Colorado’s Office of Outdoor Recreation and The North Face Partner to Protect and Feed Colorado Communities

Partnership provides PPE for Colorado’s search and rescue and assistance for hardest hit food banks

DENVER – As COVID-19’s impacts continue to be felt throughout the state, protecting Coloradans and feeding those in need present complicated challenges. As more Coloradans turn to Colorado’s outdoors for a much-needed release, Colorado’s Search and Rescue Association (CSAR) has experienced a dramatic increase in demand for their services when outdoor excursions do not go as planned. That service spike has become further complicated by a lack of available personal protective equipment (PPE) to help them serve those in distress.

Without PPE, the very rescue personnel serving Coloradans in need are, themselves, placed at risk. Recognizing the essential role that protective equipment plays in Colorado’s search and rescue needs, The North Face and the Colorado Outdoor Recreation Industry Office (OREC) have collaborated to help CSAR acquire the face masks, gloves, and other PPE to ensure the safety of their members and of those needing their assistance.

“Asymptomatic carriers of COVID-19 create a dangerous situation for our volunteer SAR responders. Backcountry rescues necessitate close proximity with patients and sustained contact that can last for hours. The physically demanding nature of rescues means everyone is breathing hard, especially at altitude. The PPE purchases enabled through this grant are vital to protect our responders and ensure SAR teams across Colorado are ready to assist anyone in need. We are very thankful to The North Face for stepping in and supporting the SAR volunteers who give so much to our Colorado communities,” said Jeff Sparhawk, president of the Colorado Search and Rescue Association.

These same communities that Coloradans are exploring are also experiencing substantial economic distress from job loss. More than half of outdoor recreation businesses in La Plata, Chaffee, Routt and Mesa Counties report significant employee reductions from the COVID-19 pandemic economic interruption.

The North Face partnership also includes direct financial assistance for food banks in La Plata, Chaffee, Routt, and Mesa Counties. These four counties’ heavy dependence on tourism and outdoor recreation were among the hardest hit during the initial impact of COVID-19 in Colorado. In 2019, OREC and Tourism accounted for more than 2,500 jobs in La Plata County, 2,600 in Routt, over 1,300 in Chaffee, and more than 3,300 in Mesa County.

“While we are all in this together, we are not all feeling the impacts equally. This partnership between the State and The North Face aids our mountain and west-slope communities that have both a high concentration of outdoor recreation businesses and employment as well as a disproportionate loss of outdoor recreation jobs due to COVID-19. I applaud The North Face for directly aiding the industry strong-holds around the state and supporting critical needs,” said Nathan Fey, director of Colorado’s OREC office.

The resulting widespread employment displacement has placed a great strain on community services such as local food banks. Unprecedented demand has threatened the sustainability of local food banks, desperate to serve the exponential increase in those seeking assistance.

“We have a commitment to support the towns and organizations that make recreation possible and who have been feeling severe health and economic impacts from COVID-19,” said Amy Roberts, senior director sustainability and brand impact for The North Face. “Colorado’s Office of Outdoor Recreation has been a great partner in helping us strengthen connections with communities most in need of support. It’s our hope that we can work together to prepare for a responsible return to recreation.”

OREC and The North Face are also working with The American Mountain Guides Association (AMGA), a Colorado-based national organization to support a “responsible return to work” program for outdoor guides and educators around the country, whose livelihoods have been put on hold. That program will launch in early June.