Larimer project is big winner in grants from state – Great Outdoors Colorado awarded $11.6 million for grasslands purchase

Growing up in Colorado, K-Lynn Cameron became accustomed to spectacular views that stretch as far as the eye can see.

But the swath of rolling grasslands north of Fort Collins that gently yield to Wyoming foothills leaves her awestruck.

By Kim McGuire
Denver Post Staff Writer,1413,36~53~2570794,00.html

"It’s the untouched Old West exactly as you might envision it," said Cameron, Larimer County’s open lands manager. "To know we’re going to save it is just awesome."

On Wednesday, Great Outdoors Colorado awarded $11.6 million to Larimer County as part of an unprecedented $60 million awards package – the largest pool of money the lottery-funded agency has doled out in a single batch.

The Larimer County grant to buy the grasslands was the third largest single grant ever given by GOCO, which also awarded money to 17 other projects Wednesday.

Among them: the planned acquisition of a 243-acre lake near Pueblo, construction of 56 miles of new trails along the Continental Divide, a series of projects in the San Juan Mountains, and the purchase of Douglas County ranchland providing a critical link to protected open space.

"With broad support from communities across the state, large expanses of open space that define the rich beauty of Colorado will now be preserved," said Gov. Bill Owens.

The Owens-appointed GOCO board has been criticized in the past for funding projects that did little to preserve Colorado’s special places.

But of the $60 million awarded Wednesday, $48 million will be used for land conservation, and the remaining $12 million will advance work on two new state parks, trails and recreational opportunities. By the time this fiscal year ends, the board will have given $97 million. Last year, it awarded $53 million. One of the key reasons: increased lottery proceeds from

Click here for an illustration of the GOCO giveaway.

Colorado voters established the Great Outdoors Colorado Trust Fund in 1992. Fifty percent of all lottery proceeds go into the fund, which finances projects that preserve, protect and enhance Colorado’s wildlife, parks, rivers, trails and open spaces.

GOCO chairman T. Wright Dickinson explained that after much discussion, the board decided not to use its voter-approved bonding authority to finance the 18 projects.

Some of the projects will be completed as a result of this year’s GOCO grants, while others will continue to seek funds.

"The approach the GOCO board has chosen fulfills the voters’ intent without going into debt," said Dickinson, of Maybell. "These grants meet the most urgent land preservation needs at this time. And, if additional projects of the same urgency come forward, GOCO has still preserved the option to bond."

The selection process started early this year and culminated this fall as project sponsors made their final pitches.

Bringing the most players to the bargaining table was the coalition of cities, counties, land trusts and even a college supporting the San Juan Skyway project, which will preserve land along the 236-mile scenic byway through southwestern Colorado.

That project, which received $5.7 million from GOCO, will help develop hiking trails, spruce up recreational facilities at Molas Lake Park above Silverton and help consolidate ownership of the Ouray Ice Park.

"This is a huge boost for us," said Nina Williams, director of the Montezuma Land Trust, the project’s primary sponsor. "We simply don’t have the financial resources of some of the Front Range communities or mountain resort towns to pull off a project like this."

Of the 18 projects, GOCO awarded the most money to Larimer County, which will use the $11.6 million to preserve 55,400 acres that will stitch together an immense 140,000-acre conservation zone.

While much of the land will remain in private ownership, 30 miles of trails will be constructed on land now inaccessible to the public. The trails will ferry hikers, mountain bikers and horse riders past soaring rock buttes, sweeping grassland vistas, red-rock walls and historic tepee rings.

One of the key components of the project is the purchase of the Red Mountain, a historic ranch Cameron and other county officials have had their eye on for years.

"Two years ago, Red Mountain was 42,000 acres, and today it’s 13,500 acres," Cameron said. "That was an indication of what was going to keep happening. It was going to keep getting chopped up, keep getting parceled out in smaller and smaller pieces. That added to our overall sense of urgency to get this grant."

Staff writer Kim McGuire can be reached at 303-820-1240 or at [email protected] .

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