability Council Recycling Drop-Off.

Funding for the future 

Today, the Yampa Valley Sustainability Council hopes to mitigate and make Routt County more resilient in the face of climate change, said Executive Director Sarah Jones. "It makes me proud of the work that we've done as an organization, and I think the value that we bring to the community has really grown.

“Then there's the other always the side of that — which is like 'Whoa, we have so much more to do,'" Jones added.

The endowed fund will provide a more stable stream of funds to tackle the Sustainability Council's future projects.

"For me, I always wanted to have some kind of sustainable funding mechanism — pun intended," Ashby said. “I think the endowment fund is a perfect answer to that, and I’m so proud of the work that they’ve done on that. I only wish we would’ve thought of that sooner."

The Sustainability Council is currently funded by contributions from Routt County and Steamboat Springs, corporate grants and some individual donations, Jones said. The endowment fund will give the organization an ability to take on projects that aren't funded by a specific grant.

"An endowment fund really lets us have a little more control of the long-term work that we do and meeting the needs of the community without saying, 'Sorry, we can't do that because we can't get a grant for that,'" Jones said.

Community Foundation Marketing and Passport Club Manager Helen Beall said endowed funds can allow local nonprofits to spend less time working to capture grant funding and more time on their missions.

"In the case of the Sustainability Council, that’s one less time they’re writing a grant and more time they're focusing on efforts to make sure that we have a healthy environment tomorrow," Beall said.

It also gives donors a way to make a financial impact with planned or legacy gifts, she said.

Donors can donate to the Sustainability Council's Endowed Fund by visiting https://yvcf.org/yvscendowment/. Nonprofit representatives can learn more about the Nonprofit Endowment Matching Challenge at https://yvcf.org/non-profits/endowment-building-toolkit/.

To reach Eleanor Hasenbeck, call 970-871-4210, email ehasenbeck@SteamboatPilot.com or follow her on Twitter @elHasenbeck.

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