By Joe Hanel | Cortez Journal Denver BureauDENVER – Almost $4.4 million in lottery money is headed to Southwest Colorado to pay for land conservation along the San Juan Skyway.
An additional $4.2 million will pay for protection of two ranches on the Upper San Juan River in Archuleta and Mineral counties.
The awards are part of $75 million in grants announced Monday by Great Outdoors Colorado and Gov. Bill Ritter. GOCO distributes money raised by the state lottery to pay for parks and open space.
“We understand in this state we have something very special about the land, about the water, about the air,” Ritter said.
The San Juan Skyway grant will go to several local conservation organizations to continue their land preservation program along the 236-mile loop.
The grants will focus on three areas: the Mancos River valley, including the Thompson Park area in La Plata County; the Dolores River between Dolores and Rico, and the stretch of land between Ouray and Ridgway, said Nina Williams of the Montezuma Land Conservancy.
Three years ago, the groups received a $5.7 million GOCO grant and used it to preserve about 2,500 acres. This year’s grant will pay for conservation easements on another 1,331 acres on seven working ranches with riverside habitats.
Colorado’s conservation easement program pays ranchers to keep their lands undeveloped.
Land protection efforts along the Skyway began in 1998, when conservation groups began buying mining claims along Red Mountain Pass. This year’s grants continue the effort.
“We’re not there yet,” Williams said. “Our ability to achieve land conservation depends on the willingness of the landowners.”
The Archuleta County grant will go to a new program, one of the six new “Legacy Projects” established this year, said GOCO Chairwoman Norma Anderson.
“We are very excited to be able to help start six new efforts, all centered around one of the state’s most valuable assets — rivers,” Anderson said.
The other new projects are in the Front Range, the San Luis Valley and Pitkin County.
Also, Pagosa Springs will get $200,000 for improvements to its sports complex trail and parking area.