Since 1992, Great Outdoors Colorado (GOCO) has used a portion of Colorado Lottery funds to enhance the lives of countless Coloradans. Both Colorado’s rural communities and urban populations alike have benefitted from the prioritization of our state’s outdoor resources. On the surface, understanding GOCO’s impact on Colorado is relatively easy. The project numbers speak for themselves: 900 miles of trails restored, 1,000 community parks enhanced or created, and more than 1 million acres of open space protected in their first 25 years. While these numbers are impressive, they fall short of telling the entire story of GOCO’s unprecedented impact on this state and its people.
The town of Rocky Ford, Colorado is a perfect place to look for a more in-depth understanding of the roll that GOCO plays in our communities. Rocky Ford has been a prominent farming town since the 1800s, and is known by many for its watermelon and cantaloupe. This often-overlooked region of southeast Colorado has faced harsh droughts, a listeria scare, and an ongoing shift in population as fewer and fewer people choose to make a living in this rural area.
Last year, the Rocky Ford Junior-Senior High School, home of the Meloneers, was awarded a GOCO grant to replace the track facility and football field. The new all-weather facility will not only benefit the 875 students in the school system and the entire community of Rocky Ford who will have access to the track, but also surrounding communities and sports teams who will use the track and field.
Tammy Ridennoure is the Assistant Principal, Athletic Director, and 12-year veteran coach for the girls’ basketball program at the Rocky Ford Junior-Senior High School. Tammy is also part of the fifth generation of the Edgar/Ridennoure ranching family. Tammy worked with several community members to pursue the GOCO grant to restore the track and field. She insists that “GOCO and the lottery funds used to support the track show our kids that they matter and this community matters, even though we are rural and don’t have the level of income that other cities might have.”
All the while Tammy was leading the effort to secure funding for the school, the Ridennoure family was working with GOCO to conserve their family ranch. The Edgar Ranch was successfully conserved in 2016 with funding support from a GOCO Open Space grant, resulting in more than 10,000 acres of Colorado’s iconic prairies being permanently conserved for the benefit of future generations. Beyond the environmental impact, conservation of the ranch ensures that the Ridennoure family will keep the ranch in the family, remain in Rocky Ford, and prepare to raise a sixth generation on the property that has been in their family for more than a century.
The story of Rocky Ford shows just how impactful GOCO funds are in helping rural communities. GOCO’s Open Space funding helps ranching families stay on their ranches; which in turn supports rural economies, schools, local natural resources, and even leadership positions. By supporting rural communities, both through recreation grants and open space conservation, GOCO is safeguarding the future of these towns. In Rocky Ford, ranchers and farmers – among their many roles – make up the school board, support the local tractor supply store, shop in the grocery stores each week, send their children through the school system, and coach sports teams.
Just as in our urban centers, GOCO funds ensure protected lands for all and the ability for the people of Colorado to connect with the outdoors, but they also impact communities in less obvious ways. In Rocky Ford alone, it is quite possible that nearly 100% of the population will be impacted by an unintended benefit from GOCO’s work.
As Tammy simply put it, “GOCO allows people to think outside the box and provides hope for communities.”