Colorado Open Lands awarded $825K grant to conserve 398 acres in the southern San Luis Valley
DENVER — On March 10, the Great Outdoors Colorado (GOCO) board awarded an $825,000 grant to Colorado Open Lands (COL), in partnership with Costilla County, to purchase a 398-acre parcel of private land along the banks of Rito Seco Creek.
The grant is part of GOCO’s Land Acquisition program, which supports urban and rural landscape, waterway, and habitat protection priorities and improves access to the outdoors.
The parcel is located 6 miles northeast of the Town of San Luis at the foothills of the southern Sangre de Cristo Mountains in the San Luis Valley. The property consists of forested hillsides, open meadows, and riparian areas that provide habitat for beavers, mule deer, elk, bear, Mexican free-tail bats, raptors, and native songbirds. It also hosts breeding habitat for the northern leopard frog, a species of highest conservation concern, and supports a small brook trout fishery. Rito Seco Creek, which runs through the Town of San Luis, is a source of drinking water and is used for irrigated agriculture.
The conserved area is critical to the growth of recreation opportunities in two areas used most by Costilla County residents: the Greenbelt Trail system in the northwest section of the property and Rito Seco Park and its newly constructed trail system to the east. The acquisition connects the two trail systems, which are the only formal trail networks in the entire county. In addition, the parcel includes 0.75 miles of Rito Seco Creek which will expand public access to fishing and other water activities.
“I could not have hand-picked a better parcel in the county for conservation and public access,” said Ben Doon, administrator at Costilla County. “Rito Seco Park and Open Space is a unique oasis in the county — a beautiful, lush stretch of creek filled with beaver ponds, wildflowers, huge trees, striking rock outcroppings and two historic log cabin ruins. Plans for a future trail through this parcel will be an important recreation asset for the health and well-being of residents in an area with no federal or state public lands to provide these opportunities.”
“Opportunities to conserve keystone parcels like this one may only come around once in a generation. Colorado Open Lands is proud to work alongside Costilla County to provide much-needed recreation opportunities to residents and visitors alike,” said Joel Nystrom, conservation project manager at Colorado Open Lands.
Due to the legacy of the Mexican land grants in Colorado after 1821, land in Costilla County is almost entirely privately owned and residents have few places to recreate. This marks a rare and time-sensitive opportunity to purchase land for public benefit amidst strong pressures to sell on the open market.
To date, GOCO has invested more than $5.6 million in projects in Costilla County and partnered to conserve more than 27,000 acres of land there. GOCO funding has supported SLV Generation Wild, one of 12 Generation Wild communities in Colorado, as well as the Brownie Hills acquisition, Fort Garland Park project, Costilla County Outdoor Fitness Center and Exercise Park, and Rio Grande recreation and habitat conservation efforts, among other projects.
Great Outdoors Colorado (GOCO) invests a portion of Colorado Lottery proceeds to help preserve and enhance the state’s parks, trails, wildlife, rivers, and open spaces. GOCO’s independent board awards competitive grants to local governments and land trusts and makes investments through Colorado Parks and Wildlife. Created when voters approved a constitutional amendment in 1992, GOCO has since funded more than 5,600 projects in all 64 counties of Colorado without any tax dollar support. Visit GOCO.org, for more information.