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Great Outdoors Colorado Executive Director Chris Castilian enjoys biking on Fishers Peak, a 19,200-acre property near Trinidad that is Colorado's newest state park. GOCO pledged $7.5 million toward the purchase of the property. A new strategic plan for GOCO would enable the fund to participate in large, regional projects like the creation of a new state park. (Nina Riggio, Special to The Colorado Sun)

Chris Castilian is stepping away after a four-year run as Great Outdoors Colorado’s executive director with his checklist completed. 

He developed a new strategic vision for Lottery-funded investment in Colorado communities. He helped create the new Fishers Peak State Park. He directed more than $270 million in GOCO grants. And his team spread six regional program officers across the state to help communities hone big-dream visions.

This story first appeared in The Outsider, the premium outdoor newsletter by Jason Blevins.

In it, he covers the industry from the inside out, plus the fun side of being outdoors in our beautiful state.

As he steps away to serve as chief executive officer of the National Ski Patrol and as a strategic advisor for Colorado Mountain College, Castilian says he’s most proud of the strategic plan his GOCO team developed in the last year. 

“The staff, the board and all our partners, we have significantly altered the direction of GOCO potentially for generations to come,” he said. 

After Colorado voters approved a constitutional amendment creating the Great Outdoors Colorado Trust Fund — which has funded 5,300 projects in all 64 counties — the new Centennial Program will help communities pursue “once-in-a-lifetime visions and projects that will create lasting impacts on the state and future generations,” GOCO’s 2020 strategic plan reads. 

In three years, the Centennial Project Fund will have accrued $100 million and local communities, with the help of the regional program officers, will be able to apply for grants starting at $5 million for large-scale projects. Think networks of parks and trails with outdoor programs instead of a single park.  

“We wanted to create an incentive for our partners to think bigger about what they are trying to accomplish,” said Castilian, pointing to GOCO’s work with the city of Trinidad and Colorado Parks and Wildlife to create the new Fishers Peak State Park, which spanned all four of GOCO’s funding focuses: open space, local government, outdoor recreation and wildlife. 

Chris Castilian has been Executive Director of Great Outdoors Colorado for four years. (Nina Riggio, Special to The Colorado Sun)

With his goals met, the Colorado-born former deputy chief of staff for Gov. Bill Owens and director of the Colorado State Board of Land Commissioners is shifting gears into the ski world. As executive director of the 83-year-old nonprofit National Ski Patrol, Castilian will help plot the 31,000-member association’s next chapter in a swiftly consolidating and evolving resort industry. 

“All of us who spoke with Chris through this process are incredibly impressed with the impact he has made at GOCO,” said Rick Knight, who led the association’s search for a new CEO, in a statement. “I look forward to Chris leading our organization to new and exciting accomplishments.”

Castilian said the search committee at the National Ski Patrol saw him “as a change agent.”

“They are in need of a little bit of a refresh,” said Castilian, who hopes to bring the focus on equity and diversity he sharpened at GOCO into the association. 

One chance for growth for the association could be building a training program for volunteer ski patrols that can help land managers with on-the-snow patrols at heavily trafficked backcountry skiing destinations

“The growth in the backcountry space could portend growth in backcountry ski patrols, all of whom have a chance to come through NSP for certification to do that work. Lots of opportunity there.”

On top of the new CEO gig, Castilian is joining Colorado Mountain College’s effort to align its certification programs and curricula to better meet the needs of the booming outdoor industry. 

CMC’s 11 campuses have offered students pathways into the outdoor recreation industry and Castilian hopes to elevate that work as the school embraces its own new strategic vision. 

“This is an opportunity to amplify the work that CMC has been doing and help make those connections,” said Castilian, who hopes to develop more gear libraries in CMC communities where students can learn the business of outdoor retail while providing locals with opportunities for outdoor recreation.

The Colorado Sun — Email: Twitter: @jasonblevins