Diane Metzger, GOCO Communications Manager

DENVER–Today the Great Outdoors Colorado (GOCO) board awarded $150,000 in funding to Colorado Parks and Wildlife (CPW) staff for seven new and innovative projects. The grants are part of GOCO’s CPW Director’s Innovation Fund (DIF), a partnership between GOCO and CPW designed to fund small-dollar, unique projects across the state agency.

In its eighth cycle this year, seven projects will help recover endangered black-footed ferrets; explore the use of drones for wildlife counting in state parks; build a new dark-sky viewing amphitheater; achieve Leave No Trace certification to support stewardship; advance equity on Colorado’s public lands, open spaces, state parks, and natural areas through a collaborative research study; and more.

Barr Lake - Indigenous Heritage Project - $25,000 grant

Barr Lake State Park is rich in Indigenous history with evidence of tipi settlements and bison hunting grounds there. The Barr Lake project aims to broaden the understanding of Colorado's diverse human narratives by establishing an ADA-accessible, interpretive Indigenous heritage site. This site will offer immersive educational experiences for visitors of all backgrounds and abilities, featuring elements including an ADA-accessible trail, a tipi, a stone circle, and a wickiup. Interpretive signage, educational materials, and a volunteer curator program will enhance visitor engagement. The project will contribute to a broader effort by the State of Colorado, in collaboration with CPW, to build a holistic storytelling initiative honoring the cultural heritage of Indigenous peoples.

Charting a Path to Sustainability - Outdoor Equity Providers Study - $25,000 grant

The grant will help address historic inequities and promote justice, equity, diversity, and inclusion (JEDI) within Colorado's public lands, open spaces, state parks, and natural areas. Designed in collaboration with the Outdoor Equity Grant Program (OEGP), Colorado Outdoor Partnership (CO-OP), and the Regional Partnerships Initiative (RPI), the project will gather crucial information about outdoor recreation providers that engage communities in outdoor activities and conservation efforts. The project, led by Rising Routes with research partners from University of Colorado Boulder’s Masters in the Environment program and The Wilderness Society, will assess the needs of priority communities, identify potential partner organizations for CPW, and develop strategies to foster future partnerships.

Horizons Amphitheater: Night Sky Viewing at Highline Lake - $20,948 grant

Funding will allow Highline Lake State Park to add a dark-sky viewing location and amphitheater. The park attracts diverse visitors, including school groups and community organizations, and the upgrades will support its immersive educational and recreational offerings without compromising the visitor experience for others. Designed to minimize light pollution and accommodate growing visitation, the new Horizons Amphitheater will host environmental programming, school field trips, outdoor meetings, and astronomy events. This project aims to enhance community engagement and inspire a new generation of conservationists through immersive outdoor experiences.

Non-lethal Predator Mitigation for Black-Footed Ferret Recovery - $25,000 grant

Funding will support CPW, in partnership with the Southern Plains Land Trust (SPLT) and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS), in testing innovative trapping methods for American badgers at Heartland Ranch to help recover endangered black-footed ferrets. The two species compete for food, such as prairie dogs, and badgers are much larger and able to kill a ferret if the animals come into conflict. Through this project, CPW field biologists will prototype live capture and release techniques to remove badgers from a black-footed ferret recovery site before introducing captive-raised ferrets. They will also evaluate the survival and movements of the badgers, and implement mesh electric fencing to prevent badgers and coyotes from accessing the ferret release area.

Regional Partnership Initiative Adaptive Leadership Capacity Building - $25,000 grant

CPW will collaborate with the Kansas Leadership Center to offer leadership training to member organizations of the Pikes Peak Outdoor Recreation Alliance (PPORA). The Pikes Peak Region is experiencing rapid population growth, which presents complex and evolving challenges for conservation and recreation. The center’s leadership framework will help foster collaboration among partners and stakeholders and address challenges effectively. The project will be piloted through CPW's Regional Partnership Initiative with PPORA.

Ridgway State Park Gold Standard Leave No Trace - $4,051 grant

In collaboration with the Department of Natural Resources, Ridgway State Park aims to achieve Leave No Trace Gold Standard certification. This designation will not only underscore the park's commitment to conservation but also bolster community engagement and educational initiatives, ensuring Ridgway remains a model of environmental stewardship for future generations. By implementing comprehensive Leave No Trace principles, including staff training, educational programs, and community outreach, Ridgway State Park seeks to harmonize recreational use with environmental protection, setting a benchmark for sustainable park management in Southwestern Colorado.

Using sUAS/Drones to Survey Wildlife - $25,000 grant

Counting wildlife is crucial for effective wildlife management and research. CPW conducts annual surveys for various species, including elk, deer, and ducks to estimate population sizes and assess other vital information. The agency is exploring the use of small unmanned aerial systems (sUAS), or drones, for wildlife surveys to replace traditional methods, such as those involving crewed aircraft. As part of the discovery process, CPW is researching animal responses to sUAS, particularly from ungulates and birds, across various seasons and distances. This project aims to develop protocols for counting and identifying ducks using drone-mounted sensors, evaluate the effectiveness of drone-based counts compared to ground-based methods, and automate data analysis with enhanced image processing. Integrating drone technology promises safer, more cost-effective, and more accurate wildlife survey methods.

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 5,700 projects in all 64 counties of Colorado without any tax dollar support. Visit for more information.