On Thursday, Dec. 10, Great Outdoors Colorado (GOCO) board awarded a $40,330 grant to the City of Trinidad, who partnered with Purgatoire Watershed Partnership (PWP) to increase recreational opportunities and enhance river health and wildlife habitat along the Purgatoire River. A crew from Mile High Youth Corps (MHYC) will build a new trail and wildlife viewing station, create new access points to the river, and mitigate invasive species and fire fuel. This grant is part of GOCO’s Conservation Service Corps grant program. In partnership with the Colorado Youth Corps Association (CYCA), GOCO offers funding to hire conservation service corps for outdoor recreation and natural resource stewardship projects. CYCA represents a statewide coalition of eight accredited corps that train youth, young adults, and veterans to work on land and water conservation projects. Corps members earn a stipend for their service and an AmeriCorps education award to use toward college or reducing existing student loans. “This unique grant award was made possible through another important partnership - between GOCO and the Colorado Youth Corps Association,” said PWP Executive Director Julie Knudson, “where all grant award funding will be paid directly to Mile High Youth Corps for on-the-ground work by the Colorado Youth Corps Association. GOCO receives a portion of Colorado Lottery proceeds, making this funding possible.” Trinidad’s Purgatoire River has been transforming into a valuable recreation and economic resource for the community. With the help of GOCO funding, a chainsaw and pesticide application crew from MHYC will build a new trail connecting the Trinidad Riverwalk to a new recreation area that is currently difficult to access. The crew will also expand access to the river by clearing trees and invasive species to create two new entry points. “There’s four project components,” said Knudson. “The first is building on an area that they cleared in 2019 and it will be a new recreation access site just west of Linden Avenue. We’ll build a nice, safe community access trail there to get from the river walk down to the river without causing more erosion issues.” They’ll also be constructing a new wildlife viewing station which was also made possible with the GOCO grant in combination with Forever Our Rivers which the PWP had previously secured. That will be the second of the four areas of focus. “We have an amazing array of wildlife on our watershed,” said Knudson. “The whole upper watershed is really popular for hunting and a lot of really great wildlife habitat and then out on the plains as well. That wildlife has to move often between the plains and the upper watershed and that kind of squeezes them into our urban wildlife corridor that runs right through the City of Trinidad. A lot of people don’t realize, I think, how important that urban wildlife corridor is and how many opportunities we have to just sit quietly and view all the amazing wildlife that moves through there.” Signage will also be installed in conjunction with the projects to educate the public on the importance of the river as well as increasing community member’s understanding and appreciation of such a valuable resource, Knudson expressed. The youth core will also clear two more access sites for the community to enjoy in addition to continuing to clear woody invasive plant species as the group has been doing since 2019 as part of the third project. “This will also improve the wildlife habitat and river health,” said Knudson. The last portion of the four-project to-do list includes more work to the Boulevard addition which includes an ADA accessible trail already. Knudson said they’ll be performing trail maintenance to the already existing trail as well as fuel reduction around the area to reduce wildfire risks. MHYC crew members will be trained on new skills related to restoration and recreation enhancement as part of the project. Other projects to improve the river corridor are ongoing, but this project will be complete by the end of 2021. To date, GOCO has invested more than $29.2 million in projects in Las Animas County and conserved more than 205,000 acres of land there. GOCO funding has supported restoration efforts along the Purgatoire River, Fishers Peak State Park, the conservation of JE Canyon, and the Kim Equine Pavilion, among other projects. “Ultimately this will improve community access to the river and their ability to view the river,” said Knudson. “We’re really working hard to improve the public’s safety and the perception of safety along the river walk. We’re trying to clear more area so that people can see further around themselves.” The Purgatoire Watershed Partnership encourages community members to get involved in the project and will be holding community events tied into this work. For more information about this project or to get involved, contact Julie Knudson, Executive Director of the Purgatoire Watershed Partnership, at 970-420-1915 or jknudson@purgatoirepartners.org or follow the Purgatoire Watershed Partnership on Facebook.

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