Eagle Valley Outdoor Movement

Creating a More Inclusive Environment

After 20 years living in the Eagle Valley, Jocelyn Solis experienced the area’s natural beauty for the first time this year thanks to the Eagle Valley Outdoor Movement.

The Eagle Valley Outdoor Movement (EVOM) is a coalition of 19 organizations, led by Walking Mountains Science Center, that strives to break down physical and cultural barriers to outdoor recreation and invite underrepresented groups to connect with nature through hiking, skiing, snowshoeing, biking, horseback riding, rafting, biking, climbing and other outdoor activities year-round.

“We recognize that within our community, there is a great degree of environmental privilege as far as who’s able to access and participate in outdoor activities, and we want to make sure it’s a more inclusive environment for everyone in this community,” says Gina Van Hekken, director of grants and strategic initiatives at Walking Mountains Science Center.

EVOM launched in 2015 as one of 15 projects created by the Great Outdoors Colorado’s Generation Wild Initiative, which is funded by proceeds from the Colorado Lottery and aims to connect children to the outdoor world.

Solis, a mother of three young children, joined EVOM last year on a rafting trip, and she’s participated in many outings since.

“It’s all new to me. Before EVOM, I never had the motivation or courage that I could do any of these things on my own,” Solis says. “I have participated in several hikes, paddle boarding, mountain biking, rafting, canoeing, rock climbing, flyfishing, Nordic skiing, fat bike snow riding and snowshoeing.”

Solis moved to the valley from Mexico when she was 10 years old and wasn’t fully comfortable speaking English until her teenage years.

“The majority of what we do is geared toward our Spanish-speaking population, so everything we promote is Spanish-first,” Van Hekken says. Each program has a Spanish-speaking staff member present to provide translation and comfort.

Renata Araujo, Eagle Valley Outdoor Movement coordinator, says Spanish speakers in the valley are less likely to participate in outdoor activities due to a number of barriers. Araujo is tasked with tracking down those who face barriers to the outdoors and inviting them to join EVOM programs – something she accomplishes through hours of outreach at community service events, food banks and knocking door-to-door.

Biking in the snow

Photos courtesy of EVOM

“Renata is the perfect fit for this type of role, because she’s really warm and welcoming and has a keen ability to build relationships, even with complete strangers, so she’s really been the face of Eagle Valley Outdoor Movement. She’s brought a lot more people into the fold as far a participating in outdoor activities,” Van Hekken says.

Other barriers to the outdoors may include lack of time, gear, transportation, costs or perceptions of risk. Feedback from participants is collected and discussed among EVOM’s partner organizations monthly so barriers can be addressed. If transportation is an issue, one organization will provide a shuttle. If gear is an issue, another will provide equipment. All EVOM trips are free.

“We started offering programs directly in neighborhoods, so that certainly does address the issue of time if you can just walk out your front door and walk five minutes to your community center to participate in an engaging outdoor activity,” Van Hekken explains. “That also really helped address barriers such as transportation, not feeling welcome and just having the information accessible and knowing what to do, because everything is so close to home.”

EVOM’s goal is to bring participants further away from their neighborhoods for recreation through a concept called “backyard to backcountry,” starting with activities close to home, then venturing to a local park or trail and, eventually, building enough confidence and experience for people to be comfortable camping in a state park over the weekend. To encourage families to spend time outdoors close to home, EVOM has created six outdoor spaces in local neighborhoods, including play structures, gathering areas and trails.

EVOM partner organizations also provide outdoor-related school and summer programs for youth. Walking Mountains Science center offers field-based natural science programs where students learn about topics like geology, aquatic ecology and snow science. Another EVOM
partner, SOS Outreach, offers a program called Learn to Ride in which youth grades four through 12 can learn to ski or snowboard.

High school students at Battle Mountain High School in Edwards can join EVOM’s Pathways internship program that allows students to learn hands-on about environmental and outdoor-related organizations in a high school class followed by an 80-hour internship at one of those organizations over the summer.

skiing

 

“As a kid, I always wanted to go to the outdoors, but in Brazil that’s not very accessible,” Araujo explains. “When I was going to school, I would always try to take classes in the outdoors or do outdoor internships, and it helped me a lot with my mental and physical health and just feeling better about myself and the things I can accomplish.”

Araujo is not alone in this feeling — according to Generation Wild, outdoor recreation decreases stress and anxiety, promotes creativity and self-reliance, and improves physical fitness and immune health.

“I was having depression and going through a hard time,” Solis shares. “I really needed to get out of my routine and out of my house, and EVOM was like a light for me. It has definitely impacted a lot in my family life. My children and husband can participate too, so it has been very impactful and helped me a lot personally. I am very grateful that I get to do those things with my family. It’s
changed my life.”

Connecting people to the outdoors isn’t just beneficial for human well-being; it’s also beneficial for the health of our natural spaces.

“Through the lens of our natural landscape, especially in Colorado, if people don’t experience or connect with nature, they’re not very likely to appreciate and see the importance or value in protecting it,” Van Hekken says. “It’s that environmental stewardship piece – really getting people to connect to nature so they value our environment and see why we need to take care of it into the future. Everyone should have access to our one common ground across cultures and geographic locations.”

Visit walkingmountains.org/EVOM to learn more about Eagle Valley Outdoor Movement or to sign up for an upcoming winter event.

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