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Photo by Pat Sunderland About 90 people, including youth from Hotchkiss, Paonia and Cedaredge, turned out in support of The Nature Connection GOCO Inspire grant during a grant site visit in Delta County last week. Thirty more folks showed up at Fort Uncom

About 120 community members turned out to support The Nature Connection's application for a GOCO Inspire grant.

"I have never seen such a large group of people, from such a large area, come together for such a long time toward a common goal -- the welfare of our kids," said coalition member Neal Schweiterman of Paonia.

The goal of the grant is to implement a plan to connect youth and families to the outdoors within their communities.

As part of the application review process, GOCO conducted a site visit in Delta County that began at The Nature Connection's headquarters in Hotchkiss. As GOCO board members toured a couple of other sites, they gained appreciation for the scope of a project that touches all the communities in Delta County as well as Olathe.

"It is tough to convey the incredible scope of our two years of detailed planning for this important grant. Two counties, two school districts, six communities, and many adult and youth partners spent countless hours detailing the best plan to get youth connected to the outdoors. It has been a gift to share the positive energy of so many good people," said Anita Evans of The Nature Connection. "We shared on-the-ground plans for Hotchkiss and Delta, and offered a drone video tour of the communities of Crawford, Hotchkiss, Paonia, and Olathe because there was not enough time for GOCO Inspire grant reviewers to visit our whole geographic area."

The Nature Connection was awarded GOCO funding for phase 1 of the "Inspire" initiative, which launched a planning process that involved youth, community members and representatives of local, state and federal agencies.

Through interviews, and surveys at summer events, the Delta Inspire Team gathered feedback from children, and adults about what they like to do outside, what outdoor activities they would like to try and what barriers prevented them and their families from trying new outdoor endeavors.

While responses varied from community to community, some commonalities became evident. Kids and adults all expressed an interest

in archery, camping, bike riding and water sports. When the Delta Inspire Team learned that a lack of gear was a barrier to taking part in these activities, a gear hub was developed.

"Having access to gear is one of the main components of the Delta GOCO Inspire Grant," said Evans. The Nature Connection is in the process of developing a series of gear hubs that work much like a library where you check out a backpack or camping gear to use for a trip." Much of the gear is stored at The Nature Connection hub in Hotchkiss, but satellite gear hubs are envisioned for many communities.

In addition, each community developed a priority list of "places" that would enhance their youth's connection to the outdoors. These range from new connecting trails from schools to river parks, rec centers, state parks or other places (Paonia, Delta, Cedaredge, Olathe), climbing boulders at playgrounds (Paonia, Crawford, Hotchkiss, Delta), interpretive trails (Crawford, Delta), mountain bike trails and/or pump tracks (Hotchkiss, Cedaredge), playground and campground development (Olathe, Delta and Hotchkiss) and splash pads (Cedaredge) along with the gear hub satellites.

The Nature Connection has developed sequential, progressive K-12 and community programming focused on developing independent outdoor skills that will help youth and families get outdoors. Hiking, camping and water skills are just a few outdoor skills that will be shared with youth and families.

Full implementation funding is estimated at $2.2 million of GOCO Inspire funds with $1.4 million cash and in-kind matching fund from all Nature Connection coalition members.

"We are competing with many other communities in Colorado for the implementation funds, so the competition is keen," explained Evans.

To view the results of the community survey, or details on the priority places for each community, visit thenatureconnection.net.

Photo by Morgan Rubanow Anita Evans (left), grant coordinator, outlines The Nature Connection’s plans for each of the communities in Delta County, as well as Olathe.
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