UpaDowna gets explorers back to nature
By Marcus Hill
The Southeast Express
Nature provides a bond, even to those unfamiliar with its ways.
Since 2007, UpaDown made it their business to provide people with the opportunity to get in touch with the outdoors. UpaDown, located in Manitou Springs but offering programming throughout the Pikes Peak region, seeks to expand that love and understanding to anyone willing to learn, or who wants to be empowered through exploration.
Among the organization’s many programs, it offers free standup paddleboard sessions on Prospect Lake throughout the summer. The group also hosts weekly, family friendly bike rides through downtown; leads third Saturday hikes (the next of which is scheduled for 10 a.m. Dec. 21 at Yucca Flats Dog Run in Palmer Park); and runs a free monthly speaker series where attendees can be inspired by others’ adventure tales. It partners with CityROCK on donation-based climbing nights and leads safe and fun overnight trips on a pay-as-you-can basis. (For a full listing of upcoming excursions, check out upadowna.org/events).
“He needed a way to reconnect with the community and nature was his saving grace.” – Randi Hitchcock, UpaDowna executive director
Plus, UpaDowna’s website also keeps tabs on the several thousands of miles hiked and biked. While the organization uses various locations, Randi Hitchcock, UpaDowna executive director, said it doesn’t stray far from the area.
“We love recreating locally. Not only is it easier for our community to get there, but many times, a lot of folks don’t even explore their neighborhood parks,” Randi said. “Our paddle boarding mainly takes place at Prospect Lake in Memorial Park. Many of the neighbors will walk over to jump on a paddleboard when they see our big blue ‘SUP’ bus pull up to the lake.
“We also do a lot of hikes locally in the Colorado Springs area and change up the location every month so that our participants have the chance to see a new place each time and feel more confident to explore that place next time on their own.”
Steve Hitchcock, Randi’s husband, developed the idea in 2004 following his deployment to Iraq.
He enjoyed the outdoors and wanted to share the passion with those around him.
“He needed a way to reconnect with the community and nature was his saving grace,” Randi Hitchcock said. “Around 2007, we started leading hikes and teaching our friends all about camping. In 2011, it grew, thanks to the help of a grant and fiscal sponsorship from a foundation, and they challenged us to create some community programs.
“Since 2014, we’ve been a standalone 501(c)3 and have been leading free community activities in nature since 2011.”
UpaDowna makes it easy for everyone to participate.
“(We) provide free activities plus the education, equipment and location to try a new activity,” Randi Hitchcock said. “Many barriers are broken down so that more of our community can experience the joys nature has to offer.”
Steve Hitchcock had to deal with some of those hurdles, which motivated him to open the organization.
In 2003, he entered a “high-end gear” store wearing his Army battle dress uniform (BDUs) but didn’t receive assistance. The following day, he returned wearing outdoor clothes and was “immediately helped.”
“He felt that there was bias and a sort of ‘outdoor elitism’ because they didn’t think a soldier in BDUs could afford the gear they were selling,” Randi Hitchcock said. “He felt that everyone in our community should feel welcome shopping for outdoor gear, and also exploring in nature.”
She said they also wanted bridge the gap between military veterans and civilians.
“As a combat-injured veteran, [Steve Hitchcock] was given many opportunities to travel, explore and adventure many great places, but only with other injured vets,” Randi Hitchcock said. To him, it was off-putting because not only did he have to leave his family behind so he could go explore, but he was surrounded by an echo chamber of issues and stories of war, which was not beneficial to his mental health.
“He created UpaDowna as a way for everyone to get together to adventure with no prerequisites or disqualifications.”