Like so many others in Colorado, I am eager to spend more time outdoors as the vibrant colors of spring unfold. But for underrepresented communities, like mine, spending time outdoors may not be the classic “Colorado experience” that is often amplified on social media, or in advertisements for outdoor gear.
It is not uncommon for Black and Brown folks to feel “othered” in green spaces, whether it’s receiving stares from other recreators for not resembling the “typical” backpacker, or questioning capability, because one has never biked, hiked, fished, or skied before.
According to data from the U.S. Forest Service’s Rocky Mountain Research Station in Fort Collins, Black folks comprise 13% of the population but only 1% of visits to national forests; Hispanic and Latinx folks account for 17% of the nation’s population but less than 7% of visitation.
We know that not all of our communities are enjoying our public lands equally, and that’s why I’ve introduced House Bill 1318 — alongside state Rep. David Ortiz, Sen. Sonya Jaquez Lewis, and Senate President Leroy Garcia — to establish the Colorado Outdoor Equity Grant Program.
For nearly two years, we have worked to craft this policy with outdoor advocates and community members from across the state.
When we first sat down to discuss the concept, we agreed that it was important to have our communities represented at the decision-making table and to have a substantial and sustainable funding source for the effort to be successful. This bill would do both of those things, enabling Colorado to help lead the national effort to increase outdoor access and environmental understanding in youth from all backgrounds.
The Colorado Outdoor Equity Grant Program would complement and build upon Colorado’s proud legacy of funding conservation and outdoor recreation. The bill would establish a new statewide grant program designed to increase outdoor access and opportunities for underserved youth and their families, with annual funding topping out at $3 million per year.
These grants will be given to eligible entities that provide outdoor education and recreation, enabling more underserved communities to fully access, enjoy, and steward Colorado’s open spaces, state parks, public lands, and other outdoor areas.
Grant awards could be used to cover costs that are not traditionally funded by other programs, such as gear rentals, transportation, food, and staffing.
Colorado Parks and Wildlife would house the grant program, and an independent board of experienced community leaders would manage it. These board members would have a demonstrated record of actively working with underserved youth, communities of color, the LGBTQ+ populations, and persons with disabilities.
There are incredible organizations across our state that bring underserved youth and their families into the outdoors: Blackpackers hosts swimming and skiing lessons in addition to hiking trips; Environmental Learning for Kids (ELK) has provided outdoor experiential education to children for the past 25 years; Wilderness on Wheels provides disability-accessible hiking trails, campsites, and even fishing opportunities; and Lincoln Hills Cares has been a historic hub for Black families and other diverse communities to recreate and recharge in the outdoors.
With the Outdoor Equity Grant Program, we could provide more equitable access for all Coloradans, and ensure that all of our young people can experience the vast beauty of the outdoor spaces that are an indelible part of our great state.
Leslie Herod, Democrat of Denver, has represented Colorado House District 8 since 2017 and serves on the state legislature’s Joint Budget Committee.
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