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On Friday, March 18, the Great Outdoors Colorado (GOCO) Board awarded grants totaling $347,000, much of it within Chaffee County to support its efforts in capacity management and responsible  recreation,

It awarded $200,000 to Southwest Conservation Corps (SCC) to hire two seasonal field supervisors focused on diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) in both Chaffee and La Plata and Counties.

The GOCO board also awarded $147,000 to the National Forest Foundation, in partnership with Chaffee County, to create sustainable recreation opportunities across Colorado’s iconic 14,000-plus foot elevation (14er) mountains.

GOCO Planning and Capacity program

The first 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.

This funding will increase the corps’ staff capacity. One of the seasonal field supervisors will serve SCC’s Four Corners region and the other SCC’s Los Valles region. Funds will also support DEI staff training and corps recruitment efforts.

The project supports SCC’s key priority to develop career pathways and representative leadership opportunities in stewardship. The grant will build upon previous foundational work that established affinity groups (groups that create unity and community around shared identities) for underrepresented SCC participants including Veterans Fire Corps, Leaders of Color, Women’s + Crews, Opportunity Youth Crews, and LQBTQ2S+ Crews. Through that effort, SCC identified gaps in ensuring underrepresented participants access the necessary training, support, and resources to create equitable outdoor spaces and to encourage their participation in programming.

“From a corps member perspective, seeing oneself represented in the demographics of our staff is a key indicator of community belonging and SCC is working to ensure we create those pathways for representative leadership internally,” said Kevin Keiner, SCC Corps Director. “SCC’s DEI journey has not been a short one, and while there have been challenges along the way, challenge signals that we’re on the right path. We’re making tangible progress each year and this support from GOCO is a benchmark to celebrate!”

The project objectives include creating inclusive and equitable pathways to natural resource careers for youth and young adults, building youth connections to the outdoors, and fostering outdoor stewardship.

The project includes the support of the National Forest Foundation, San Juan National Forest, City of Durango, Southern Ute Tribe, Continental Divide Trail Coalition, Mountain Studies Institute, Child & Nature Network, and Patagonia. These project partners have committed $226,427 in cash and in-kind funds.

Southwest Conservation Corps has more than 20 years of experience engaging future leaders who protect, restore, and enhance our nation’s lands through community-based service across Central and Southwest Colorado. SCC employs youth, young adults, and veterans in service-learning projects on public lands.

GOCO Centennial Program

The second GOCO investment is a Centennial Program visioning grant. The program invests in high-value, once-in-a-generation visions and projects that will create lasting impacts on the Centennial State and future generations.

With the funding, the National Forest Foundation and Chaffee County will convene over 20 partners, including outdoor recreation organizations and local communities, to create a shared vision for sustainable recreation across Colorado’s 14ers.

In partnership with staff from several Colorado-based nonprofit and community organizations, the National Forest Foundation (NFF) and Chaffee County will convene communities, local governments, sovereign tribal nations, outdoor stewardship organizations, federal and state land management agencies, and businesses at a statewide level. Their purpose: to agree on a set of broad desired conditions that can be applied to each 14er while considering needs for visitor use, trail and other recreation experiences, and cultural or tribal significance.

The effort will also include regional workshops, beginning in Central Colorado, that will be designed to build from and complement existing plans and efforts like the Chaffee County Recreation Plan.

Partners aim to identify a statewide, scaled approach to meet trail sustainability, resource protection, and outdoor recreation access goals at the most popular 14ers. The effort will consider equitable access to these sites and how to break down local barriers to the outdoors. It will also work to identify an investment plan for sustainably funding future work.

“The NFF is thrilled to work alongside Chaffee County, the U.S. Forest Service, and organizations around Colorado to create a once-in-a-generation vision that will honor Colorado’s 14ers and support equitable, sustainable access to these important and well-loved mountains,” said Mary Mitsos, President and CEO at the National Forest Foundation. “We appreciate GOCO’s trust in our coalition of partners, and are grateful for the opportunity presented by GOCO’s Centennial Program.”

The visioning process will occur over the next 18 months beginning in the spring of 2022. It will include key stakeholders such as the Colorado Fourteeners Initiative, Continental Divide Trail Coalition, Get Outdoors Leadville!, Chaffee Recreation Council, Rocky Mountain Field Institute, volunteer groups, recreation user groups, Colorado-based youth corps like Southwest Conservation Corps and the Rocky Mountain Youth Corps, community-based participants, and the U.S. Forest Service and Bureau of Land Management.

The coalition has provided $62,551 in cash and in-kind matching funds to implement the planning process.

To date, GOCO has invested more than $16.4 million in projects in Chaffee County and conserved 5,144 acres of land here. GOCO funding has supported Salida Skate Park, the conservation of Pridemore Ranch, Methodist Mountain Trail, Chipeta Park, and the Salida River Trail, 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 for more information.

Featured image: Collegiate Peaks Southern Rocky Mountains photo credit- Sandy Hobbs