The Great Outdoors Colorado (GOCO) board recently awarded two grants totaling $1,177,404 in Larimer County. A $988,000 grant will help the City of Loveland develop its first inclusive neighborhood park, and with a $189,404 grant, Estes Valley Land Trust (EVLT) will hire new staff to support the implementation of its strategic plan.
The first grant is part of GOCO’s Community Impact program, which develops and revitalizes parks, trails, schoolyards, fairgrounds, environmental education facilities, and other outdoor projects that enhance a community’s quality of life and access to the outdoors.
Funding will support the City of Loveland in developing its first inclusive neighborhood park, including a playground, trail, and natural area dedicated to serving individuals with disabilities and their families, friends, and caregivers. The 79-acre outdoor recreation hub is located on city-owned property along East 1st Street in the historically under-served southeast Loveland area. The park will be located near partner organizations aligned with the project’s mission to advance equity and inclusion, including the Boys & Girls Club of Larimer County and Loveland Youth Gardeners.
Willow Bend will feature a shaded, universally accessible playground, sports courts, a multi-use field, a picnic patio, a hammock grove, a water play area, a fishing pier, and a restroom. In addition, a 10-acre transition area between these amenities and high-quality wildlife and waterfowl habitat will host programmed and self-guided recreation, environmental education, nature-play opportunities, and a trailhead for the regional East Big Thompson Trail.
“We aim to promote equity and inclusion in Loveland by breaking down barriers to the physical, mental, emotional, and social benefits of playing outdoors and by elevating the voices of people with disabilities,” said Dr. Kelly Zuniga, Parks and Recreation Planner at the City of Loveland.
Extensive community engagement through GOCO’s 2016 Inspire Initiative (now Generation Wild) drove the project vision. Ongoing public outreach continues to elevate the voices of Northern Colorado’s most vulnerable residents.
The second grant is part of GOCO’s Planning and Capacity program, which invests in projects that address opportunities, explore issues, engage communities, and examine trends in the outdoors.
Funding will support EVLT in hiring a stewardship manager, a part-time land agent, and a part-time high school intern. The added capacity will support the implementation of the land trust’s GOCO-funded 2020 Estes Valley Open Space Plan focused on conservation, land stewardship, and outdoor access.
The new stewardship manager will establish partnerships with forest health and fire management agencies, including the Estes Valley Fire Protection District and the Natural Resource Conservation Service, to improve resiliency and reinforce land management recommendations on privately conserved lands.
Funding will also support EVLT in engaging historically underrepresented communities, including the Indigenous community that was displaced from the Estes Valley in the 19th century but still calls the landscape home. The new land agent will assist with an effort to collaboratively conserve an important sacred site.
In addition, EVLT will partner with Estes Park School District to better engage local youth and families. Two students will have the opportunity to kickstart their careers in the outdoors through paid internships. As part of the internships, the students will co-develop a Youth and Nature Film Festival, which will award college scholarships to local students. Through these efforts, EVLT seeks to diversify the voices that lead conservation and stewardship work and create bridges for greater listening and learning from the community’s young people.
“There is a tremendous amount of conservation success that has occurred in the Estes Valley, but Indigenous communities, other people of color, and youth have often been left out. GOCO’s grant enables the Estes Valley Land Trust to continue preserving land, connect with these underserved communities, and better serve all,” said Jeffrey Boring, Executive Director at Estes Valley Land Trust.
To date, GOCO has invested more than $61 million in projects in Larimer County and conserved 68,287 acres of land there. GOCO funding has supported the Dakota Ridge land acquisition, Longview Corridor Trail, and Ben Delatour Scout Ranch, among other projects.
Great Outdoors Colorado (GOCO) invests a portion of Colorado Lottery proceeds to help preserve and enhance the state’s parks, trails, wildlife, rivers, and open spaces. GOCO’s independent board awards competitive grants to local governments and land trusts and makes investments through Colorado Parks and Wildlife. Created when voters approved a constitutional amendment in 1992, GOCO has since funded more than 5,500 projects in all 64 counties of Colorado without any tax dollar support. Visit GOCO.org for more information.