crystal river valley

An image of the Crystal River Valley from an EcoFlight mission in August 2022. The view is downvalley, toward Mount Sopris. A group is exploring a federal designation of wild and scenic for the Crystal River in Gunnison and Pitkin counties.

The effort to explore getting a federal designation of wild and scenic for the Crystal River is about to get turned up a notch.

The Wild and Scenic Feasibility Collaborative announced Monday it has selected Wellstone Collaborative Strategies and P2 Solutions to facilitate and lead a community engagement and stakeholder process. American Whitewater, a national nonprofit that advocates for the preservation and protection of whitewater rivers, will support Wellstone in the administration of its outreach efforts.

“American Whitewater is incredibly proud of the work of the Crystal River Wild and Scenic Collaborative in identifying the need for a robust and inclusive stakeholder process to discuss the merits and mechanisms for lasting protections for one of Colorado's few remaining free flowing rivers,” Hattie Johnson, Southern Rockies stewardship director for American Whitewater said in a statement. “Wellstone is highly qualified to include diverse perspectives and identify a path forward. This process will provide paddlers, landowners, conservationists, ranchers, community members, and anyone else with interest in the Crystal River a valuable chance to share their perspectives and insight.”

The selection committee of the collaborative included representatives from the town of Marble, Gunnison County, Pitkin County, the Colorado River District and American Whitewater, as well as landowners in unincorporated Gunnison County and the Pitkin County Crystal River Caucus.

Denver-based Wellstone Collaborative Strategies and Loveland-based P2 Solutions were selected for their experience and competence in facilitation and community engagement. Both Jacob Bornstein, founder and principal of Wellstone Collaborative Strategies, and Wendy Lowe, owner of P2 Solutions, have demonstrated exceptional facilitation skills and experience shepherding broad community conversations to successful outcomes, according to a statement from the selection committee, according to an announcement. The principals in the businesses have strong backgrounds in natural resource issues and direct knowledge of the Crystal River.

Zane Kessler of the Colorado River District said the selection of Wellstone and P2 Solutions was unanimous.

“Consistent with the River District’s work to represent and protect the interests of all water users on the Western Slope, we believe Jacob and Wendy can bring Crystal River water users — both consumptive and non-consumptive — to the table for a meaningful conversation around the future of the Crystal River,” Kessler said in a statement.

Pitkin County Commissioner Kelly McNicholas Kury, a member of the collaborative, said Bornstein and Love have worked on Colorado water issues in the past and have direct knowledge of the Crystal River, which will help when they help to identify and work through the most important community concerns about how to protect the river.

With a goal of identifying long-lasting river protection, the collaborative envisions the creation of a stakeholder group that would engage in fact finding, identification of overlapping interests and concerns, and a robust discussion of shared goals and strategies. The initial phase of the stakeholder process will bring together a representative cross section of interested individuals to provide informed input; examine, explore and investigate river protection; access and rely on experts in river and riparian health; engage experts to provide factual information relevant to protective designations; agree upon rules of engagement; be a process grounded in the highest integrity and inclusiveness; and result in identification of shared principles for protection of the Crystal River.

Costs for the facilitation services and expenditures of the stakeholder process are to be shared through both monetary and in-kind contributions from the town of Marble, Gunnison County, Pitkin County, the Colorado River District and American Whitewater. The stakeholder process will kick off in the first quarter of 2023.

A copy of the requests for proposals was provided by the collaborative. It states that the initial contract for the facilitation services shall not exceed $50,000.