Generation Wild, the self-described “research-led, multiyear campaign designed to spark a movement that would reconnect kids to the outdoor world” has renewed its funding commitment to the Southeast Colorado Springs community for another three years.
In 2017, the Pikes Peak region — and the Southeast — was one of the target communities to kick off the Great Outdoors Colorado (GOCO) funded initiative known as Generation Wild. GOCO’s website describes their access work as “break[ing] down barriers to the outdoors in some of Colorado’s most under-resourced communities.”
The initial pledge to Generation Wild of the Pikes Peak Region was a multimillion-dollar investment that grew from a focus on the Hillside neighborhood to include the entirety of the southeastern quadrant.
District 11 and Harrison District 2, like other Generation Wild communities, were chosen because of the specific access issues of the area — how do people reach the mountains, the parks and the trails? How can they afford the access fees? How do they afford the gear? Much like the programming created in the Westwood and Cole neighborhoods in Denver through My Outdoor Colorado, Generation Wild in the Pikes Peak region distributes resources to youth and families in vulnerable communities that help address access concerns.
In Southeast, the coalition includes nonprofits such as Hillside Connection, Upadowna, Kids on Bikes and 2021 newcomer Blackpackers. Families and youth can take advantage of programming on a variety of areas: North Cheyenne Cañon Park, the Starsmore Visitor and Nature Center, the YMCA’s Camp Shadybrook, and community centers in Hillside, Deerfield and Meadows Park.
The coalition, led by the Catamount Institute, will go into 2021 with a buoyed platform after the news of another three years of funding, says Christopher Aaby, executive director of Catamount. The organizations will build on earlier community meetings and continue to grow.
For instance, during 2020 (before the official outbreak of the pandemic), the coalition held meetings with community leaders to identify the obstacles keeping people from the outdoors. Of their main concerns “getting outdoors seemed like a luxury,” Abby said He added that many in the community lamented: “There aren’t as many attractive outdoor spaces.”
Other barriers included costs, including transportation and gear.
Outdoor recreation can indeed be costly in both conspicuous and insidious ways. Transportation concerns create access issues for households without vehicles. This is especially difficult in Colorado Springs, where public transportation is relatively scarce, compared to other cities close to the Springs’ size. Gear and park entrance fees are also cost-prohibitive to many families.
“If somebody wants to go to a state park, we will pay for their entrance fee,’ Aaby said, noting that it’s one of the ways Generation Wild helps make public lands affordable to everyone.
The group’s work continues as funding for Panorama Park in Southeast will bring 3,000 residents within a 10-minute walk of a new, multi-use outdoor space. And another close-to-home location is nearing completion: Renovations to the Prospect Lake’s beach house are expected to be finished by summer.
The organization’s press release gives further insight into their 2021 plans and the following two years of the commitment:
“Through free and affordable programs, younger kids explore nature close to home or at their District 11 and Harrison School District 2 schools, and older kids experience adventure in Colorado’s backcountry,” the press release said. “In the next phase, the community has expressed interest in more family and multi-generational programs, events, and activities. New funding will also support GWPPR in strengthening its community-led model to ensure the coalition is responsive to community needs and providing additional training for partners in topics related to diversity, equity, and inclusion so they can better connect with community members.”
Local programming is expected to ramp back up as the COVID-19 pandemic draws to a close. And there are opportunities for other local residents interested in becoming a partner or coalition member. Aaby says they are looking for “anyone in the community who is excited about a new generation of kids getting outdoors — especially diverse populations. We really want to connect with the kids who normally wouldn’t see themselves outdoors.”
Anyone interested in any of these programs should keep an eye on Facebook (@GenerationWildPPR) and the group’s website at generationwildppr.org. And get outside — it’s good for the body and soul.
Patricia Cameron is an outdoors enthusiast, who is the executive director of Blackpackers, a nonprofit focused on getting people of color outside and on mountain trails.