Breckenridge park ranked No. 4 on lottery-funded projects list | SummitDaily.com

Breckenridge park ranked No. 4 on lottery-funded projects list

Envisioned as both a destination for guests and an asset for locals, Oxbow Park in Breckenridge was renamed River Park last week, a handle that town officials feel better suits what could become a crown jewel in a necklace of parks lining the upper Blue River.

Breckenridge officials are big on their park project, which has been revised since the park was first named and will no longer feature an oxbow. However, the town's not alone in its excitement because a state agency that doles out a portion of Colorado's lottery proceeds for exactly this kind of thing has identified Breckenridge's park project as one of the top requests in its 2017 competitive-grant process.

More commonly known as GOCO, Great Outdoors Colorado awards money from the lottery to boost projects designed to preserve or enhance Colorado's parks, trails, wildlife areas, rivers and open space.

Since its creation, GOCO has committed over $1.1 billion to more than 5,000 projects across the state — all without taxpayer support. Moreover, $7.6 million has gone to projects in just Summit County, and $1 million of that has been spent in Breckenridge. The money is helping to preserve 1,300 acres in the county.

Ranking Breckenridge's request for $350,000 to build a park along the Blue River at No. 4 on its list for 2017, GOCO put the Breckenridge project behind only an activity complex in Conejos County, fairground improvements in Routt County and a park expansion in Fruita.

Generally speaking, Jake Houston, local government program manager for GOCO, said the agency fields about 70 to 90 grant requests each year. With limited resources, they can only approve a fraction of the requests, he said, and oftentimes, getting money in resort communities can be harder than it is in other places across the state.

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Breckenridge's effort to improve the Blue River corridor dates back to at least 2002, and a number of those early designs, such as what's been done with the Riverwalk Center downtown, can be seen in action today.

Things took off in 2008, when the town adopted the Blue River Corridor Improvements Plan, a document that describes a series of small parks along the river in Breckenridge, including one called "Oxbow Park" with a manmade U-shaped curve.

According to Anne Murphy, Breckenridge's open space and trails manager, while Oxbow Park was originally envisioned as one in a series of parks along the Blue River, it's now to the point that River Park is expected to stand out as "signature" town asset in the area.

"It's just really an ideal location," Murphy said. "And that's really what we spelled out to GOCO."

The grant for River Park comes with a two-year window to complete the project, and Houston said it ranked high on GOCO's list for a variety of reasons, including the project being shovel-ready, its access to the river, focus on a new nature-play concept and close proximity to nearby workforce housing developments.

In November 2016, town council passed a resolution giving town manager Rick Holman authority to ink an agreement with GOCO, should the agency approve the town's grant request.

Breckenridge got the good news last spring when GOCO announced it had approved $350,000 in grant funding — the full amount requested by the town — for creating "a unique nature-play park" on the Blue River.

"The idea behind a nature-play space is that instead of the standard, cookie-cutter metal and plastic structures that make up the bulk of today's playgrounds — people can incorporate the surrounding landscape and vegetation to bring nature to children's daily outdoor play and learning environments," according to the National Wildlife Foundation.

Citing research that indicates children playing and learning in nature do so with "more vigor, engagement, imagination and cooperation" than they do in artificial environments, the National Wildlife Foundation further notes most experts agree that "children need access to nature the same way they need good nutrition and adequate sleep."

River Park is being "artfully designed with a nature-based environment" that Murphy said is unlike anything anywhere else in Breckenridge.

Construction should begin this spring. The park is being done in phases, and the first phase should go pretty quickly with work expected to be complete by the fall.

Murphy said phase one will include much of the park's infrastructure and hardscaping, such as restrooms, a pavilion, walkways to nearby workforce housing, a bridge connecting the park to the recpath and the main playground feature for children ages 5-12.

"We're going to start with that," Murphy said, adding that phase two will boost the park's offerings for toddlers. Phase two also calls for park access for people with disabilities and a pleasant place for fishing.

Altogether, construction on phase one is expected to cost between $1.1 million and $1.5 million. The town's Open Space Advisory Commission has contributed $240,000, in addition to the GOCO grant. The town is expected to replay for another GOCO grant for phase two.

Because the park will be on the recpath and in such a highly visible location off Highway 9, Murphy also expects a number of guests and tourists, either driving by it or using the path, to enjoy the park.

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