Sierra Club celebrates two decades of GOCO success
Noted photographer John Fielder is keynote speaker

By Carol Carpenter
RMC Communications Team

In early December more than 200 Sierra Club, Clean Water Action (CWA) and other environmental activists and supporters celebrated the 20-year anniversary of using Colorado lottery funds to preserve and enhance the state’s natural environment. The occasion also commemorated the 40-year anniversary of the Clean Water Act.

The event, “Celebrating 20 Years of Great Outdoors Colorado (GOCO),” was co-sponsored by Sierra Club’s Rocky Mountain Chapter and CWA, a grassroots organization that works to solve water and other environmental problems.

Fielder and Read.jpg
Noted Colorado photographer John Fielder, left, presents one of his outdoors photo books with Sierra Club Fundraising Chair Dave Read, who helped coordinate the GOCO event.

The celebration featured award-winning outdoors photographer and keynote speaker John Fielder, who is well-known for his breathtakingly beautiful photos, books and calendars of Colorado mountains, rivers, wildflowers and other scenic landscapes.

Fielder presented a slide show of extraordinary photos that showcased new and improved hiking trails, neighborhood parks, wildlife refuges and open-space areas throughout Colorado that have resulted from lottery funds collected since 1992 through the GOCO program.

“When people are happy, healthy and wealthy, nature gets protected,” Fielder stated, noting that Colorado is the only U.S. state to use lottery income for preserving and improving the natural environment.

Early GOCO difficulties

Fielder also mentioned early difficulties in achieving GOCO goals, including voters in the 1980s getting “ripped off” when designated lottery income was funneled by government officials, through a loophole in the law, to build prisons instead of outdoors projects.

This situation changed, however, in the early 1990s, when the GOCO Trust Fund Initiative was passed by voters and lottery funds were finally used for outdoors preservation and recreation projects as originally intended. Since its creation, the fund has distributed almost $290 million for 1,700 projects. Almost 390,000 acres are being preserved in perpetuity; 47,401 acres have been acquired for future state parks and a state wildlife area. Forty-three threatened or endangered wildlife species are the focus of protection efforts though grants awarded to the Colorado Division of Wildlife.

John Fielder fundraiser
RMC's ExCom members and director welcome photographer John Fielder to the December fundraising event. From left are Dave Read, Fundraising chair; John Fielder; Myrna Poticha, Political vice chair; Gary Wockner, Clean Water Action; Joshua Ruschhaupt, Chapter director; and Dave Bryan, ExCom at large member.

Despite the many GOCO successes of the past two decades, Fielder, a 40-year Colorado resident, is apprehensive that, increasingly, lottery funds in the future could be diverted to other beneficial uses, resulting in the unfortunate but possible sidelining or reduction of outdoors projects.

Climate change and population growth

Fielder’s other major concerns for the environment are the negative impacts of climate change and a rapidly growing human population. With Colorado’s population alone expected to grow by about 700,000 in the next decade─eventually leading to millions more people living here─pressures on development, sprawl and water use will likely continue unabated.

“We have to ask what our priorities are,” Fielder said. “Will we use our water for such things as development and fracking or for nature?”

Fielder believes Colorado’s environmental future hinges in great part on encouraging children and young people to get outside and appreciate nature. “They will be voters one day,” he said.

It’s also crucial, he added, to elect like-minded political representatives to local, state and national offices who will uphold the nation’s important environmental laws, among them the Wilderness Act, the Clean Water Act, and the Endangered Species Act.

“We need representatives who believe in climate change and who share our values,” he emphasized.


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