Courtesy of John Fielder
If Colorado is known for one thing, it’s the fantastical landscapes of its mountains, prairies and deserts. During the last 20 years, the voter-approved Great Outdoors Colorado has used lottery funds to help purchase a variety of open space, including in Durango and La Plata County.
Famed Colorado photographer John Fielder will be in Durango at 5:30 p.m. Saturday at The Smiley Building Theater. Fielder will sign copies of two new books, Colorado’s Great Outdoors: Celebrating 20 years of Lottery-Funded Lands featuring photos of Colorado’s open space and John Fielder’s Guide to Colorado’s Great Outdoors. He will present slides from his books about 7 p.m.
The event is a fundraiser for La Plata Open Space Conservancy. Fielder is traveling around the state promoting Colorado’s public lands through his books and relationships with land trusts such as LPOSC.
Great Outdoors Colorado, or GOCO, uses lottery proceeds to set aside open space, as well as improve urban and suburban spaces, such as parks, trails and sports complexes. It also helps state parks expand and conduct a variety of visitor and resource programs.
Fielder’s hardcover photo book includes 150 images of lottery-funded lands, including several in Durango. Among these are the Animas River Greenway, Horse Gulch and Overend Mountain Park. GOCO has funded more than $8.8 million in La Plata County projects and more than $8.7 million in Montezuma County.
In addition to the three mentioned above, GOCO has contributed funds to such La Plata County projects as the Riverview Sports Complex, Chapman Hill, the La Plata County Fairgrounds baseball complex, the Vallecito Reservoir Trail, the Ignacio Trails System Project and a number of others, according to the organization’s website.
In Montezuma County, GOCO has help fund open space at private ranches and developments along the San Juan Skyway Legacy route, as well as projects at McPhee Reservoir, the Mancos Riverwalk Extension, the Lewis-Arriola Science Lab and Wildlife Sanctuary and other such projects.
San Miguel County has benefited from about $9.4 million in GOCO funds, while Dolores County has received almost $8.7 million. Archuleta County has won just less than $8 million in GOCO project funding.
LPOSC Executive Director Scott Perez said in an e-mail that the Fielder “event is really important as part of our outreach and education initiative.”
“Many people are not aware of the importance of land trusts in protecting the things we consider important to our quality of life,” Perez said.
“Prior to GOCO,” Fielder said in an email interview, “we had only protected federal landscapes, e.g., national parks and monuments, (U.S. Department of) Fish and Wildlife lands, (Bureau of Land Management) and national forests, as well as some state parks and state wildlife areas, and a smattering of county open space in pioneering places like Boulder and Jefferson Counties.
“For the benefit of the connectivity of landscapes for purpose of enlarging habitat for all creatures and plantlife, that is, biodiversity flourishes in larger, better-connected habitats, GOCO’s investments in county and municipal open spaces, ranches via conservation easements and more state parks and wildlife areas has helped protect 2 million of Colorado’s 65 million acres since 1993,” Fielder told The Durango Herald.
The additional and connected lands provide more outdoor opportunities for residents and visitors, Fielder said.
“The beauty of GOCO is that their investments have been in partnership with each of our 64 Colorado counties,” he said, as well as Conservation Trust Fund monies to towns and cities.
Fielder said that Southwest Colorado has in no way been behind the rest of the state.
“Southwest Colorado enjoys new parks, trails, open spaces and ranches no less or more than communities on the Eastern Plains, in all mountain domains, and the canyon country of western Colorado,” Fielder said. “What is better than Lone Cone photographed behind a bucolic easement-protected ranch, or Molas Lake Campground with the Needle Mountains in the background?
“Southwest Colorado is like no place else on Earth!”
Land trusts attempt primarily to conserve private lands to benefit communities and natural systems, according to the Land Trust Alliance.
“Since we work on private lands, we are not wilderness-oriented,” Perez said. “Wildlife depends on private lands in the area for many parts of their lives, particularly for winter range for large mammals.”
The conservancy also helps farmers and ranchers remain on their lands, in “part by the tax breaks they can receive from putting their land in easement,” he said.
Perez said he has a soft spot for agricultural producers because “I spent most of my adult life as a working cowboy and guide.”
Of course, LPOSC also works to “protect land for scenic value and to enhance our water resources,” Perez said. “John Fielder’s photography illustrates all of these aspects.”
Of course, the conservancy isn’t out there by itself.
“We work very closely with Colorado Parks and Wildlife,” Perez said. “We know that migration corridors are critical to big game, and we work to protect them, as just one example.”
To that end, the conservancy currently is finishing up a deal to turn over two parcels it owns near Dove Creek to Colorado Parks and Wildlife to be added to a state wildlife area, he said.
“It is important habitat for the Gunnison Sage Grouse, and large game frequents the land,” Perez said.
LPOSC also cooperates with other area land trusts.
“We share information and are developing plans to coordinate our efforts,” Perez said.
Perez said the conservancy “has generally been a membership-driven nonprofit, (and) individual and business memberships are critical to our operations.”
The organization’s biggest annual fundraiser is a wine tasting and art auction held in conjunction with Snowdown. The next such event will be Jan. 31, 2013.
LPOSC also receives grants from such sources as the Ballantine Family Fund. The group also receives payments from landowners who donate easements, but those funds are not for current operations. Instead, Perez said, monies paid by landowners are placed in an investment fund “and are only for monitoring and defense of easements.”