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Donations help expand gear library for Nature Connection

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Photo by Tamie Meck Anita Evans with The Nature Connection outfits Delta students Anika Hovel, 9, and Anysia Hovel, 12, with cross-country skis Saturday. The Nature Connection provides opportunities for area students to enjoy the outdoors. The size of the

In an effort to increase the size of its gear library, The Nature Connection held a Bike & Outdoor Gear Drive Saturday. Among the donations, said Anita Evans with The Nature Connection, were a dozen bikes ranging in condition from almost new to well-used, a canoe, a kayak, a Snark sailboat, a boat rack, five pair of snowshoes, eleven pair of skis and several pair of cross-country and downhill ski boots. "Even though we don't use the downhill gear, we will pass that along to someone who can use it," said Evans of the downhill equipment.

TNC is a nonprofit founded in 2015 through a Great Outdoors Colorado Inspire Initiative planning grant. It is a hub of outdoor education for Delta County and Olathe and is supported by the Delta County School District. Its mission is to identify and break down the obstacles kids and their families face in getting outdoors. The gear library addresses some of those obstacles by offering students and their families gear rentals at affordable prices. Funding for the library and a trailer for storage and transportation was provided by a U.S. Forest Service "More Kids in the Woods" grant.

Kendall and Tara Hovel of Delta were at TNC Saturday outfitting daughters Anika and Anysia with cross country skis, boots and poles. They were among several families taking advantage of the opportunity.

Anika and Anysia learned to cross country ski through programs offered to Delta County School District. While Tara, a teacher with the Delta County School District J50's Vision Charter Academy, has her own cross country equipment, Kendall also checked out equipment.

"This is wonderful," said Kendall, a teacher at Delta Middle School, after he and the girls received their equipment while two other families awaited fitting. With all the recent snowfall on Grand Mesa -- the Grand Mesa Nordic Council reports 41 inches of base -- they were excited to go skiing. Evans also told them that the trails on Grand Mesa will be especially smooth now that the Nordic Council is using a new groomer.

Grand Mesa is the world's largest tabletop mountain and offers several options for skiing and other snow sports. "Grand Mesa is an awesome area and a great resource," said Priscilla Williams, a snow ranger and education specialist with the Grand Mesa, Uncompahgre and Gunnison National Forests and one of the volunteers helping with the gear drive.

During the winter months, said Williams, Delta County and Olathe students in grades four through six have the opportunity to experience the outdoors through the Forest Service Junior Snow Ranger Program. Before heading to Grand Mesa, students will attend a day-long class where they learn about winter ecology and snow science. They then spend a day on Grand Mesa, where they ski and participate in activities like building a snow cave and learning the basics of how avalanches occur.

Students also receive a Junior Snow Ranger booklet. Upon completion of the class, field trip and booklet, they become Junior Snow Rangers.

Evans was very happy with all of the gear received through the drive, and the opportunities it will provide. TNC also received more than $100 in cash donations, which will go toward purchase and repair of gear. "The most amazing thing to me is the positive feedback we are getting from the community," said Evans. "No one left today without giving us encouragement to keep doing what we are doing, helping kids get outside."

Gear donations and tax-deductible monetary donations are always welcome. TNC, located on Bulldog Street near Hotchkiss High School, will be open this Saturday for rentals, and equipment can be returned Jan. 1 or 2. "We're not always here," said Evans, so people should call ahead at 970-901-1459.

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