DENVER – The Great Outdoors Colorado (GOCO) Board awarded $10,787,000 in grants in the second round of Protect Initiative funding on Thursday. Four projects received grants, permanently protecting 82,664 acres of land from development and creating new public recreation opportunities.
Colorado Cattlemen’s Agricultural Land Trust (CCALT) will conserve nearly 25,000 acres in Elbert County; through a collaborative effort with the City of Aurora and Arapahoe County, The Trust for Public Land (TPL) will create a protected land buffer around Buckley Air Force Base (AFB); CCALT, in partnership with The Nature Conservancy (TNC), will protect three ranches in Las Animas County, conserving more than 58,000 acres of land; and Adams County will enhance public recreation for locals and Denver metro area residents with the acquisition of Willow Bay.
Over a three-year period, the Protect Initiative will invest $47 million in once-in-a-lifetime conservation opportunities in rural and urban areas of Colorado. Projects are evaluated on conservation values, urgency, amount of matching funds raised, and the potential to serve as a catalyst for future conservation projects.
The GOCO Board awarded the first round of Protect Initiative funding in June 2016, totaling $19.8 million in grants.
Funded projects from this round are as follows:
Agate Prairie Conservation Legacy, $2.14 million grant to Colorado Cattlemen’s Agricultural Land Trust in partnership with The Trust for Public Land and The Nature Conservancy
GOCO funding will help CCALT acquire conservation easements on three working cattle ranches near the town of Agate: the 14,759-acre Wilson Creek Ranch; 5,000 acres of the Stacked Lazy 3 Ranch; and the 3,670-acre Basin Ranch. Together the ranches, which are visible from Interstate 70 and numerous county roads, will represent the largest protected open space in Elbert County, achieving landscape-scale conservation of rare natural habitats.
Conserving the ranches will result in the protection of approximately 23,000 acres of native grasslands. In addition, the project will protect 139 miles of streams along Wilson, Muddy, Beaver, and Rattlesnake Creeks and habitat for many wildlife species.
Hunting access is provided on two of the ranches, and Basin Ranch hosts children and first-timers learning to hunt.
Buckley Air Force Base (AFB) Compatible Use Buffer, $3 million grant to The Trust for Public Land in partnership with the City of Aurora and Arapahoe County
GOCO’s $3 million in funding will help the City of Aurora, through The Trust for Public Land, acquire 704 acres across five parcels for a total of $18 million. The properties offer critical connections to previously conserved lands and will serve as a buffer of land around portions of Buckley AFB.
The acquisitions will connect streams, open space, and new trails with existing parks, recreation facilities, an environmental education center, and existing trails. A new soft surface trail will invite wildlife viewers, walkers and cyclists to experience nature close to home.
Conserving this buffer will protect Buckley AFB from encroaching development and ensure the long-term viability of training and flying missions at the base, which houses multiple branches of the military and contributes an estimated $1 billion annually to Aurora’s economy.
This project is being heralded as an example to other military bases around the country hoping to spearhead similar protection efforts within their local communities.
Southeast Colorado Prairie Canyonlands Conservation Project, $2.647 million grant to Colorado Cattlemen’s Agricultural Land Trust in partnership with The Nature Conservancy
GOCO funding will help CCALT acquire conservation easements on 48,817 acres of the iconic JE Canyon Ranch; 2,500 acres of the adjacent Doherty property; and 7,040 acres of the nearby Swanson Ranch—all in Las Animas County. The acquisitions will contribute to large-scale conservation of threatened shortgrass prairie and will enable ranching families to continue their generations-old operations.
Agriculture supports the local economy by generating jobs and income on and off ranches and helping maintain landscapes that create tourism opportunities.
The properties are visible from heavily traveled state highways and offer scenic views of southeast Colorado prairie, impressive mesas, and river canyons. They are also home to more than 850 plant and animal species and contain nine miles of the Purgatoire River, six miles of Chacuaco Creek, and four miles of Two Buttes Creek.
Willow Bay Acquisition, $3 million grant to Adams County
The culmination of 20 years of planning by Adams County and The Trust for Public Land, the Willow Bay project is one of the most significant public recreation and open space acquisition opportunities in the area to date.
The Willow Bay property features a 100-acre reservoir and will be a recreation destination for locals, Denver metro area residents, and visitors to use for non-motorized boating, fishing, and paddle-boarding. Establishing a new public recreational facility will improve quality of life for residents of a region experiencing rising population.
The property also includes open space for recreation and trail access. Adjacent to the South Platte River and the South Platte River Trail, the site will eventually accommodate an extension of the trail.
The Willow Bay property provides habitat for aquatic bird species and wildlife, and is a critical floodplain that could help the area handle runoff in a large flood event.
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 4,800 projects in urban and rural areas in all 64 counties without any tax dollar support. Visit GOCO.org for more information.