Eagle County, local governments celebrate Colorado Lottery outdoors funding extension | VailDaily.com

Eagle County, local governments celebrate Colorado Lottery outdoors funding extension

The Eagle County commissioners and Western Eagle County Metropolitan Recreation District officials celebrated the new turf fields in Freedom Park last fall, a project funded through Colorado Lottery dollars.

EAGLE COUNTY ­— From Vail to Gypsum, local communities have benefited from proceeds from the Colorado Lottery.

So it's only natural local officials are celebrating that one of the bills passed during the most recent session of the Colorado Legislature will ensure those benefits keep rolling for the next quarter century.

Last week, Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper signed SB18-066 into law, extending the operation of the Lottery Division to July 1, 2049, 25 years past July 1, 2024, the date it was previously scheduled to terminate.

"It's great news and we're pleased this avenue of funding has been extended to help ensure that everything we love about Colorado — its wildlife, natural resources, rivers and trails — will continue to benefit from the lottery proceeds for another 25 years," said town of Vail Communications Director Suzanne Silverthorn.

The Colorado Lottery is marking its 35th anniversary this year. After Colorado voters approved a state lottery in 1980, the General Assembly created a Lottery Division to administer the program as an enterprise fund, which means it receives no tax dollars. Since 1983, the Colorado Lottery has returned more than $3 billion in proceeds to the state to invest in outdoor recreation and land, water and wildlife conservation. Since 1992, this work been funded through three organizations: the Conservation Trust Fund, Colorado Parks and Wildlife and Great Outdoors Colorado.

"That means a whole lot of money that came in locally for parks and open space," said Eagle County Manager Jeff Shroll.

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Janet Barnik, from Western Eagle County Metropolitan Recreation District, elaborated.

"Our community has benefited from the distribution of $2,036,805 directly to WECMRD," Barnik said. "Just last year, Conservation Trust Fund funding was utilized to assist with the Freedom Park Turf Project and to assist with the maintenance of outdoor properties managed and maintained by the district in Eagle and Edwards."

Even more recently, an organization called Eagle Valley Outdoor Movement — which represents a partnership of Eagle County Schools, Eagle County, SOS Outreach, Walking Mountain Science Center, YouthPower365, Betty Ford Alpine Gardens, U.S. Bureau of Land Management, Colorado Parks and Wildlife, Eagle River Watershed Council, Eagle Valley Land Trust, Eagle River Youth Coalition, Epic Promise, High Five Access Media, InteGreat, The Cycle Effect, the U.S. Forest Service and WECMRD — was awarded a $1.4 million Great Outdoors Colorado grant for a program aimed at improving comfort and safety for kids to experience the outdoors.

As the state legislature considered the extension bill, a coalition called Keep It Colorado lobbied in support of the proposal. Keep It Colorado represents hundreds of towns, cities, counties and special districts, local businesses, nonprofit organizations and individual Coloradans. Coalition members were united in support of the state's ongoing investment of Lottery proceeds in Colorado's great outdoors.

"We are delighted that our governor and scores of legislators from both parties came together to continue Colorado's Lottery Division and our state's spectacular parks and outdoor recreation program," said Geoff Wilson, coalition director. "Stakeholders representing the outdoor industry, agriculture, local governments, youth-serving nonprofits, chambers of commerce and many other facets of Colorado life, as well as passionate members of the public, all rallied behind lottery reauthorization."

Overwhelming support

Sen. Jerry Sonnenberg and Sen. Leroy Garcia in the Colorado Senate and Rep. Jeni James Arndt and Rep. Cole Wist in the Colorado House of Representatives sponsored SB18-066. The bill netted a vote of 30 in favor and five opposed in the Senate and 48 in favor and 16 opposed (with one representative excused) in the House.

"When Colorado voters created Great Outdoors Colorado in 1992, they showed their strong commitment to conserving Colorado's incredible natural resources and our extraordinary way of life — for now and future generations. The continued support for this work from across the state is an affirmation of the importance of investing in our lands and waters," said Carlos Fernandez, Colorado state director for The Nature Conservancy. "We applaud Gov. Hickenlooper for signing the bill into law and thank all of those who helped secure its passage."

All 64 counties

In 25 years, Great Outdoors Colorado, which annually receives up to half of lottery proceeds against a cap, has funded more than 5,000 projects in all 64 Colorado counties through its partners: local governments, nonprofit land trusts and Colorado Parks and Wildlife. Projects include school yards, playgrounds and enriching outdoor education spaces for our state's urban and rural youth; hundreds of miles of trails; and more than 1,600 parks and outdoor recreation areas. Great Outdoors Colorado funding has also supported the state park system, conserved critical wildlife habitat and protected farms and ranch land.

Conservation Trust Fund, a program of Colorado's Department of Local Affairs, receives 40 percent of lottery proceeds to fund conservation and recreation work across the state, and Colorado Parks and Wildlife receives 10 percent for state parks. In years when lottery profits exceed the Great Outdoors Colorado cap, which they typically do, spillover dollars go to the Colorado Department of Education's Public School Capital Construction Assistance Fund, called BEST.

"Colorado's investment of lottery proceeds in our great outdoors helps ensure all Coloradans receive the benefits of our state's outdoor recreation opportunities and vital working farms and ranches," said Jim Petterson, Southwest and Colorado director at The Trust for Public Land. "These investments strengthen our economy, improve our health and enhance the quality of life in our neighborhoods and communities."

Local representatives seconded those sentiments, noting the varied amenities the lottery has brought to their communities. From several miles of local trails to Sylvan Lake State Park to local school playgrounds, the effects of the lottery can be seen throughout the valley. As one of the lottery's advertising campaigns noted "When Colorado plays, Colorado wins."

"I just wish I could win a jackpot," Shroll said.