What happens when you bring together 32 La Plata County residents and ask for their future vision of recreation and land-conservation needs in the area?
You get about 32 different answers.
OK, maybe not quite that many, at least in general terms. But the views were certainly widely varied Wednesday night as Great Outdoors Colorado held the second of 14 sessions during its listening tour around the state.
Great Outdoors Colorado, or GOCO, is in the middle of formulating a strategic plan it hopes will take it through the next five to 10 years. The goal is to have this plan, being created with the help of Denver-area consultant Civic Canopy, ready for the GOCO board of directors in April, said Jackie Miller, GOCO’s director of programs.
Wednesday’s meeting at the Durango Community Recreation Center brought together a who’s who of outdoors-type movers and shakers, not to mention both candidates for the state House’s 59th District seat. Republican candidate J. Paul Brown, who held the seat from 2011-12, even won a book for his well-received suggestion to make recreation at Lake Nighthorse a reality.
That type of specific suggestion was the last step in the process, as the 32 locals first divided into smaller groups for “visioning.” Everyone pondered, then discussed, this question: “When I think about the future of our state’s parks, trails, wildlife, rivers and open spaces, what I care about most is ... “
For those of you who have been outside living under a tree for the last couple of decades, GOCO is the state organization in charge of doling out Colorado Lottery money for outdoor recreation, land conservation and wildlife. It was formed by voters in 1992, and has been handing out money to communities since 1994. La Plata County has been the beneficiary of $8.9 million in GOCO funding; much of that has gone to the city of Durango for open-space acquisitions and constructing the Animas River Trail.
Overall in Colorado, GOCO money has helped preserve 1 million acres of open space and built or maintained more than 800 miles of trails, according to GOCO.
“While we’ve accomplished a lot, there’s a lot more to do,” Miller said.
Aided by GOCO representatives, Civic Canopy – with president and co-founder Bill Fulton at the helm – organized Wednesday’s session. Civic Canopy will take the input gathered during its listening tour, combine that with the results of an ongoing poll, online feedback and meetings with youth groups, and create a plan draft by October, Miller said. That plan will be tweaked and presented to the GOCO board in April.
La Plata County visions of GOCO’s strategic plan mainly focused on providing diverse recreational opportunities and increasing the ethics regarding open space. Regarding the latter issue, several residents concerned about the impacts of the city’s Oxbow Park and Preserve on wildlife said GOCO should consider such impacts before awarding a grant.
“It’s having a devastating effect on wildlife,” said Tim Wolf, who lives near Oxbow. “And it happens every day.”
Wolf said great blue herons hang out there until people visit the park, which remains undeveloped, and then immediately leave.
Using electronic voting devices, the 32 attendees voted for their favorite visions. Before that, they were asked to give their ages and race, and, not surprisingly, the majority were ages 51-65, and almost all were white.
The biggest vote-getter was for an increased awareness ethic and appreciation for our open space. Next came something fairly similar: Keeping Colorado, Colorado by protecting all our natural resources. Accessibility to recreation was a popular vision as was creating outdoor opportunities for youths.
The next step was to think of a tangible project to bring your vision to life. That’s when the plan to develop Lake Nighthorse for recreation proved most popular.
Brown, of Ignacio, said that during his House tenure, he saw that many state parks are a drain on the budget. He wonders if creating a state park at Lake Nighthorse, the 120,000-acre reservoir created by the Animas-La Plata Project and filled in 2011, would be a good financial opportunity.
“I think it’d be a winner for the state of Colorado,” Brown said in a phone interview Thursday.
“It just seems nothing’s happening up there, and there’s a lot of frustration in the community.”
State Rep. Michael McLachlan, D-Durango, also attended Wednesday’s meeting.
The listening tour traveled Thursday to Grand Junction and today to Silverthorne. It concludes Aug. 28 in Golden.