Colorado hits the lotto with outdoor program

Staunton State Park covers 3,828 acres and is the newest addition to Colorado’s state park system, and it also is among the 20 featured projects GOCO is celebrating during its 20th anniversary year. Great Outdoors Colorado/Special to the Sentinel

On its 20th anniversary, Great Outdoors Colorado is celebrating its many successes, including benefiting nearly 3,500 projects in all 64 of the state’s counties.

This lottery-funded revenue stream is a one-of-a-kind program, said Lisa Aangeenbrug, GOCO executive director, during last week’s Parks and Wildlife Commission meeting in Gunnison.

“No other state has GOCO. No other state has the enjoyed the benefits we’ve seen,” she said. “Colorado is the only state that receives 50 percent of the lottery proceeds for protecting our natural heritage.”

Aangeenbrug said voters created the state lottery in 1980 with funds going to preserve, protect and enhance Colorado’s parks, rivers, trails and open space.

However, a loophole allowed legislators to divert the funds to such non-GOCO-type activities as building prisons.

It wasn’t until 1992 that voters passed a ballot initiative directing lottery funds to their specified purpose.

Aangeenbrug said in the 20 years since the Great Outdoors Colorado Trust Fund was created in 1993, GOCO has spent more than $773 million in lottery proceeds on those 3,500 projects.

That includes creating or enhancing 1,148 community parks and outdoor recreation areas, building or restoring nearly 725 miles of trails and protecting more than 1 million acres of open space, including trails and the James M. Robb Colorado River State Park system in Mesa County.

The program, however, is scheduled to sunset in 2020, and the future of the program will depend on people who weren’t around in 1990, Aangeenbrug said.

“The average age of Colorado residents is 36, and only people now 38 and older could have voted for the original GOCO initiative,” Aangeenbrug said. “By 2040, people 35-39 will be the largest segment of our state, people who now are 8 to 12 years old.

“And we all know it’s been an uphill battle to get them involved in the outdoors.”

With an expected 1 million more residents in Colorado by 2020 and yet another 2 million by 2050, it’s even more important to retain the benefits from GOCO, she said.


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