Running roughly seven miles through the city’s greenway, the Animas River Trail offers easy access to downtown Durango, parks and public open spaces, parts of the Animas River, schools, neighborhoods, the city’s rec center and library, and other area trails.

(Photo: Courtesy of Great Outdoors Colorado)

Great Outdoors Colorado, or GOCO, is looking for ideas on how to spend a little money -- actually millions of dollars. The state entity that collects lottery proceeds and spends them on acquiring open spaces will begin a month-long listening tour around the state to help develop a new strategic plan. The tour kicks off on Tuesday, Aug. 5, in Alamosa.
GOCO was created by voters in 1992. Since then, it has funded more than 3,500 projects in all 64 of Colorado's counties.
Examples include the 3,115-acre Miller Creek Ranch State Wildlife Area, near Meeker, and Staunton State Park, near Bailey. More recently, GOCO approved seven grants that will preserve more than 15,000 acres in nine counties, including a new public area near Colorado Springs and a mile of new fishing access along the Arkansas River. The largest grant aims to preserve Tolland Ranch, a historic and scenic property near Rollinsville that includes significant wildlife habitat and popular Nordic ski trails. It also helps save areas that provide water to Denver and Boulder.
As GOCO maps out a funding strategy for the next five years, it is grappling with Colorado’s booming population growth, which means more demand for outdoor recreation areas. The state’s population is expected to reach nearly 6 million by 2020, up from 5 million today.
“You can’t go on a Colorado fourteener on the weekend without running into a lot of people,” says Lise Aangeenbrug, GOCO’s executive director. "The same is true riding down the South Platte River Trail.”
Farmland in the state is also disappearing, as rural areas become increasingly urbanized. And because of development pressure, the cost of land continues to go up.
Aangeenbrug points out that demand for GOCO grants far outstrips available funds. In the most recent funding cycle, for example, GOCO received 36 grant applications, yet only had funding to approve nine. The town of Lamar recently received funding for a new baseball-softball “fourplex” -- after four tries.
As Aangeenbrug and her colleagues travel to more than a dozen cities throughout the state next month, they’ll be asking, “What should our priorities be? What do you care about related to the outdoors and open space?”
In a small community, the priority might be a new park or school playground. In the Denver metro area, it could be an expansion of a bike trail.
“I feel a sense of urgency in the next five years to continue to focus on securing land opportunities for future parks and open space because as we continue to grow, we have one shot at that," Aangeenbrug says.
Last year, GOCO received about $60 million in lottery funds.