MONTROSE – If first you don't succeed, try again. That's what the City of Montrose and the Montrose Recreation District are doing in hopes of getting grant money for a whitewater park and recreational area improvements.
The two entities are teaming up to submit a joint application for this fall's Great Outdoors Colorado grant cycle. Both entities, along with the county, submitted individual applications last year; all three were denied.
"We were all booted out and told that one reason is that we weren't working together," City Community Development Director Kerwin Jensen said.
Great Outdoors Colorado, or GOCO, provides funding to projects geared toward wildlife, parks, rivers, trails and open spaces from a portion of the state's Lottery proceeds. The grants help enhance recreational opportunities throughout Colorado, such as last year’s purchase of the Ouray Ice Park (with help from a $193,000 GOCO grant).
Combined with funds received from lottery proceeds every year through their Conservation Trust Funds, local entities find some big projects can be funded with very little or even no taxpayer dollars, Jensen said.
That is the goal here. "This project, although it is about a $1-million project, would almost entirely, if not entirely, be funded by Lottery dollars and not taxpayer dollars," said MRD Executive Director Ken Sherbenou. "This money is specific for recreational purposes."
MRD's part of the proposed project includes improvements in and around Ute and McNeil fields, 20- and 30-year-old fields located along the Uncompahgre River in Riverbottom Park.
The project would include enhancing the softball and baseball fields with new infield materials, sprinklers and fencing. "We hear a lot of complaints about the quality of our infields," Sherbenou said. Improvements also would include a playground specifically designed for youth with special needs. That sensory playground would be between the two parks, providing better park connection for residents.
MRD also is proposing a riverway trail from the McNeil parking lot, behind the fields and parallel to the Uncompahgre River, connecting to the city's current trail system at the corner of Ute Park. Here the city would begin its project for enhancing use of the Uncompahgre River and the park by adding a whitewater feature and other river enhancements.
That project would consists of 10 manmade drops in the river, creating whitewater features for boaters and kayakers at all ability levels. Along both sides of the river, there would be added accesses points and beaches; bank stabilization would allow for spectator points.
"It makes perfect sense,” Sherbenou said, to include both projects in the application. "If you look at the two projects, it's like two puzzle pieces that fit perfectly together."
Jensen said the partnership also strengthens the application.
"GOCO likes to see collaboration, both financially and in-kind," he said.
The application will ask for the maximum amount from GOCO – $350,000. The remaining $665,000 would be split based on each project’s cost, minus a possible $50,000 contribution from Montrose County.
The city and MRD have asked Montrose County to contribute financially, in exchange for their financial support when the county reapplies for its GOCO grant for fairground improvements. As part of the partnership, the county has agreed to apply in the following grant cycle so not to compete with the city and MRD.
"Hopefully, we could get a nice stream of GOCO grants into this county," Sherbenou said.
MRD and city officials are still working with the county to secure funds, and then will ask for that contribution during a regular scheduled county commissioner meeting.
The remaining balance for the project – $504,300 from the city and $110,700 from MRD – could come from both entities' Conservation Trust Funds. MRD has that amount already available and the project would not deplete that fund. The city, however, only has $420,000 in its fund and would still need to come up with $84,300.
The city discussed the project's shortfall during a work session on July 3, with Mayor Thomas Smits asking if that money could be found somewhere in this year's budget, Jensen said. Smits asked if staff could find that money through savings and return with a report to council.
"We are still working to see where the $84,000 would come from," Jensen said.
Councilors are expected to discuss the matter further at their next regular meeting on July 17, when they will consider a resolution supporting the application.
Dennis Erickson, city parks planner, said that community support is necessary for this application to be successful, and encouraged people to show their support at the July 17 meeting, which starts at 7 p.m. at the Elks Civics Building on South Cascade Avenue.
"One of the comments from council last round was no one showed up from the community in support of the project," he said.
Efforts to improve the river corridor and make it more of a recreational destination were outlined in the city's River Corridor Master Plan. During that process, 44 percent of the community ranked a whitewater park as a high priority and 23 percent ranked it at a medium priority.
World Champion kayaker and park designer Scott Shipley visited the river corridor and confirmed that the Riverbottom Park area would be a suitable spot for a whitewater park because of the river's natural drops, already-established park infrastructure, and the river's consistent flows throughout most of the year.
"I'm not a primary user of the sport [whitewater recreation], but I go and watch others participate and that is a neat thing to do," Jensen said. "Benefits, generally speaking to the community, would include increased tourism and additional recreation activities for the residents. … We'd see all different kinds of users at different skill levels."