How do you get the next generation of Coloradoans to appreciate and care for the great outdoors? This question is at the forefront of Greater Outdoors Colorado or GOCO's new "Inspire Initiative," which addresses the growing disconnect between youth and the outdoors.
Delta County was awarded GOCO funding for planning (phase 1) of the Inspire Initiative. The goal of this grant program, called "The Nature Connection," is to inspire our communities to connect to nature while promoting healthy lifestyles through educational, fun, and energized outdoor experiences.
During the last 18 months, members of each community within Delta County and the City of Olathe have been working to develop a plan to connect youth and families to the outdoors within their communities. 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.
Preferences for outdoor activities varied somewhat within each of the communities of Paonia, Cedaredge, Hotchkiss, Crawford, Delta and Olathe, but there were commonalities -- such as a desire for more opportunities for archery, camping, bike riding and water sports. In most cases, the largest barrier was accessing the gear to do these activities.
"Having access to gear is one of the main components of the Delta GOCO Inspire Grant. We are proposing the development of gear hubs that work much like a library where you check out a backpack or camping gear to use for a trip," said Anita Evans, Delta Inspire Grant coordinator. "We have been acquiring gear all along, at our home base at The Nature Connection building in Hotchkiss, but we intend to have satellite gear hubs in most of the communities," she added.
The three "P's" at the heart of The Nature Connection grant program is places, programs and pathways -- encompassing several approaches to achieving its goal. Each community has developed a priority list of "places" that would enhance their youth's connection to the outdoors. These range from 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), mountain bike trails and/or pump tracks (Hotchkiss, Cedaredge), playground and campground development (Olathe) and splash pads (Cedaredge) along with the gear hub satellites. Please visit the
natureconnection.net for details of your communities' priority places!
Programs are an important piece in achieving the Nature Connection Goal. An example of programs proposed include more offerings of basic swim lessons -- a prerequisite for other water play programs such as rafting, kayaking and paddle boarding.
The last "p" for pathways include educational field trips, workshops, apprenticeships, internships, and training -- providing older youth exposure to various science and natural resource careers and opportunities.
Communities are now working on costs and finalizing their priority lists of the three "Ps," with the planning grant deadline fast approaching this October. Each community's proposals will be incorporated into one finalized blueprint and cost spreadsheet aimed at being awarded $1.5 million for Phase 2 of the GOCO inspire "implementation" funding.
"We are competing with many other communities in Colorado for the implementation funds, so the competition is keen," explained Evans. "We have done our community surveys and have developed a good plan so far, but some of our barriers are acquiring the 25 percent matching funds to make our grant more competitive. This includes about $150,000 in cash matches as well as in-kind contributions."
Have an idea or an interested in helping hunt down those matches? Please contact your community's Nature Connection team members (thenatureconection.net) or Anita Evans at firstname.lastname@example.org.
You can also place a bid on a silent outdoor gear item at the Mountain Film on Tour March 24, 6:30 to 9 p.m., at the Paradise Theater in Paonia.