Sheriff says it’s the largest donation besides $1.5M for new facility
Mountain Rescue Aspen got a big boost last week for its capital fundraising campaign when a couple from Kentucky donated $10,000.
Pitkin County Sheriff Joe DiSalvo received the check from David and Susan Duff while the search for Jeff Walker, the missing skier whose body was found last week, was underway.
The Duffs are friends of the family but in what capacity DiSalvo doesn’t know.
“It’s an incredibly generous donation,” he said.
MRA is a 100-percent volunteer organization with no paid staff, and it has no tax base or mill levy to support its training and missions that involve high-risk rescues and recoveries in the backcountry under the authority of the Pitkin County Sheriff’s Office.
“It’s a very important public safety branch of the sheriff’s office,” DiSalvo said. “[MRA] is a real big part of public safety in Pitkin County.”
MRA personnel were deployed for three days searching for Walker in backcountry terrain surrounding Aspen Highlands, where he was last seen hiking the bowl on March 7.
“Through the search we had donation offers” but the first check to come in was from the Duffs, which was dated March 16, five days before Walker’s body was discovered in out-of-bounds terrain off the bowl.
The donation will go toward MRA’s new headquarters on Highway 82 across from the airport, which if approved by county commissioners today, will replace the nonprofit’s small Main Street cabin.
The new 13,000-square-foot facility and the land it sits on also is made possible by a generous donation by a family that relied on MRA’s services.
In 2011, MRA received a $1.5 million grant from Oklahoma resident Lynda Cameron, who was rescued by an MRA team after her father’s plane crashed in the Capitol Creek Valley during a snowstorm on Nov. 27, 1977. Her father, C.B. Cameron, was killed in the crash; Lynda and four others, including her mother, brother and the pilot, were rescued.
Cameron’s donation covered a significant portion of the land, which was bought from Planted Earth nursery owner Bill Hawkins for $1.6 million in December.
The organization is dipping into its reserves, set aside specifically for new headquarters, to build the facility. A capital campaign has been underway to help generate philanthropic contributions to the cause.
DiSalvo said donations like the one from the Duffs are not only welcome and appreciated, they are necessary to keep MRA’s mission of rescue and recovery continuing in Pitkin County. The organization was established in 1965.
“I am encouraging donations,” he said, adding MRA has not yet met its fundraising goal for the new facility. “We need the money.”
DiSalvo said the new headquarters are critical for not only MRA but also for public safety in general in Pitkin County.
The facility will serve as a secondary, back-up communications center in case the primary one fails, as well as an emergency operations center.
The Duffs own Pine Branch Coal Sales, Inc. in Chavies, Ky.
When Walker was missing, his brother Buzz established a fundraising website that raised more than $18,000 in one day. Family members said the money would go toward expenses related to the search efforts.