I enjoy asking people where they like to hike, what they’re seeing out on the trails and what they think is the best way to pay for new parks, trails and open spaces.
That last question often garners this response: ”I thought the lottery paid for parks.”
It’s true, Great Outdoors Colorado (GOCO), the program funded by lottery proceeds, has helped pay for many county and city parks in the state. Over the past 30 years, GOCO has helped fund 5,529 projects across Colorado and conserved more than a million acres.
It’s an investment of $1.3 billion in lottery dollars. That’s a lot of money.
But when you consider Colorado has 64 counties and 399 towns and cities, even a billion dollars can’t cover all the parks, trails, open spaces, sports fields and all the other projects that meet GOCO’s criteria.
GOCO was started in 1992 by then Gov. Roy Romer and Ken Salazar, executive director of the Natural Resources Department. The pair formed a citizens committee to figure out how best to sustain and enhance the state’s outdoor resources for the future, and GOCO was created by a vote of Coloradans.
If you wonder why there’s so much green space once you travel north and cross into Douglas County, it’s because the 17,000-acre Greenland Ranch was preserved thanks to one of GOCO’s early achievements.
Since its inception, GOCO has awarded 201 grants, conserved 8,170 acres and invested more than $56 million in El Paso County.
So yes, lottery dollars, providing resources for both GOCO and the Conservation Trust Fund (CTF), have transformed Colorado. CTF provides cities and counties with money to make capital investments and pay parks staff. CTF kept many park departments afloat during the recession.
The immediate need now is attracting and retaining people devoted to taking care of these cherished public spaces. GOCO now offers grants to help meet that need.
Chances are, GOCO had a hand in creating one of your favorite public spaces or trails. Without it our state would look very different.
Davies is the executive director of the Trails and Open Space Coalition.