Since awarding our first grants in 1994, GOCO has racked up some impressive numbers: We’ve infused more than $772 million in Lottery funds back into the state; awarded grants to approximately 3,500 projects in all 64 counties; permanently protected more than 1 million acres of open space; created or restored more than 725 miles of trails; and developed or enhanced 1,150 community parks and outdoor recreation areas. Our investments in Colorado are visible in communities statewide. But our soundest investment―and one that offers the greatest return―just may be in Colorado youth.

While we’ve long recognized the importance of connecting youth and families with the outdoors, our Board adopted a revised strategic plan in April 2010 that reaffirmed this belief. Created with extensive public input, our Strategic Plan identifies priorities, and guides our grant-making and investments―all within the confines of the GOCO Amendment to the Constitution. “Youth, Families and the Outdoors” was among the top three funding priorities identified in the Strategic Plan.

School Play Yard Initiative

As part of our commitment to getting kids and families outside to play, we recently developed the School Play Yard Initiative to help fund recreational amenities on school grounds that are safe, age-appropriate, ADA-accessible and available to their surrounding communities. Accessible recreational opportunities for youth are critical in our ongoing battle with childhood obesity: Colorado’s rate of childhood obesity is the second fastest in the nation behind Nevada, according to the National Survey of Children’s Health. Students will be involved in the design of the play yards, creating a sense of ownership and encouraging use of the new amenities.

Colorado Parks & Wildlife

School-based and education-related projects have received roughly $20 million in GOCO/Lottery funds over the years. Projects range from school facilities and resources like playgrounds, outdoor classrooms, ball fields and tennis courts to educational programming offered through the Division of Parks and Wildlife. GOCO-funded programs at state parks have been recognized by the Colorado Alliance for Environmental Education, including “Art in Nature” at Eldorado Canyon State Park, which challenges youth in the juvenile justice system to build sculptures using only natural materials found in the park.  

GOCO-funded wildlife education programs include Project WILD, one of the most popular conservation education programs in Colorado classrooms, and the nationally recognized Angler Education program, which offers fishing clinics for children and adults statewide.

Funding the Future

We were instrumental in starting the Colorado Youth Corps Association, which creates opportunities for young people to participate in high-quality youth corps statewide. GOCO funds have helped create hundreds of land stewardship jobs for youth and young adults in regions across the state at no cost to taxpayers.

We’ll continue to lead efforts to identify partnerships and available funding sources for providing accessible outdoor recreation for youth and families, as well as environmental education, stewardship training and youth employment opportunities on public lands.