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Friends, indeed: Nonprofit helps fund programs at Staunton State Park

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By Daniel Laverty

The nonprofit group Friends of Staunton State Park has been working with Colorado’s newest state park since before it opened last year, and now the group is starting to receive some recognition.

Friends of Staunton recently was named Best Nonprofit of the Year by the Conifer Area Chamber of Commerce.

“It was a pleasant surprise,” said Wayne Parkinson, board president of Friends of Staunton. “Talk about a fantastic way to start 2014.”

Friends of Staunton has a five-member board that raises money, applies for grants, and gives funds to Staunton’s management for projects and improvements. The group received nonprofit status last May.

“Our biggest donations come from our individual and corporate sponsors,” said Susan Festag, treasurer for Friends of Staunton. “All donations are tax-deductible and go immediately to the park’s greatest needs.”

Festag said the group raised more than $13,000 in donations last year. That money paid for volunteer-led projects and last year’s opening-weekend festivities, including shuttles to transport visitors, a climbing wall and a dirt-bike track for kids.

A Friend and a volunteer

The Friends group works closely with Staunton State Park staff and also the park’s volunteer group.

“I always like to say that the volunteers donate their time, and that the Friends donate their time to raise money,” said Jennifer Anderson, Staunton’s manager.

Many of the board members also spend time volunteering in the park.

“I sometimes wear my ‘Friends hat’ and then my ‘volunteer hat,’ depending on what I’m doing that particular day,” Parkinson said.

“Volunteers spend time working the front gate, maintaining trails and doing other important maintenance work,” Parkinson said. “During winter months, the park has only two staff members. Staunton would not be the same park without the volunteers.”

Anderson said the park’s volunteers worked more than 15,000 hours from May 2012 to December 2013.

“We would certainly not be as successful as we are if not for the help and support of the volunteers and the Friends,” Anderson said. “To open a state park has been a once-in-a-lifetime job, but working with the Friends and volunteers has been the icing on the cake. It’s just been amazing.”

“We have 45 new volunteers for this summer,” Parkinson said. “Now that the park has opened and things have settled down, we’re now looking to partner with the community and start fund-raising. The park is a state agency and is competing for dollars it doesn’t always get. Donations to Friends go directly to the park.”

Festag said the Friends recently updated its mission statement. 

“We really want to focus on preserving and promoting Staunton State Park,” Festag said. “We’re focusing on identifying partners to help us do just that.”

Staunton’s future

Anderson said that Great Outdoors Colorado and the Colorado Lottery have approved funding this year for a visitor center to be built inside the park. 

“We don’t know when we’ll see the money, but we have been approved,” Anderson said. “That funding will also allow us to plan the construction phase for camping.”

Davis Ponds, the park’s fishing area, are still closed while dam construction is being completed. Anderson said construction should be done in May, and the ponds will be filled soon after.

Anderson said more than 116,000 people have visited the park since its opening last May.

“We said we wanted 133,000 visitors in the first year in our master plan, so we’re well on our way to meeting that expectation,” Anderson said. 

The one-year anniversary

Colorado’s newest state park opened May 18 of last year, and the park’s supporters are planning a proper celebration this May.

“We’re going to celebrate with a living-history event,” Anderson said. “We really want to tell the story of the Stauntons and how this park became a park.”

Visitors will get a chance to see how the Staunton family lived when the land was first settled. The weekend will offer music, fun and activities for kids and families.

“We’re working with actors, musicians and even a blacksmith,” Anderson said. “Games from the 1800s will be offered — like Kick the Can. Guests will really see what life was like during that time.”

“When I work the entrance gate, I like to tell kids to imagine what it would be like to live with no electricity or plumbing,” Parkinson said. “Their faces perk up when I mention there were no cell phones or iPads then, either.”

The park’s one-year celebration is scheduled for May 17 and 18.

Staunton State Park was the 43rd state park to open in Colorado. The entrance to the park’s 3,828 acres is at 12102 S. Elk Creek Road in Pine. Staunton is open daily from 8 a.m. to 7 p.m., and a day pass costs $7.

For more information on Friends of Staunton State Park, visit  HYPERLINK "http://www.stauntonpark.com" www.stauntonpark.com or e-mail info@friendsofstuanton.org.

Contact Daniel Laverty at 303-350-1042 or Daniel@evergreenco.com. Follow Daniel on Twitter @LavertyReports.