How nearly $30 million in lottery money has been distributed in effort to connect all Coloradans to a park or trail
The Colorado the Beautiful initiative — kicked off under John Hickenlooper — is celebrating three years as Gov. Polis seeks to expand opportunities for a wider range of Coloradans.
The Colorado Sun
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Great Outdoors Colorado has distributed close to $30 million for regional trails across the state in the three years since former Gov. John Hickenlooper announced Colorado the Beautiful, his plan to connect every state resident with a park or trail.
GOCO’s “Connect Initiative” grants — mostly lottery proceeds distributed through Colorado Parks and Wildlife — have helped communities plan, carve, pave and link trails across the state and the trail party seems to be continuing under Gov. Jared Polis.
Last fall the Colorado Parks and Wildlife Commission distributed 11 Colorado the Beautiful grants totaling $4.75 million, with $4 million coming from GOCO and $750,000 from the federal Land and Water Conservation Fund. Five of the grants went toward Hickenlooper’s “16 for 2016” high-priority trails. Another $3 million is slated for trail grants this summer.
Polis wants the Department of Natural Resources to expand public access for recreation, hunting and fishing on public lands as well as provide more opportunities on public lands to a wider range of Coloradans.
“Completing existing projects and working with stakeholders on future trail and access projects are a key component of this new priority,” said department spokesman Chris Arend.
Another goal for the department is to develop sustainable funding sources for Colorado Parks and Wildlife, which supports itself largely through park passes, camping permits and hunting and fishing license fees.
Last year Colorado lawmakers gave the wildlife commission the ability to raise those fees, which allows the agency to catch up on deferred maintenance and budget cuts after years of declining revenues.
But the fee increase alone is not enough. In December, the agency released the Colorado Parks and Wildlife Future Funding Study, which analyzed a host of possible strategies for increasing revenues. Those included a general sales tax, a sales or excise tax on outdoor gear, vehicle registration fees and fees for mountain bikes and non-motorized boats like kayaks.
Colorado Parks and Wildlife will soon start asking the public to vet these ideas at meetings across the state, with the goal of bolstering the agency’s relevance beyond its longtime supporters in the hunting and fishing community. That could involve enlisting the financial support of hikers and bicyclists who use all these new trails.
GOCO, which was established by a voter-approved constitutional amendment in 1992, is generally immune to shifting political winds. The lottery funded agency also is driven by the priorities of communities that apply for grant support and raise matching funds.
And the priorities have been pretty consistent over the years, GOCO executive director Chris Castillian said. “Trails are a huge priority for a lot of our rural communities, not only as connectors but as economic engines.”
The role of trails differs across Colorado’s rural communities. For pioneering trail towns like Fruita, it’s time for trails to spin from town to the vast singletrack networks that have made the town a mountain biking destination.
For Montrose, it’s time to connect trails and parks along the city’s Uncompahgre River to its recreation center and different neighborhoods. For newcomers like Del Norte, it’s time to assemble a loose collection of singletrack on public lands around town into a cohesive system of trails that could entice pedaling visitors to come spend a few days.
“For towns that have been reliant on a boom-bust natural resource economy, having a more consistent and stable revenue opportunity through outdoor recreation can be transformative,” Castilian said. “This isn’t just about tourism, but economic development. And a lot of it starts with a trail.”
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