Great Outdoors Colorado grants spurring Vail Valley students to action | VailDaily.com

Great Outdoors Colorado grants spurring Vail Valley students to action

EDWARDS — When Great Outdoors Colorado formulated its strategic plan to close out this decade, the organization went on a statewide listening tour first.

Great Outdoors Colorado, commonly known as GOCO, uses an independent board to award a portion of Colorado Lottery proceeds to help preserve and enhance the state's parks, trails, wildlife, rivers and open spaces.

After hearing the concerns of the public in its 2014 listening tour, Great Outdoors Colorado stated there is noticeable public concern regarding awareness of and access to outdoor amenities among youth and underserved populations, such as low-income families and the growing Hispanic population.

"To improve access," Great Outdoors Colorado wrote, "strategic initiatives will focus on investments in outdoor destinations within a 10-minute walk for underserved communities."

The goal is called The Inspire Initiative, and it quickly caught the attention of the Eagle Valley Outdoor Movement, a grant-planning effort in the Eagle River Valley.

'WONDERS OF THE WORLD'

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As the Eagle River Preserve in Edwards was itself a Great Outdoors Colorado-funded project, and is less than 10 minutes from low-income areas such as Eagle River Village Mobile Home Park and Lake Creek Village, improved access to the preserve from those areas would be a project that appears to fit the Inspire Initiative perfectly. Great Outdoors Colorado already awarded the Eagle Valley Outdoor Movement a $75,000 planning grant to put together a proposal for more funding and the group's youth advisors are currently making a film about the effort.

"These students are telling the story of the Edwards community and how access to the outdoors can, and needs to be, improved for the betterment of the community as a whole," wrote Emma Sloan, an AmeriCorps volunteer hired to help with the project. "As a final project, the local Youth Advisors will present their documentary to the (Great Outdoors Colorado) board of directors in order to not only showcase their hard work of researching, compiling and representing the needs of the Edwards community, but also present their own hopes and aspirations for the project."

Among the youth advisors is Yesenia Briones, a junior at Battle Mountain High School.

"The staggering opportunities we have to experience nature at such a close range should be open to everyone, and this is what the Eagle Valley Outdoor Movement inspires me to work towards," Briones wrote. "Whether it be lack of money, time, resources or knowledge — these barriers shouldn't prevent anyone from experiencing such wonders of the world."

PLACES, PROGRAMS, PATHWAYS

When it's finally submitted in July, the idea to increase access to the Eagle River Preserve will be simply one part of a much larger proposal, said project manager Gina Van Hekken. The organization will request $3 million with a plan that can be broken up into three components: places, programs and pathways.

Improving access to the Eagle River Preserve, improving the playgrounds in Eagle River Village and creating new playgrounds in the Lake Creek Village area are the goals of the places component.

For programs, the Eagle Valley Outdoor Movement has created a kindergarten through ninth-grade program continuum through the help of partner organizations, which include Walking Mountains Science Center, YouthPower365, SOS Outreach, the Eagle Valley Land Trust, the Eagle River Watershed Council, the Cycle Effect, Sylvan Lake State Park and more.

"Through (Great Outdoors Colorado), we're going to be able to fully fund at least one and, in some grades, multiple experiences in the outdoors for all students in Edwards-area schools," Van Hekken said. "It's anything from a Walking Mountains field science experience to a YouthPower365 after-school activity to getting out with SOS Outreach on a low-ropes course."

The final component is a pathways experience, which is meant to be understood in the "pathways though life" sense, rather than the literal "pathway down to the Eagle River" interpretation, which would fall into the places component. Pathways is geared more toward high school students and helping them find careers in the outdoors.

"The idea is we expose them to all of these outdoor activities from kindergarten up through ninth grade, and then we start to offer more involved activities, which the students can self-select based on their interests," Van Hekken said. "We'll then recruit a smaller number of students in high schools and then introduce them to outdoor careers throughout our valley, hopefully working with partner organizations again, and hopefully connecting these kids with internship opportunities.

"The ultimate goal is to have a longstanding impact, so we're creating the next generation of environmental stewards that are going to protect this amazing place that we live."