Has an 11-year-old ever begged you to take her bird watching because of how much relaxation it brings? Have you ever seen a shy, video game-loving 12-year-old develop into a gregarious, adventuresome hiker and nature lover by age 14?

Experiences like these have shown me the life-changing powers of nature for the students I work with, but also for the curious kid who lives inside all of us. 

As a program coordinator for cityWILD, my unique and wonderful job requires me to take middle school youth, mainly youth of color, on outdoor adventures. It’s amazing to see, firsthand, how nature changes lives.

Simone Christopherson

The science shows that creative playtime is more meaningful and frequent in the outdoors. Outdoor time has proven benefits relating to the kids’ academic outcomes, developmental outcomes and health outcomes. Having fun outside is a huge stress relief, and nature facilitates special bonding experiences. 

I support Joe Neguse’s 21st Century Conservation Corps for Our Health and Our Jobs Act because it will allow positive outdoor experiences and job creation for our present and future generations. 

One part of the act, the $9 billion fund for qualified land and conservation corps, will help us restore our public lands and watersheds by increasing job training and hiring in these areas. From my job experience, I see a deep need for both restoration work and outdoor job opportunities. 

CityWILD’s Work Force program allows high-school-aged kids to steward the land while getting paid. They get exposed to, and super excited about, outdoor jobs similar to those created in Neguse’s bill. 

On one trail maintenance task up in the mountains, the kids were amazed by the prospect of working in such a beautiful place. One boy said, “I thought I could only do labor jobs on construction sites!” I hope he and his peers are able to do what they love and make a living off of it in years to come. Their connection to the outdoors won’t go away with age, and neither should their outdoor opportunities. 

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The Conservation Corps, as well as the proposed $6 billion increase for the Forest Service Capital Improvements and Maintenance program, would improve the quality of our outdoor experiences, making the outdoors a safe space for kids who previously felt unwelcomed or hesitant. 

The effects of poor maintenance could be too many mosquitoes due to an imbalance in the vegetation, overgrown trails that people get lost on, or even the threat of wildfires on camping trips.

CityWILD relies on safe trails and culturally relevant signs and amenities, so we mainly limit our programming to properly maintained parks and open spaces. When you’re taking a kid outside for the first time, the last thing you want is dangerous or unnecessarily uncomfortable situations. 

This bill is especially relevant given the COVID-19 pandemic. One area CityWILD feels the effects of COVID-19 is in our rafting programming. In addition to our after school programs and summer programs, CityWILD offers rafting trips and guide school.

This year, our programming has downsized significantly, and we canceled all of our trips on the Arkansas River. Based on what I’ve seen at work, I’m not surprised the outdoor guide industry has taken a big hit. 

Luckily, the bill addresses this, creating a relief fund for outfitters and guides that will help to sustain an incredibly important segment of our outdoor recreation economy, ensuring these businesses can make it through the pandemic and get kids outside in the future.

The bill also increases funding for the Every Kid Outdoors Program. This program allows U.S. fourth graders and family members free access to over 2,000 federal lands and waters. This opens up educational opportunities and outdoor adventures they may not have had otherwise.

In line with the mission of CityWILD, Every Kid Outdoors directly promotes equitable access to the outdoors. We must take these important steps to make access to nature a right as opposed to a privilege.

I hope Congress will pass the 21st Century Conservation Corps for Our Health and Our Jobs Act. In many different ways, this bill supports equity in the outdoors.

Providing jobs for youth while improving park safety and maintenance, all of the bill’s proposals will help change the face of the outdoors, one positive outdoor experience at a time. 

Simone Christopherson is the Westwood program coordinator for cityWILD and was born and raised in Denver. She loves to SUP board and bask in the sun. 

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Simone Christopherson

Special to The Colorado Sun