DENVER – On Friday, the Great Outdoors Colorado (GOCO) Board awarded $5 million in grants to nine critical land conservation projects across the state, permanently conserving 31,816 acres of land.
GOCO’s open space grant program funds public and private land conservation projects that sustain local agriculture and economies, give outdoor recreationists a place to play (or simply enjoy the view), protect wildlife habitat, and safeguard the state’s water supply.
This round of GOCO-funded projects will leverage $8.4 million in matching funds, with landowners donating more than $6 million of their land’s value to ensure its protection from development.
Funded projects will protect approximately 140 miles of rivers and streams, provide public recreation access on four properties, and conserve nearly 8,000 acres of scenic views.
Funded projects are as follows:
Acequia Initiative – Working to Conserve Colorado’s Oldest Agricultural Communities, $638,000 grant to Colorado Open Lands
GOCO funds will help Colorado Open Lands to permanently protect three properties with senior water rights on historic acequias in Costilla County. These ranches hold the oldest agricultural settlements and water rights in the state, dating back to 1844. Acequias are communal systems of irrigation canals and ditches, and are highly important to the San Luis Valley’s economy and culture.
Arkansas River and Riparian Protection – Southern Lake County, $505,500 grant to Central Colorado Conservancy
The Conservancy will invest the GOCO grant in expanding its Arkansas River Preserve and create future public fishing access on Colorado’s longest stretch of Gold Medal Trout Waters. The GOCO grant will also allow the conservancy to maintain and protect habitat for wildlife and a historic stage coach route that provides scenic views for thousands of people.
Conserving the Encantada Ranch, $200,000 grant to Rio Grande Headwaters Land Trust
Encantada ranch stretches from bank to bank on the Rio Grande Island, an area where the river naturally splits. In addition to having senior water rights, the property provides habitat for elk, trout, and dozens of different bird species. The scenic property can be seen from county roads and by those traveling Highway 160, one of the most traveled roads in the San Luis Valley.
Heartland Ranch Preserve Expansion, $310,700 grant to Southern Plains Land Trust (SPLT)
SPLT will acquire nearly 7,000 acres to expand its Heartland Ranch Nature Preserve, which is home to a grazing bison herd, a native species for shortgrass prairie habitat. The property also provides habitat for pronghorn, mule deer, and a wide array of rare plants. The ranch attracts hundreds of visitors to an underserved corner of the state, and the expansion will grow Heartland Ranch’s scenic views to attract more tourism in the future.
Hill Family Ranches CE, $1,010,000 grant to The Trust for Public Land (TPL)
TPL’s GOCO-funded project will contribute to 20,000 acres of land along the Saguache Creek permanently protected by TPL, GOCO, and other partners over the course of decades. This latest conservation effort will keep land in agricultural production, protect significant wildlife habitat, and ensure water quality benefiting humans and wildlife.
Medicine Mountains Ranch Conservation Project, $390,000 grant to Colorado Cattlemen’s Agricultural Land Trust
Conserving Medicine Mountains Ranch will keep the land in agricultural production, create public recreation access, protect wildlife habitat, and preserve scenic views.
The ranch is located at the foot of the Medicine Bow Mountains along the Cache la Poudre North Park Scenic Byway, and sharing its beauty with the public has long been a dream of the landowner. He ultimately plans to build a cross-country ski center on the property, opening approximately 21 miles of groomed trails to the public in the future.
Pearce Ranch Conservation Legacy, $420,000 grant to Colorado Cattlemen’s Agricultural Land Trust
GOCO will help CCALT acquire a conservation easement on the two parcels making up the Pearce Ranch, totaling 620 acres. Proceeds from the easement will enable the ranch’s long-time manager to purchase the property. Conserving the property will continue its ranching legacy, in addition to protecting wildlife habitat and water rights benefiting all of the properties in the Highland Ditch system.
Purgatory Basin Ranch Conservation Easement, $556,550 grant to Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation (RMEF)
GOCO funding will help RMEF permanently protect Purgatory Basin Ranch near La Junta, conserving over 12,000 acres and 68 miles of streams. Placing a conservation easement on the ranch will enable the landowners to keep it in agricultural production, protect high-quality wildlife habitat, and safeguard southeastern Colorado history.
Smith Rancho 5 Deep Creek, $969,250 grant to The Nature Conservancy (TNC)
By conserving a fifth phase of Smith Rancho in Routt County, TNC will add 4,800 acres to the more than 12,000 acres the Smith family has worked for years to conserve with TNC and previous GOCO grants. Conserving Smith Rancho will achieve landscape-scale conservation, protecting 18 miles of streams and adding to a block of protected land spanning tens of thousands of acres. This important conservation effort will also contribute to protecting scenic views that draw tourists, and economic value, to the Steamboat Springs area.
Great Outdoors Colorado (GOCO) invests a portion of Colorado Lottery proceeds to help preserve and enhance the state’s parks, trails, wildlife, rivers, and open spaces. GOCO’s independent board awards competitive grants to local governments and land trusts, and makes investments through Colorado Parks and Wildlife. Created when voters approved a Constitutional Amendment in 1992, GOCO has since funded more than 5,000 projects in all 64 counties of Colorado without any tax dollar support. Visit GOCO.org for more information.