Great way to get kids outside
The GOCO Inspire Initiative awards $13.5 million.
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.”