Vail Daily column: Partnership connects families with nature |

Vail Daily column: Partnership connects families with nature

Carlos Fernandez and Beth Ganz
Valley Voices

Connecting children and families to nature and creating a unique summer experience bring Vail Resorts, the U.S. Forest Service and The Nature Conservancy together for an epic project. With passion for the outdoors and all the beauty and benefits it brings, we speak with one voice about the importance of creating meaningful experiences in our beautiful forests.

Many of us have enjoyed the grandeur of our mountains — skiing, hiking, biking and fishing — throughout the four seasons. However, for many people, playing in our national forests and other open spaces may be intimidating or out of reach. By not experiencing nature up close, it is hard to understand the importance it has to our everyday lives. This connection is critical as we work to preserve our iconic landscapes for future generations. If we want people to care, then we need to get them connected to the outdoors.

There are many other compelling reasons to get people in nature. Studies reveal getting outside can boost creativity, make children happy and reduce their stress levels. The Nature Conservancy and Disney collaborated on a survey about kids and nature. The bottom line: Parents around the world agree that we need more nature! In fact, 82 percent of U.S. parents consider spending time in nature as “very important” to their child’s development, second only to reading as a priority. As Gov. Hickenlooper observed during his recent State of the State Address, “Part of educating our kids also means getting them outside for their physical and emotional health.”

When Congress passed the Ski Area Recreational Opportunity Enhancement Act in 2011, it opened the door for approval of year-round activities on permitted, already-developed ski terrain. The bill offered more opportunities to get families and children connected to the forests by creating more year-round options.

Since the 2011 decision, Vail Resorts has been developing Epic Discovery, where more kids and families will be able to enjoy the mountains with fun, engaging and accessible activities and trails for all abilities. The Nature Conservancy is working with Vail Resorts at both Vail Mountain and Breckenridge ski resorts to develop science-based information and activities that will broaden guests’ understanding of the mountains, the forests and watersheds, and public lands. Experiencing our mountains up close will help our visitors better understand how we all rely on the resources from our public lands. The mountains deliver our water, create a home for wildlife and provide locations for world-class recreation.

This collaboration will, in turn, provide support to The Nature Conservancy to improve nature in Colorado through Vail Resorts’ 1 Percent for the Forest initiative. This is a great example of how we are working to provide unique opportunities for people while ensuring the health of our forests and watersheds.

Whatever you enjoy — hiking, biking, zip-lining or wildlife watching — this collaboration will deliver all kinds of outdoor activities. Breathing fresh air and soaking in nature will bring joy, reduce stress and create connections to our forests. Connections bring understanding. Understanding leads people — starting with our kids — to fall in love with nature, care and then act. Together, we hope to create an emotional connection that launches a lifetime of curiosity and outdoor fun!

Carlos Fernandez is the Colorado state director of The Nature Conservancy. Beth Ganz is vice president for public affairs and sustainability for Vail Resorts.

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