Operation Iraqi Freedom veteran takes lead of outdoors youth program
After two tours in Iraq with the U.S. Army, Scott Partan sought solace and healing along America’s mountain trails.
As a soldier, he was part of something greater than himself.
He had battle brothers.
He had a mission.
He was saving the world.
Returning to civilian life, Partan found himself alone and in search of a new purpose.
“Coming back from a war zone, it’s pretty tough,” Partan said. “My brother took me on a hut trip in the White Mountains in New Hampshire, and that was the first time I was starting to feel normal again.”
Diving into the East Coast hiking scene, he found therapy and a new mission: introducing youth to the boundless adventures waiting outside.
“The outdoors was so instrumental in working through my own struggles,” Partan explained, “I realized this could probably help some kiddos out there going through their own stuff.”
As the Garfield County Outdoors Program’s newest director, he said he plans to do exactly that.
More than a thousand miles separate the Rockies from the Appalachians.
For Partan, bridging that gap was quite the hike.
About six years ago, he headed west to serve a term with AmeriCorps in the Vail Valley, working with the nonprofit organization SOS Outreach, an adult mentoring program for struggling youth.
When the opportunity arose to move into a director position at Garfield Outdoors, a youth program funded by Great Outdoors Colorado (GOCO), Partan said he was ready to “think big.”
“At SOS, I worked in program delivery — down in the weeds, working with kids a lot — directly managing programs,” he explained. “As part of my own professional development, I was looking for that next step up.”
In Garfield County, Partan said he is looking forward to developing the partnerships and networks that make those youth programs possible.
Meredith Burke, Garfield Outdoors outgoing program director, worked alongside Partan for a couple weeks before leaving to attend graduate school.
“Garfield Outdoors is a collaborative initiative that works with about nine nonprofit partners … to connect more kids with nature by trying to break down barriers of cost and transportation,” Burke said.
The program operates in conjunction with Garfield County School District No. 16 and Garfield County School District No. Re-2. Founded about five years ago, Garfield’s Outdoors programming is free to its nearly 2,500 participants, ages 6-18.
Activities and events range from in-class education to days-long hiking trips on which the kids are paid to help maintain hiking trails, Partan said.
Maintaining funding levels and finding ways to expand programming are top priorities for Partan as he follows in Burke’s footsteps.
“(Burke) has done an amazing job building a foundation for this program,” he said. “I’m really excited to continue on all the work she’s done, and hopefully, move the needle and carry it on a little further forward.”
Taking the reins of any school program during the pandemic could be a daunting task, but Partan said COVID-19 provided Garfield Outdoors with both positives and negatives.
“I’m really a silver-lining person and try to stay positive,” he said. “I see this forcing people to be a little more open to ideas and be more creative. And, there’s a general idea you’re safer outside.”
On the other hand, Burke said the pandemic wreaked havoc on the program’s schedule at a time when activities were about to steam full ahead.
“It really paused all the programs we’re doing,” she explained. “We had a lot planned for the spring, but our in-school partners couldn’t really do anything, so they had to transition to virtual programming.”
Because of social distancing guidelines and stay-at-home orders, the program’s nonprofit partners also paused their events and activities.
While technology has opened some avenues, it removes the face-to-face learning experiences that allow an outdoor program to shine, Burke said.
The program’s grant funding might have taken a hit as well, which was scheduled to end next summer, but Great Outdoors Colorado allowed for an extension into the winter of 2021.
As a second wave of COVID-19 sweeps the nation mere weeks before the next school year is slated to begin, Burke said the future of the program could be in flux.
“Knowing that some of the (pandemic prevention) actions are limitless, there’s not really a concrete answer for the best way to move forward,” she explained. “Everybody is planning for numerous different obstacles, but we’re still going to pursue our mission to kids outdoors.”
Building upon his wartime experience, Partan said despite the trials ahead, he thrives on exploring the unknown and finding solutions for problems on the fly.
“We’ll take it as it comes, and roll forward” he said.
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