Colorado looks to continue the best conservation program in the West

State legislature moves to extend funding for Great Outdoors Colorado

Estes Park, CO | Flickr

This is the third installment of the Center for Western Priorities’ “Postcards from the West” blog series, featuring place-based stories of public lands in the West.

For decades, the state of Colorado has set the gold standard for conservation funding in the American West. It’s premier program, Great Outdoors Colorado, directs significant investments in Colorado’s communities and natural beauty. But without legislative reauthorization those vital investments won’t last.

Great Outdoors Colorado

Great Outdoors Colorado — better known as GOCO — was established in 1992 when Colorado voters approved a constitutional amendment directing funds from the state lottery towards conservation. GOCO’s funding mechanism is one of the reasons the program was applauded for best practices by the Outdoor Industry Association, and why Colorado scored so high on the Center for Western Priorities’ Conservation Scorecard. Currently, the program is set to expire in 2024.

To date, GOCO has awarded over $1.1 billion to 5,064 projects across all 64 Colorado counties. The program’s grants leverage federal, local, private, and non-profit matching funds and go towards increasing access to public lands, building trails, and connecting kids to the outdoors. Collectively, conservation funding from the lottery has generated 11,800 jobs and $507 million in labor income to Colorado communities.

“Great Outdoors Colorado is one of the most popular programs and policies that voters have passed in this state, that has given back many, many times,” — Colorado Representative Cole Wist

The good news is that Colorado’s state legislature has started work to extend the program. Earlier this week members of Colorado’s House Finance Committee voted 11–1 to approve a bill that would reauthorize the Colorado State Lottery and extend GOCO’s funding a full 25 years until 2049. The legislation would continue the practice of directing 50 percent of lottery proceeds towards GOCO, 40 percent to the Conservation Trust Fund, and 10 percent to Colorado Parks and Wildlife. Before being considered by the State Senate, the bill must also pass the House Appropriations Committee.

GOCO projectsfrom large capital investments to school playgrounds — sustain what makes Colorado so appealing for outdoor recreation and outdoor lifestyles.

Here are a three examples of GOCO projects that strengthen Colorado communities:

Grand Valley’s Colorado Riverfront Trail — Mesa County

On Colorado’s Western Slope, GOCO has invested over $11 million in the Grand Valley’s Colorado Riverfront Trail, which connects Palisade’s wineries and Fruita’s mountain biking trails to the hiking paths of the Colorado National Monument. The trail has boosted local businesses, reinforced tourism, and improved the quality of life for the county’s residents.

Rio Grande Farm Park — Alamosa

Located in southern Colorado, the 38-acre Rio Grande Farm Park was protected with a $254,000 open space grant from GOCO in 2015. Today, the space is being developed by the San Luis Valley Local Foods Coalition as a hub for preserving the valley’s agricultural heritage through community food production and outdoor education.

My Outdoor Colorado — Denver

In 2016, the GOCO Inspire initiative launched six pilot programs to increase outdoor access for youth in underserved communities. The My Outdoor Colorado coalition — comprised of partners like Denver Parks and Recreation, the Boys and Girls Club of Metro Denver, and Westwood Unidos — provides access to nature education and outdoor recreation for the Westwood and Cole neighborhoods of Denver.

At a time when national conservation funding programs are being attacked, state-level funding for conservation is more crucial than ever. Great Outdoors Colorado is a source of pride for Coloradans and a model for other states in the West. This opportunity to reauthorize GOCO is a no-brainer and a chance for Colorado to continue its leadership in conservation and outdoor recreation.