Colorado DOW moving regional office to Gunnison

The Colorado Division of Wildlife is spending $13 million moving its Southwest Regional office to Gunnison and building an Outdoor Discovery Center there.

The center, to be located on nine acres donated to the Division by Gunnison attorney and developer Richard Bratton, will be a hands-on learning center aimed at getting youngsters and families involved in wildlife-related outdoor recreation.

“There is nothing like this anywhere,” Southwest Region Manager Tom Spezze said.

A similar Outdoor Discovery Center is being planned for Helena, Mont., but that plan still is in the funding stage.

“There are a lot of states interested in this and they’ll be watching how we develop it,” Spezze said.

Finding a home for the Southwest Region, which currently is based in Durango, has been a DOW priority since the regional office was re-established seven years ago, Spezze said.

For much of that time, the regional office shared cramped quarters with the Durango area office in a small house near downtown Durango.

Those offices recently moved into a 3,000-square foot building in the Bodo Park area south of town.

However, DOW officials decided Durango simply was too far from Denver and the rest of the Southwest Region to be an effective regional center, Spezze said.

The regional office had been in Montrose before moving to Durango but “when we started looking at other places, no one could come close to what Gunnison was offering,” Spezze said.

There are several key points in the move to Gunnison.

One is Bratton’s donation of the 9-acre site one mile east of Gunnison along the south side of U.S. Highway 50.

The parcel is tied to a 633-acre multiple-use development on the east edge of Gunnison called Gunnison Rising being planned by Bratton’s development firm, Gunnison Valley Partners.

The development, most of which lies north of Highway 50, includes single-family homes, mixed commercial sites, an RV park, equestrian center, trails and open space.

Along with the regional and area offices, the site will include the Outdoor Discovery Center as well as a hunter education building with an indoor archery and rifle/pistol ranges, an outdoor archery range and other outdoor-related activities.

“We really wanted something to get kids and families into outdoor recreation of all types,” said Spezze, noting how many wildlife agencies are seeking ways to get younger generations interested in hunting and fishing.

The proximity of Highway 50 carrying hordes of year-round visitors to tourist-friendly Gunnison is a natural, too, Spezze said.

Since talks began with Gunnison, the DOW has cemented partnerships with the city, Western State College and federal land-management agencies.

The City of Gunnison can expect some economic impact along with other benefits, city planner Steve Westbay said.

“I see this as an economic driver of the development plan we’ve put together,” Westbay said. “From the natural resource and outdoor recreation perspective, this is a very progressive plan.

“And along with what they are doing with Western State College and student education forums in our community, I think it’s a great thing for Gunnison.”

Bratton surmised that the Division of Wildlife’s “tremendous partnership” with Western State College is as key as the free land.

He said Western State President Jay Helman told DOW officials the school would “tweak its existing” outdoor program to fit with the Division’s mission.

“This is a tremendous asset for the college and community,” Bratton said.

More than two-thirds of the $13 million will come from GOCO lottery funds, federal grants and private donations, Spezze said.

Approximately $3.5 million for the administrative offices will come from the Division’s game cash fund from the sale of hunting and fishing licenses.

As part of the Division’s plan, the agency purchased 200 acres along Tomichi Creek adjacent to the 9-acre site for the Tomichi Creek State Wildlife Area.

Another adjacent 248 acres, purchased by the Bureau of Reclamation for $1.3 million as part of its mitigation for fisheries lost by the construction of Blue Mesa Reservoir, will be given to the Division to be included in the wildlife area.

The wildlife area will offer fishing, skiing, watchable wildlife and waterfowl hunting, Spezze said. Construction is expected to begin in 2012.


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