A Hotchkiss High School graduate and a U.S. Forest Service snow ranger have been selected to guide The Nature Connection through the process of implementing a $1.7 million Great Outdoors Colorado (GOCO) Inspire grant.
Vince Galgano and Priscilla Williams were selected from a field of 27 applicants to lead The Nature Connection, also known as "the hub of outdoor education for Delta County and Olathe youth," through implementation of the three-year grant.
"We are excited about these two talented individuals," said acting director Anita Evans. With many qualified applicants from both within and outside of the area, "It was an intense and difficult choice that yielded a great result."
Evans describes Galgano has having "boundless energy and passion for getting kids connected to the outdoors."
"It's my dream job in so many ways," said Galgano, a 2000 Hotchkiss graduate who attended Columbia University and taught for more than 12 years at a private school in New York. He is also a former school and state records holder in the 800-meter run. Running led him to a lifelong pursuit of outdoor physical activities, including cross country skiing and mountain biking.
Galgano was also recently certified through USA Archery as a Level 2 instructor. "That will serve us well," said Evans. In TNC's original survey of students in 2015, archery topped the list of some 30 outdoor activities kids identified as wanting to pursue the most.
Williams, a U.S. Forest Service snow ranger and education specialist with Grand Mesa, Uncompahgre and Gunnison National Forests, will officially begin her job as program director on April 1. Williams said she is "ready to help kids get connected to their back yard."
For the past three years Williams worked with TNC to grow its Skis for Kids program. The program gets youth out into the backcountry and offers affordable ski rentals through an extensive gear library. Each year she has taken on more responsibility with the program. "It's been really successful," said Williams.
Located on Bulldog Street between the Hotchkiss High School and the North Fork Pool, Parks and Recreation District office, TNC was founded during the 2014-15 school year to identify and break down the obstacles kids and their families face in getting outdoors. With the recent GOCO inspire grant, awarded Dec. 15, TNC will be expanding into an extensive gear library that will include mountain bikes, backpacking gear, fishing gear, archery equipment, stand-up paddle boards and inflatable kayaks, all of which will be available to area youth at affordable rates. This year they are working with Colorado Parks & Wildlife to expand water sports opportunities, and are creating between seven and 10 miles of mountain biking trails near Hotchkiss High School.
Evans will remain with the program and assist Williams and Galgano in establishing already researched procedures that will ultimately benefit TNC kids through the implementation of the "place, program and pathway" developments that GOCO has invested in for the area's youth. Empowered by the GOCO Initiative, they, along with TNC's 39 partner organizations, will collaborate to develop programming as outlined in the grant, and in ordering and organizing gear to assist in those programs. "These partners offer an amazing breadth of opportunities," said Galgano. The hope is that kids find one or more activities that they can enjoy and build on.
Places represent the shared recreational spaces of schools and communities and includes maintenance and new infrastructure that will provide educational and health-inspiring opportunities for all citizens.
Programming represents not only the gear, transportation and guided local expertise that will ensure that outdoor traditions are passed on to the next generation, as well as the county-wide curriculum and field trip offerings that ensure equal opportunities for all children.
Finally, pathways represent connections between local businesses, organizations and partners and students and alumni. Building economic pathways will ensure that graduating seniors have the experience and skills to pursue a wind range of educational and outdoor career opportunities.
Evans said she has received phone calls from several groups around the country, including from Ridgway, Oregon, New York and Wyoming, interested in hearing about developing gear hub and curriculum-aligned outdoor programming. "The Nature Connection is proving to be a model that others are seeking to emulate," said Evans. "Pretty exciting stuff."
"TNC is celebrating a grant that will impact so much of this area while honoring all of the hard work that got them to this point," said Galgano. "I am very grateful and honored that so many people did so much hard work" and have allowed him this opportunity.