World-renowned for its parks, forests, and public lands, Colorado provides abundant opportunities for residents and visitors to find connection to outdoor spaces through recreation. However, a lack of financial and economic resources often excludes underserved youth and their families from fully experiencing the array of land, water, and wildlife activities in our state. As the Outdoor Recreation Industry Office’s (OREC) 2018 Colorado Outdoor Rx report states, we have “one of the largest and fastest-growing outdoor economies in the country,” and possess “an unprecedented opportunity to improve people’s health through nature-based recreation.“ There is great “importance [in] introducing nature to future generations, and [to] the ample outdoor recreation opportunities in Colorado.”
With this recognition, OREC is excited that the Colorado Outdoor Equity Grant Program has been established. The program will offer grants to entities providing conservation, environmental, outdoor experiences and education opportunities to underserved youth and families. The Colorado Lottery will fund this initiative, phasing-in at $750,000 for this fiscal year, and reaching $3,000,000 in the following four years. The executive director of the Colorado Department of Natural Resources and the director of Colorado Parks and Wildlife, in consultation with community and advocacy groups, will select an independent board to manage the program and determine grant recipients. The OREC Director will serve as a non-voting member of the board which will award grants to cover the costs of programming, as well as gear rentals and equipment, staff supervision, and transportation. Coalition members of the bill say that lack of access to these items are often the greatest barriers to marginalized communities engaging in outdoor pursuits.
OREC’s work to help eliminate barriers to outdoor recreation opportunities directly aligns with The Outdoor Equity Grant Program’s mission to make outdoor recreation inclusive and accessible for Colorado youth. Part of OREC’s work has involved providing financial support to local communities to create gear libraries and working with manufacturers and industry partners to provide gear for use in community programs.
“By eliminating financial barriers to outdoor and nature-based recreation - namely, use fees, licenses and passes, and gear and equipment - we not only give underserved youth meaningful experiences in outdoor spaces, but can also prepare them to be future land and water stewards or innovators and entrepreneurs in the outdoor industry. I think the Outdoor Equity Grant Program can continue to advance this work tremendously,” says Nathan Fey, Director of OREC.
The Outdoor Equity Grant Program Coalition and OREC both recognize the positive health and wellness benefits for children who spend time in nature/the outdoors: improved health and cognitive functions, reduced stress and enhanced social skills. Students from low-income backgrounds tend to perform better on standardized tests, demonstrate more enthusiasm toward school, and have fewer attendance problems when they spend more time outdoors.
“We need to make sure that all of our youth can engage meaningfully in the outdoors, and reap the benefits of spending time in nature,” says Loretta Pineda, Executive Director for Environmental Learning for Kids (ELK), Outdoor Recreation Advisory Council member, and Outdoor Equity Grant Program Coalition member. “We see more need and resources are necessary to engage other groups and more communities. This grant program can definitely help bridge that gap.”
The Colorado Outdoor Equity Grant Coalition is a group of over 50 of state and national organizations whose primary purpose is to give underserved youth equitable opportunities to experience Colorado’s outdoors. Coalition members aim to advance the lands-equity conversation in an inclusive manner, and connect to other conservation policies for future equity-centric lands policies.