Colorado’s public lands have enormous influence on our state’s culture and economy, and the state’s place for adventure is also why I’m proud the business my husband and I own, Alpacka Raft, is located here.
Our company, employees and community are tied to Colorado’s rivers and iconic landscapes.
We are fortunate to have a unique funding source for these resources: the state’s Lottery Division, which directed almost $135 million in lottery proceeds to outdoor projects in 2016.
However, the Lottery Division is set to expire in 2024. If that happens, Coloradans will lose a critical resource for preserving our parks and forests.
Fortunately, the Colorado Senate just passed Senate Bill 18-066, which would reauthorize the Lottery Division. Our very own Sen. Don Coram, R-Montrose, has sponsored the bill. The House will take up the measure this month. State legislators should pass the measure quickly to ensure the continued support for Colorado’s great outdoors.
In 1992, Coloradans passed a constitutional amendment to invest profits from the state lottery into outdoor recreation and conservation.
Under the initiative, the Lottery Division directs 40 percent of the proceeds to the Conservation Trust Fund, which supports local government projects, and 10 percent to Colorado Parks and Wildlife. Up to 50 percent goes to Great Outdoors Colorado to preserve and enhance the state’s parks, trails wildlife, rivers and open spaces.
Colorado has benefited immensely from the 1992 initiative. According to a recent study, GOCO and the Conservation Trust Fund have supported almost 12,000 jobs over the past decade.
GOCO alone has invested $1.1 billion worth of grants into 5,000 projects across the state during the last 25 years – all without spending a single taxpayer dollar.
These investments aren’t just numbers, though. They’re positively influencing local communities across the state.
Take Montezuma County where I live. In the past 25 years, GOCO has supplied 55 grants worth almost $10 million. This money has funded everything from parks to conserving important wildlife habitats. In 2016, for example, GOCO awarded the Montezuma Land Conservancy a grant to preserve land encompassing miles of recreational trails and connecting two adjacent parks.
This commitment to the conservation of landscapes and access to the outdoors is part of why Alpacka Raft moved to Mancos in 2008. We are proud to operate a business here, and over the past 10 years, have become a major employer in our local community.
Preservation of Colorado’s rivers and public lands is fundamental to not only our business, but also to our employees’ and community’s way of life.
For example, Alpacka Raft runs a summer internship for Mancos High School students. In addition to introducing these interns to career possibilities in the outdoor industry, we also provide them with an introduction to packrafting and watersports. In 2017, GOCO provided a $110,000 grant to the Mancos Elementary School to rebuild their playground to add more natural features and an outdoor classroom.
Elementary students who benefit from these GOCO funds and a broader outdoor education will make excellent candidates as future employees at Alpacka Raft or elsewhere in the outdoor industry.
We can’t take Colorado’s landscapes for granted. The funding that comes from Colorado’s state lottery is crucial to preserving our rivers, trails and wildlife, not to mention our local economy.
Colorado’s natural beauty is already paying huge dividends. The state’s outdoor recreation economy generates almost $10 billion and 229,000 jobs each year. U.S. News and World Report just named Colorado’s economy the best in the nation, no doubt in part because of this access to the outdoors.
But these successes will only be sustainable with the reauthorization of the Lottery Division. Fortunately, coalitions like Keep It Colorado – which have support from nonpartisan groups like The Nature Conservancy – have begun to spur support for reauthorization.
Let’s protect what makes Colorado special. Tell your local lawmaker to vote for SB 66, and we can continue preserving Colorado’s lands and waters. For more information, visit keepitco.org.
Sarah Tingey is the Outreach and Operations Director at Alpacka Raft. She lives in Mancos, Colorado.