GOCO grants help fund Mesa County projects

Libby Collins
Ken Sherbenou

Two grants worth a total of more than $200,000 will help to acquire land to complete a trail as well as build an outdoor classroom in Mesa County.

The Great Outdoors Colorado (GOGO) board awarded a $156,920 grant to the City of Grand Junction, in partnership with the Colorado West Land Trust and U.S. Bureau of Land Management, to acquire land along the Monument Corridor.

The GOCO board also awarded a $45,000 grant to Mesa County, in partnership with Mesa County School District 51, to improve the Outdoor Wilderness Lab at Gateway School.

The latest grants bring to more than $44.7 million the total amount of Great Outdoors Colorado investments in Mesa County projects over the years. Grants have supported the construction of a variety of trails as well as conserved more than 18,000 acres of land. Funding comes from proceeds from the Colorado Lottery under a state constitutional amendment voters approved in 1992.

The Colorado West Land Trust will acquire a 20-acre property along the Monument Corridor as part of efforts to complete a 10-mile paved loop connecting the Audubon Trail, Colorado Riverfront Trail, Connected Lakes, Lunch Loop trail system and Riggs Hill as well as downtown Grand Junction and several residential neighborhoods.

The Colorado West Land Trust expects to close on the purchase of the property in April. Trail construction hasn’t yet been scheduled.

“As our community experiences exciting economic expansion, strategically preserving open spaces and enhancing trail connectivity to our parks and open spaces becomes more and more critical for maintaining our quality of life and strengthening our community,” said Libby Collins, Colorado West Land Trust project manager.

Ken Sherbenou, director of the city parks and recreation department, said partnerships with the Colorado West Land Trust, BLM, Mesa County and Colorado Plateau Mountain Bike Trail Association have resulted in more outdoor recreational opportunities for people of all ages. “These collaborative efforts, supported by GOCO, allow all of these organizations to have a greater impact throughout our community.”

With the help of the GOCO grant, a permanent outdoor classroom will be built at Gateway School for the Outdoor Wilderness Lab. The classroom will include a concrete pad with roof cover, outdoor furniture, privacy fence and paths accessible to those with disabilities.

Since 2012, the Outdoor Wilderness Lab has provided sixth-grade students opportunities to learn about biology, conservation, forestry, history and wildlife management. The lab has operated out of borrowed or rented facilities.

Mesa County estimates the new outdoor classroom will serve more than 2,000 students during the 2020-2021 school year. Expanding the school’s outdoor spaces also will provide the local community with additional recreation opportunities, especially considering the nearest park for Gateway residents is located nearly 50 miles away.

Students have been involved at all levels of the project, from planning and design to implementation.

Career Center students enrolled in construction courses will help lay gravel pathways and build the privacy fence. Gateway students can choose to use PE time to help build trails adjacent to the new classroom and Western Colorado Conservation Corps members are developing a volunteer plan to assist with other aspects of classroom construction.

Construction bids will begin in May, with a grand opening for the classroom scheduled for September.