Great way to get kids out­side

The GOCO In­spire Ini­tia­tive awards $13.5 mil­lion.

The Denver Post - - FRONT PAGE - By Ja­son Blevins

leadville» Lake County’s No. 1 ex­port used to be molyb­de­num.

Now, says county com­mis­sioner Mike Bor­dogna, it’s kids. They’re not stick­ing around this for­mer min­ing town, which is ringed by some of Colorado’s most pic­turesque moun­tains, mead­ows, lakes and trails.

“We need to show our kids why this is the great­est place in the world to live and give them a rea­son why they want to come back here and start busi­nesses and in­vest in this com­mu­nity,” Bor­dogna said.

Great Out­doors Colorado is giv­ing Leadville and Lake County a big boost to­ward con­nect­ing kids with out­door op­por­tu­ni­ties and, per­haps, help­ing them to be­come in­vested in their high-al­ti­tude home­town.

Leadville is get­ting the largest piece — $3 mil­lion — of the $13.5 mil­lion that GOCO on Thurs­day said will be dis­trib­uted to six Colorado com­mu­ni­ties through its pi­o­neer­ing In­spire Ini­tia­tive grant pro­gram. The grant pro­gram is fo­cused on get­ting kids into the out­doors, us­ing trails, recre­ation cen­ters and ed­u­ca­tion pro­grams to foster the deep ap­pre­ci­a­tion for wild-land recre­ation that per­me­ates so much — but not all — of Colorado.

In towns like La­mar and Leadville, and in im­pov­er­ished neigh­bor­hood com­mu­ni­ties like Den­ver’s West­wood and Mont­bello, too many kids never get a chance to know the Colorado play­ground that’s pitched to tourists. They don’t go for hikes or ski trips. They don’t pedal to parks. Most spend less than 10 min­utes a day play­ing out­side. Maybe they don’t feel in­spired or wel­come. Maybe they don’t have the money or ac­cess or knowl­edge or gear.

“We as a state have an op­por­tu­nity to change that,” said Jackie Miller, di­rec­tor of GOCO’s youth ini­tia­tives. “For a state as rich in out­door re­sources as Colorado, there is still a large per­cent­age of the pop­u­la­tion that is not en­joy­ing those re­sources.”

Last fall, GOCO an­nounced six pi­lot com­mu­ni­ties — a blend of ur­ban, ru­ral, subur­ban and moun­tain ar­eas — that each had won about $100,000 to help plan trails, parks and ed­u­ca­tion pro­grams de­signed to re­move bar­ri­ers keep­ing kids from get­ting out­side.

In Leadville, a coali­tion of 27 com­mu­nity groups and another 70-plus com­mu­nity lead­ers gal­va­nized to craft a pro­posal in­tended to get more kids ap­pre­ci­at­ing the big play­ground in their back­yards. A half-dozen “pro­mo­toras” — or li­aisons — and twice that many kids hit the streets, con­duct­ing 239 in­ter­views in apart­ment com­plexes, mo­bile home parks and other ar­eas with lots of kids who weren’t en­joy­ing the re­gion’s moun­tains or even city parks. Those in­ter­views helped shape a three­year pro­gram that will im­pact more than 1,500 Lake County kids and cre­ate 95 youth and com­mu­nity jobs in Leadville.

The re­searchers found that Lake County’s Lati­nos wanted to be in­cluded, said li­ai­son Cristina Reve­les. They heard about the chal­lenge of trans­porta­tion for kids in out­ly­ing ar­eas whose par­ents worked un­til late in the evening.

“My par­ents def­i­nitely want to take me out, but there’s never any time, real- ly,” said 16-year-old An­gel Bu­janda, an in­ter­viewer and re­searcher who helped with the Lake County pro­posal.

The in­ter­view­ers ex­posed a small com­mu­nity di­vided by dif­fer­ent cul­tures and so­cio-eco­nomic per­cep­tions, a com­mon sce­nario in Colorado’s re­sort com­mu­ni­ties, where the priv­i­leged of­ten over­shadow the work­ers.

“There have been so many bar­ri­ers, from trans­porta­tion to the lan­guage you speak, that peo­ple aren’t re­ally con­nect­ing,” said 17-year-old Bray­han Reve­les, who also helped with the Lake County pro­posal. “But with this grant, we are go­ing to break down so many bar­ri­ers and we are go­ing to be­come such a strong com­mu­nity.”

Stand­ing around an out­door fire ring near the new ice rink at Leadville’s re­vamped Huck Finn Park, more than a dozen com­mu­nity lead­ers last week cel­e­brated the GOCO grant with em­braces and cheers. About a third of the grant will go to­ward build­ing a 3,400-square­foot out­door ed­u­ca­tion hub at the park.

A ma­jor­ity of the grant will sup­port bilin­gual out­door ed­u­ca­tion pro­grams — like a wilder­ness class at Lake County High School or out­door in­dus­try col­lege-prep cour­ses at Leadville’s Colorado Moun­tain Col­lege. As with ev­ery other In­spire Ini­tia­tive grant re­cip­i­ent across Colorado, a good chunk of the grant money will go to­ward spark­ing in­ter­est in ca­reers in out­door ed­u­ca­tion or nat­u­ral re­sources.

The 336 paid youth jobs and 200 com­mu­nity po­si­tions the grants will cre­ate across Colorado an­chor the pil­lars of the $25 mil­lion In­spire Ini­tia­tive, a first-ofits-kind pro­gram de­signed to cre­ate more places to play, pro­grams to make those places ap­peal­ing and youth-em­pow­er­ing path­ways for kids to be­come lead­ers.

In Leadville — and in each of the five other pi­lot com­mu­ni­ties — that means the kids were di­rectly in­volved in the plan­ning for how this grant money could be spent.

Sam Frykholm is ex­cited for a wilder­ness ex­pe­ri­ence class in his high school. The 14-year-old ex­pects the class could trig­ger a change in how his fel­low stu­dents see the 14,000-foot peaks that loom large near Leadville.

“We could have a new school cul­ture based around the out­doors,” he said. “Es­pe­cially liv­ing in a com­mu­nity like this with so many amaz­ing moun­tains and amaz­ing things to do out­side, hav­ing a school cul­ture built around that is go­ing to be so in­cred­i­ble.”

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