On Friday, Great Outdoors Colorado (GOCO) announced their decision to grant a $1.72 million Inspire Initiative grant to The Nature Connection. In the coming years, this grant will allow The Nature Connection and its many partners to formalize outdoor education programming across Cedaredge, Crawford, Delta, Hotchkiss, Olathe, and Paonia. It will connect the traditional programming offered to students in the region, to match winter ecology, canyon trips, and outdoor days to grade-level-specific goals.
Thanks to funds appropriated from the lottery, GOCO’s Inspire Initiative supports community coalitions in connecting youth to Colorado’s outdoors. To this end, the Inspire Initiative establishes “places for kids and their families to play and connect with the outdoors, programs that activate those places, and pathways to outdoor stewardship and leadership roles.”
Surveys from more than 3,600 youth and 400 adults informed The Nature Connection’s proposal. From this input, The Nature Connection and its partners created and expanded pilot programming under a GOCO Inspire Initiative planning grant. The survey found that economic barriers prevent many families in the region from experiencing the outdoors.
To remedy this, the Inspire Initiative is providing funding to create a “Gear Library” with hubs in each community, so that families can borrow outdoor equipment to get outdoors. In addition, the Inspire Initiative will fund place development across the county. The place development will range from the building of a mountain bike pump track at Hotchkiss High School to story walks and boulders at the schools.
The Conservation Center’s Role
The Western Slope Conservation Center is thrilled to be a part of The Nature Connection coalition! As a part of the Inspire Initiative, the Conservation Center will continue building its tradition of outdoor education.
Under the planning grant, the Conservation Center’s Healthy Forest Initiative AmeriCorps VISTAs–first, Morgan Rubanow and now, Reaha Goyetche–began the Youth Outdoor Network. Open to all high school students at Cedaredge, Paonia, Hotchkiss, Delta, and Olathe High Schools, the Youth Outdoor Network is a group for students with an interest in outdoor recreation, public lands, and natural resource careers. All of this is possible thanks to a partnership between the Conservation Center, The Nature Connection, the Bureau of Land Management, the US Forest Service, Colorado Parks & Wildlife, and Colorado Canyons Association.
Through field trips and in-school visits from natural resources field professionals, students gain exposure to careers opportunities in their local economy. Over the past year, foresters, fishing guides, snow rangers, and natural resource specialists have visited each school. Outside of the school year, the Inspire Initiative provides funding for 140 summer internships. Through these, students will gain valuable experience doing maintenance at the Gear Library; lifeguarding; leading backpacking trips for peers; and farming.
Additionally, the Inspire Grant incorporates the Conservation Center’s annual Conservation Days event into the region’s comprehensive, grade-level specific outdoor education curriculum. Every year, the Conservation Center invites every 4th grader in the North Fork Valley to the Paonia River Park for a day of multidisciplinary, hands-on environmental education. Students get to touch and feel invertebrates, pull their peers in a search and rescue litter, and try their hand at generating solar energy.
Like much of the outdoor education programming under The Nature Connection and the Inspire Initiative, Conservation Days brings together varied partners for the common goal of connecting youth to the natural environment. Thanks to the inspire Initiative, The Nature Connection will have funding for three years, during which programming will be institutionalized and made sustainable for the long term.