Walking Mountains urging local groups to collaborate in efforts to receive environmental justice funding
Eagle Valley Outdoor Movement hopes to provide more permanent offerings through statewide outdoor equity grant program
A new bill under consideration in the state legislature tells it like it is when it comes to accessing the outdoors in Colorado. Here’s a quote from House bill 21-1318:
“A clear lack of equity exists for low-income, inner-city, rural, racially, and ethnically diverse youth, for youth who are lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, or queer or questioning, for Native American or indigenous youth, and for youth with disabilities to engage in meaningful outdoor experiences and nature-based education.”
The bill seeks to “increase access and opportunity for underserved youth and their families to experience Colorado’s open spaces, state parks, public lands, and other outdoor areas” through the creation of an outdoor equity grant program which would “award grants to applicants that will directly utilize the grant to engage eligible youth and their families by reducing barriers to the Colorado outdoors, creating pathways for formal or informal conservation of the Colorado outdoors, or offering environmental and Colorado outdoor-based educational opportunities.”
The creation of the outdoor equity grant program could make a big impact on the Eagle Valley Outdoor Movement, a local collaborative which has, since 2015, sought to market and deliver outdoor experiences in Spanish in Eagle County. While the group has seen steady growth from participating organizations, (the Eagle Valley Outdoor Movement started with seven partners and now includes 33 different groups looking to expand their outdoor offerings to the Spanish-speaking community in Eagle County), finding funding is never easy.
“We will do our best and I have no doubt that we will meet the demand, but we could do more if if we had funding we could count on for years to come,” said Gina Van Hekken with Avon-based Walking Mountains Science Center.
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Generation Wild model
Walking Mountains spearheaded the Eagle Valley Outdoor Movement by obtaining a planning grant, followed by a $1.4 million grant from Great Outdoors Colorado’s Generation Wild initiative in 2017. However, “we are really wrapping up that three year project,” Van Hekken said. “So I think this bill is very exciting, and I hope that they make the funding easy to secure and they make it accessible to efforts such as ours; I think (the Eagle Valley Outdoor Movement) could definitely be more formalized and we could count on it for years to come if we had the dedicated funding.”
Jackie Miller with Great Outdoors Colorado says the outdoor equity fund would function much like the Generation Wild initiative, but would open up the funding to more organizations.
“Generation Wild has been around for going on six years, we are currently investing in 12 community-based coalition across the state, to make systemic change in outdoor access for young people,” Miller said. “We have to fund local governments, and nonprofit land trusts and Colorado Parks and wildlife directly. But this outdoor equity fund can go directly to nonprofit youth serving organizations like Walking Mountains.”
But Walking Mountains staffers say instead of seeking funding by themselves, they are hoping to use the Eagle Valley Outdoor Movement to present a unified platform to make a stronger case for funding. Walking Mountains is encouraging other local organizations to do the same.
“The ideal would be to say ‘Hey partners, rather than all of us going after this funding separately, like SOS and walking Mountains and Eagle Valley Land Trust, let’s put together one application, go after a larger amount and continue our collaborative efforts to get more youth outdoors,” Van Hekken said. “That’s the absolute hope, and that’s part of why Eagle Valley Outdoor Movement has been essential. It’s keeping us together at the table and talking about things, versus operating individually.”
Offering a lifeline
Van Hekken said the Eagle Valley Outdoor Movement meetings usually consist of updates on the outdoor programs offered and a review of the feedback received on those programs, followed by brainstorming sessions which identify new barriers that have been presented or new program ideas.
“We hear directly from the community about what are the barriers both preventing our marginalized groups and more vulnerable communities from getting into the outdoors, which is primarily our Spanish-speaking, Latinx families, mostly our immigrant families,” Van Hekken said. “We were able to identify barriers and then working with other nonprofit partners, with the school district and with Eagle County government, we have really looked at solutions of how we can break down those barriers and increase equitable access to the outdoors and become more inclusive.”
Paul Abling with Walking Mountains said many groups which want to get involved with the Eagle Valley Outdoor Movement already have programming in place, and just need help with translation services and outreach.
“EVOM is really effective at breaking down the barriers our local organizations have to delivering programs in Spanish or to market to communities in Spanish,” Abling said. “So we are able to offer the lifeline to partners that don’t have Spanish-speaking staff, and offer translation services … In breaking down the barriers we have learned that it’s not just trying to get people the programs, it’s also about getting entities that want to engage with these audiences the tools they need to do so.”