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GOCO grant gets kids outdoors

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Photo by Tamie Meck Delta County fourth grade students get a lesson in geology at Lost Lake from Jessica Lopez Pearce with the U.S. Forest Service. A Great Outdoors Colorado planning grant awarded last week to the Delta County School District Foundation i

Kids in Delta County and Olathe could be spending more educational and recreational time outdoors in the future, thanks to a planning grant awarded last week by Great Outdoors Colorado.

GOCO's Inspire Initiative, described as "a five-year strategy aimed at inspiring Coloradans, particularly kids, to appreciate, enjoy and take care of our great outdoors," is providing $25 million in grants aimed at getting kids "off the couch and out the door from the backyard to the backcountry."

A second-tier planning grant of $75,000 awarded to the Delta County School District Foundation will allow a coalition called The Nature Connection to plan over the next 18 months on how to get the underserved youth outdoors, "whether it is through cross country skiing on Grand Mesa, hiking in the Dominguez-Escalante or Gunnison Gorge National Conservation areas, enriching our schoolyard habitats to include outdoor classrooms," said Anita Evans, coordinator for the grant and the science and environmental liaison for the Delta County School District Foundation. "This is a huge gift."

Of the 34 applicants, the DCSDF was among 13 in the state, and four on the Western Slope, to receive second-tier funding. Six pilot communities, including Lake County (Leadville) will receive up to $100,000 in first-tier funding for creation and expansion parks, improvement of access to existing parks and trails, and to bolster youth programs.

GOCO states that today's kids spend 50 percent less time outdoors than their parents did when they were kids. Evans noted that out of 70 kids from Cedaredge who visited Escalante Canyon last year, only three had been there before. The grant seeks to bring communities together to reverse that trend, said Evans.

The first nine months of the 18-month grant will go toward website development for The Nature Connection and implementation of an online survey and gathering of ideas from as many local youth as possible. "We will be seeking feedback from all of the communities," said Evans.

There will also be an art contest for students to create a logo for The Nature Connection.

Survey results will guide the coalition through creation of a plan during the second half of the funding cycle. At the end of the 18 months the foundation can apply for between $1 million to $5 million in GOCO funding to implement its plan. The idea is to make the program sustainable for as many years as possible, said Evans.

The Delta County School District has designated the former Montessori School building on Bulldog Street in Hotchkiss for the outdoor education center. In an effort to make access to the outdoors more affordable, creation of the gear library, which Evans said is a big component of the grant, will provide educators with access to outdoor equipment such as backpacks, and seeks to create a partnership program to make equipment rental more affordable. An example is the Skis for Kids program, for which Evans is the coordinator, that provides rental of cross country ski equipment for $2 per student.

Coalition members including the Delta County Board of County Commissioners, Delta County School District, Bureau of Land Management and Colorado Canyons Association contributed matching cash and in-kind donations for the grant. Other coalition members include the Delta County municipalities and Town of Olathe, the U.S. Forest Service, Solar Energy International, the Interpretive Association of Western Colorado, Western Slope Conservation Center, Delta County Economic Development, Delta Family Center, Friends of Ridgway State Park, the Delta County and North Fork recreation districts, and Colorado Parks and Wildlife.

Other local groups interested in contributing to the coalition can contact Anita Evans at asevans54@gmail.com.

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