UPPER RIO GRANDE — Managing the Rio Grande requires money, and like most big projects in the San Luis Valley, funding streams range from bank to bank, often a mix of private donations and grants for nonprofits.
In a recent article about the Riverfront Project in the Del Norte Prospector, the Del Norte Bank was mistakenly omitted from the list of donors. Without the bank and other financial backers, the Riverfront Project would not have remained on track since 2015, the year Emma Reesor and the Rio Grande Headwaters Restoration Project joined the town of Del Norte and the Del Norte Trails Organization to help complete the vision.
Reesor is the executive director the Rio Grande Headwaters Restoration Project. Before the San Luis Valley Great Outdoors (SLVGO) meeting at the Windsor Hotel on Feb. 28, Reesor met board members at the Riverfront Project site and fielded questions. Listing Del Norte Bank and other financial backers, Reesor described grant-funding efforts for the project.
The money from Del Norte Bank helps cover costs, but equally important, contributions like these demonstrate “skin in the game,” a shared commitment within the community. Reesor and other grant-writers said that a mix of community involvement can lead to more funds.
Upstream during the Creede School Board meeting on Feb. 26, Creede City Manager Louis Fineberg provided details about the town’s offer to buy school district property. An infrastructure project, the purchase would allow administrators to move town hall and use the existing building as a garage.
Unlike other private buyers, Fineberg and the town board can’t count chickens before they hatch. In fact, the town faces a chicken-egg challenge because grant funding cycles do not align with real estate closing deadlines. Cash-in-hand usually wins the race.
Fineberg answered questions, and he said they are busy writing grant proposals at town hall. Cooperation between school districts and municipalities, Fineberg noted, can make a proposal stronger, perhaps yielding higher funds.
But when grants are not awarded, organizations resort to backup plans while continuing to apply for other money and tapping different resources. While waiting, managers plan for the best and the worst.
“It’s grant-writing season,” Executive Director Mick Daniel noted during the SLVGO meeting. Daniel described new opportunities for grant funds by taking a broader view, noting that some proposals “move us out of the trails and into health and wellness.”
Reesor noted how projects change from the early grant-writing stages, spurred by community input, logistics and funding. Recalling early days working with Bonnie and Marty Asplin and Heather Dutton, Reesor said, “We had community nights and started to write grants. We needed funding secured for design, engineering and permitting.”
Reesor said they were awarded these smaller grants in 2016 and propelled the project. “The permit process was pretty expensive as well. It’s interesting because you need to understand what you’re building — what the engineering is — and get those cost estimates before you know what you need to ask for.”
Again, community cooperation helped, according to Reesor.
“I think the diversity of supporters and funders for the Del Norte Riverfront Project has added a lot of strength to it,” Reesor said. “We have had a lot of community supporters who donated early to help us get going. Then we had Rio Grande County donate $20,000 for rock” for the boat ramp.
But do organizations sometimes compete for the same pool of money?
“I think in the Valley we generally do a good job communicating with each other within the nonprofit world.” Reesor mentioned SLVGO and other conservation groups that communicate details about their projects in development, partly to avoid unnecessary competition for grant funding.
“Cooperation is very important, especially in the Valley where we’re so grant-driven in our projects. If we’re successful in securing funding,” Reesor continued, “the hope would be to have a ribbon-cutting next summer. But if that funding doesn’t come through or something else happens, it could be 2021. We’re all hopeful we can have a ribbon-cutting in 2020.”