Summit County: Groups push to get Colorado kids outside |

Summit County: Groups push to get Colorado kids outside

Bob Berwyn
Summit County, CO Colorado

SILVERTHORNE – Touring the state to advocate outdoor activities for youngsters, Lt. Gov. Barbara O’Brien challenged parents, schools, communities and businesses to foster a healthy lifestyle for Colorado youth.

Speaking at the Silverthorne Pavilion Thursday, O’Brien said state policies on education and recreation have a direct effect on lifestyle and health issues. Getting kids outside for more exercise is one of the best ways to avert obesity and all the related diseases that end up being expensive to treat once they’ve developed, O’Brien said.

“Every Colorado child has the right to play in the dirt, to get to know the state from the ground up,” she said, touting an inclusive Colorado Kids’ Outdoor Bill of Rights that’s targeted at all youngsters, but especially at the Latino community in the state.

Outdoor experiences are a key part of a preventive approach to health care, O’Brien said.

Some studies suggest the epidemic of obesity and related illnesses means today’s youngsters could have a lifespan three to five years shorter than the current adult generation. If parents are obese, the children are twice as likely to be obese, she said.

“We are raising kids who don’t go outside, who don’t have access to a trailhead. We have parents with stranger-danger,” O’Brien said, alluding to parental fears that criminals lurk just outside the home.

Reasons for staying indoors

A Colorado State University study found that some of the leading fears cited by parents included “stranger-danger, getting lost, wildlife encounters, insect bites and physical injury.

Millions of Colorado kids don’t have access to opportunities for outdoor recreation, activist Rob Moreno said during the Summit County meeting. Moreno specifically works on making skiing accessible for Latino kids and other urban youngsters who may never get a chance to experience the state’s mountains growing up.

One option could be to build on a state model developed in the 1950s and 1960s, when nearly every school in Colorado had some sort of winter recreation program or a ski and mountain club, according to Moreno.

The problem isn’t just limited to urban youth. Even in mountain communities, there are many youngsters who never get a chance to participate in the activities that are big part of those towns’ culture and economy.

Michael Infante, a 2006 Summit High grad now at the University of Northern Colorado, said he didn’t find many opportunities to get out on the slopes during his years in Summit County.

“You were just expected to know about it because it was there,” Infante said, advocating for more a more pro-active approach.

O’Brien said various groups need to pool their resources to find common ground for an outdoor vision for Colorado youth.

“We are going to collaborate, find community leaders to partner with, and find a common goal of getting kids into the great outdoors tradition of Colorado … and at the same time reduce adolescent obesity,” O’Brien said.

Along with the health-related issues, O’Brien said it’s also pretty clear kids do better at school when they have a chance to be active outside as a regular part of the day. She said a statewide outdoor plan could emphasize that environmental and outdoor literacy should be part of the state’s academic standards.

Gene Dayton, operator of the Frisco and Breckenridge Nordic centers, and father to an Olympic athlete, lauded the aim of the conference. Dayton said the Nordic centers have hosted a class from an urban middle school every winter for the past 14 years, an example of how the mountain communities can be part of bridging the gap between the dismal urban realities of so many and the sparkling brochure image of Colorado as a winter sport mecca.

Dayton said Minnesota has taken the lead in outdoor and environmental education with Wolf Ridge Outdoor Education Center, offering programs for every 8th-grader in the state.

O’Brien’s tour is part of a collaborative push with a group called Choose Outdoors, founded by the National Ski Areas Association, the Outdoor Industry and America Outdoors (guides and outfitters). According to the group’s website, outdoor recreation contributes over $1 trillion annually to the U.S. economy.

The vast majority of this powerful economic activity takes place on public lands and waters managed by federal, state and local governments. Federal support for public lands; recreation infrastructure; and the programs that support outdoor recreation, wildlife, habitat and active, outdoor lifestyles is critical to the health and well being of the American people and these treasured landscapes.

According to Choose Outdoors, this is a critical time for support of outdoor recreation, with serious threats to recreational access and capacity. The federal government is facing extremely challenging economic times and there is no long-term, comprehensive strategy for the management and funding of public lands to support and sustain recreational activities and access, the group’s leaders said.

Choose Outdoors hopes to find willing partners to promote the benefits of public lands, outdoor recreation and active lifestyles, and to inventory, map, construct and maintain Americas’ outdoor recreation infrastructure.

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