Garfield LiveWell grant aims to get kids outdoors |

Garfield LiveWell grant aims to get kids outdoors

Ryan Hoffman
Youth leaders engage younger members of the community during a visioning session at the New Castle Branch Library in 2016.

Living in rural western Colorado, it can be easy to simply assume that everyone enjoys, or at least has the opportunity to enjoy, the seemingly endless outdoor recreation offerings.

However, that is far from the case, especially for younger people. Filling in those gaps is what 20 high school students in western Garfield County hope to address in the coming months.

The effort is one of 14 second-tier programs that received money in 2015 through the Great Outdoors Colorado $25 million Inspire Initiative, which is intended to get more young people outside.

The $75,000 awarded to LiveWell Garfield County is paying a $600 stipend for each of the 20 youth leaders from the communities of New Castle, Silt, Rifle and Parachute, as well as $1,500 for each of the three youth liaisons — all three are teachers at a county high school. Aside from supplies, the majority of the rest of the money is going to MIG, a firm out of Denver that is assisting in leadership training, organizing of meetings and survey administration.

The goal is to identify the barriers preventing younger people from getting outdoors and then come up with an implementation plan to help solve the problem.

While there is help from the youth liaisons and the consulting firm, the overall project is very much led by the local teenagers, said Dana Wood, LiveWell Garfield County coordinator.

That is important, not only because the teenagers involved represent the future, as Wood said, but because the Inspire Initiative is intended to get kids “to appreciate, enjoy and take care of our great outdoors,” according to GOCO, a voter approved trust fund that invests a portion of state lottery proceeds into capital projects “that preserve, protect and enhance Colorado’s wildlife, park, river, trail and open space.”

The Inspire Initiative webpage makes note of Colorado’s steady childhood obesity rate, which was at 14.6 percent in 2014.

It’s only logical that a project aimed at youth be led by youth, Wood said.

“This is a very youth-driven initiative and I think that’s kind of … a little scary in a good way. Just to say ‘you know what … we’re trying a different approach and really letting the youth lead the way,” she said.

And although each of the teenagers share general motivation to be involved — each had to apply and be selected — they come from diverse backgrounds. Some are avid about getting outside while others are just now learning about the opportunities that surround their individual communities.

“Being in this opportunity has really allowed me to learn more about my community. Before I started this I though ‘it’s Parachute,’” said Evelyn Lane, a sophomore and one of five Grand Valley High School students participating in the project. Since starting, Lane, whose family is rarely outdoors, said she has learned more about trails and other outdoor possibilities. “It helped open my eyes a little bit more.”

Coal Ridge High School students Cassie Greene, a junior, and Jaelyn Price, a sophomore, come from the opposite background.

“I love being outside and my family has always been outside a lot,” Price said before running through a list of activities she enjoys.

The youth leaders have various reasons for getting involved in the project.

Emily Bessette, a senior at Rifle High School who described herself as someone who’s “always involved with the outdoors,” said she simply wanted to be involved in her community.

So far the youth leaders have participated in visioning sessions independently hosted in each of the three communities. They are in the process of wrapping up surveys to determine the challenges and desires in each community.

While the results are not yet known, teenagers in all the participating communities say they have heard transportation, particularly for those too young to drive and those who do not have a vehicle, is a significant hurdle. Others hinted at a lack of knowledge, and some think it’s a lack of programming. Equipment is expensive, and more programs might make more activities accessible to younger people, Price suggested.

Once the data is collected, the three groups intend to meet for a summit along with the youth liaisons and a steering committee consisting of various stakeholders. The goal, according to Wood, will be to identify themes and a direction going forward. Although the tier-two programs did not receive funding for implementation, the group intends on going forward with a plan for implementation and will seek funding next summer.

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