Great Outdoors Colorado: Protecting Colorado’s Natural Playground

by Faith Marcovecchio

State lotteries fund all kinds of valuable things, from education to veterans’ services, Special Olympics to small businesses. But of the 45 states that sponsor lotteries, only six have created programs that use the proceeds to protect beautiful landscapes for everyone to enjoy. With Colorado’s stunning natural and recreational offerings, it’s no surprise our state is one of them.

A 1992 ballot initiative amended the Colorado Constitution to create Great Outdoors Colorado (GOCO) and its associated trust to improve outdoor access and recreational opportunities, protect and restore the state’s land and rivers, and offer educational programs and internships. GOCO is funded entirely by a portion of the proceeds from the state lottery. When Amendment 8 proposing GOCO was passed by the voters in 1992, Colorado joined Minnesota and Arizona in setting aside lottery profits to conserve and protect state land. Since that time, Oregon, Maine, and Nebraska have adopted similar programs and trusts to protect their own outdoor heritage.

The results in Colorado are astounding. In the 31 years since GOCO was established, over 5,500 projects have been completed in all 64 of the state’s counties, conserving 1.2 million acres and creating or improving just shy of 1,800 parks. To accomplish this, GOCO’s board, which includes two members from each congressional district in the state, partners with nonprofits, local governments, and Colorado Parks and Wildlife on a wide array of projects funded through the GOCO trust and matching grants.

Doubtless, you’ve heard of some of them. The new Fishers Peak State Park near Trinidad was purchased with funding from GOCO in partnership with The Trust for Public Land, The Nature Conservancy, Colorado Parks and Wildlife, and the City of Trinidad. Greenland Ranch, the beautiful swath of open space you enjoy as you drive between Denver and Colorado Springs, was also funded by the lottery, this time with additional financial backing from private funders and Douglas County, in partnership with The Conservation Fund.

On the Western Slope, GOCO, working with Colorado Parks and Wildlife, recently completed the Palisade Plunge, 32 miles of varied single-track trail that challenges mountain bikers as they ride from the top of Grand Mesa to the desert floor below. And on the Eastern Plains, rodeo lovers in Kim, Colorado, throng to events at the new Mustang Pavilion, made possible by GOCO, the Gates Family Foundation, the El Pomar Foundation, and community support.

These are some of the marquee projects GOCO is known for, but the lottery also funds hundreds of smaller projects that quietly enhance and maintain beautiful spaces and recreational venues across our state, whether by removing noxious weeds in Crested Butte, improving the baseball fields and playgrounds in Washington County, or connecting bike trails in Louisville. GOCO has had a hand in them all.

When voters passed Amendment 8 and added article XXVII to the state constitution in 1992, it was an important constitutional addition, but it wasn’t a stand-alone amendment. Article XXVII can only work in concert with article XVIII, section 7, which allows for a state-supervised lottery. In 1982, a state lottery division within the Department of Revenue was created in statute, but the division must be reauthorized continuously by bill. The most recent reauthorization happened in 2018, when Senate Bill 18-066 extended the division’s termination from 2024 until 2049. Though it’s unlikely the General Assembly would abolish our state lottery, by continuing it, the legislature also supports outdoor recreation in every county and corner of the state. For the next 25 years, that support will continue, and millions of Coloradans and visitors to our jewel of a state will benefit as a result.

Colorado, play on!