This past September, virtually every 9th grader in the Delta County School District attended a full-day river trip on the Gunnison River. The Nature Connection (TNC) expanded their successful GOCO-funded high school outdoor program this fall thanks to a $9000 Community Grant for the Environment from the Western Colorado Community Foundation. Students rafted from Pleasure Park to the BLM Orchard Site guided by educators from the Colorado Canyons Association (CCA) including an interpretive hike at the Eagle Rock Shelter within the BLM Gunnison Gorge National Conservation Area.
In the past, select students from each high school could attend a day trip or overnight river trip with The Nature Connection as part of the Youth Outdoor Network clubs.. This year TNC staff and high school teachers worked together to increase the number of kids exposed to the incredible river running right through their backyards. Ben Graves, former Delta High School Science teacher and TNC Director of Strategic Programs put it this way: “So many students in Delta County have never experienced the thrill of pushing off in a raft and seeing the lush cottonwood groves and canyon walls of the Lower Gunnison. Our goal is to make sure no student grows up in Delta County without experiencing the opportunities right in our own backyard.” Each river trip was guided by the Colorado Canyons Association and included educators and representatives from the BLM Uncompahgre Field Office.
CCA’s River Program Director Dawn Cooper shared the importance of providing outdoor opportunities during the pandemic. “With COVID restrictions limiting so many things for our young people, it is even more important that students get to make meaningful memories and hands-on science and career connections outdoors.”
The goal of the grant from the Western Colorado Community Foundation was to provide outdoor experiences that focus on promoting socio-emotional wellbeing. Recent psychological research has shown that access to outdoor experiences like this not only connect children with rich environmental educational experiences and local history, but also promotes positive relationships with peers, reduced stress and aggression. Mr. Graves notes that “outdoor play at home and school, including the structured experiences offered by The Nature Connection are even more important during this pandemic to help our children cope and stay healthy.”
One of the participating students, Delta High School Freshman Benjamin Nortnik shared the value of his experience,
"The river trip was a very fun experience, we learned a lot about the native life around the river. We also learned some history, specifically how the river has been used by previous generations and how it's grown over time."
Riley Cannon, Senior at Delta High School and president of the TNC-sponsored Youth Outdoor Network club loved learning more about outdoor careers,
“Talking with the guides on the river trip was super helpful in my pursuit of finding a similar job. On this trip, I spoke to multiple guides about their experiences on the river and how those experiences shaped them. I got to see how they interacted with the freshmen; I saw their teaching styles, personalities, and interests showing through their lessons, and how much they loved their job. In the end, the river trip was a great way of getting outside, learning more about our Colorado rivers, and pursuing my goals of working in the industry."
About The Nature Connection:
The mission of The Nature Connection is to break down the barriers to getting outside for kids and families in our community. As a Delta County School District program, TNC serves students and families across the county including Olathe and is funded by the Generation Wild Initiative from Great Outdoors Colorado (GOCO). TNC offers school year and summer programs that introduce kids and families to outdoor recreation, environmental education and stewardship. This fall TNC has been offering Learn to Bike Programs and Explore Your State Park paddle boarding trips with Colorado Parks and Wildlife for fifth grade students. Soon they will launch their annual Skis for Kids Program for 4th and 6th graders, along with community ski lending for families. TNC will continue to offer job pathways internships for high school students along with summer camps in Delta, Hotchkiss and soon Cedaredge. Find them on Facebook for updates or check out their website, www.thenatureconnection.net.
About Colorado Canyons Association:
Colorado Canyons Association fosters community education, stewardship, and awareness of National Conservation Lands with a focus on our National Conservation Areas in western Colorado. CCA's land and river programs bring positive change to our community by offering unique, place-based experiential education to students of varying age groups and diverse backgrounds from all over Colorado's western slope. CCA partners with many organizations including local school districts and youth groups, as well as residential and after-school programs for underserved youth. CCA believes all people, regardless of socioeconomic background, should have the opportunity to experience our wild backyards and natural world.
About Generation Wild:
Generation Wild was created by Great Outdoors Colorado (GOCO) to reconnect kids with nature by increasing the amount of time they spend outside in unstructured play – the kind of play that used to be way more common. The program is an integrated, statewide effort that involves providing parents and caregivers inspiration for getting children outdoors. GOCO is a state program that invests a portion of Colorado Lottery proceeds to help preserve and enhance Colorado’s parks, trails, wildlife, rivers, and open spaces. GOCO’s independent board awards competitive grants to local governments and land trusts and makes investments through Colorado Parks and Wildlife.
About Western Colorado Community Foundation:
The Western Colorado Community Foundation (WCCF) works with community-minded donors who share a connection with western Colorado, the place we are privileged to call home. WCCF serves seven counties in western Colorado, managing charitable funds for community good. Currently, the Community Foundation manages over 265 charitable funds totaling over $80 million in assets and awards over $3.4 million in grants and scholarships annually.