- Sean Holveck
Among the sounds of children laughing and screaming on a warm summer day: "EEEWWW, it's slimy. I'm not touching that!" squeals a young girl catching a fish for the first time. It hopefully will be just one among many memories she'll create in the great outdoors as she grows up.
More than 2,000 fishing poles will be given away to young people like her on Saturday, June 3, as a group of outdoor recreation professionals, guides, rangers, non-profits and gear shops put on Get Outdoors Day Colorado Springs in Memorial Park, from 9 to 4 p.m. That Saturday and Sunday also happen to be Colorado Parks and Wildlife's Free Fishing Weekend, when anyone can fish statewide sans permit.
Also on Saturday in Memorial Park, there will be free activities provided by more than 30 organizations — ATVs, stand-up paddle boarding, segway tours, a "Touch a Truck" area, as well as the Rocky Mountain Field Institute's "Touch a Tool" area.
Colorado Parks and Wildlife and the city of Colorado Springs will co-host Get Outdoors Day with the Mike Johnson Youth Hunting Project and the Pikes Peak Outdoor Recreation Alliance (ppora.org), a newly formed nonprofit for which I am co-director. Our primary vision is to elevate our region as THE place for outdoor recreation. But this is just one of many partnerships PPORA will work on to promote more collaboration among local, regional and statewide organizations.
Frank McGee, area wildlife manager for Colorado Parks and Wildlife, says the idea came from Grand Junction: "It was a really successful way to bring the county and the city together to celebrate some essential activities in the outdoors."
The Springs' inaugural event drew more than 3,500 people in 2016, and McGee hopes to see double that this year. Elsewhere in Colorado, similar events will take place on National Get Outdoors Day, June 10, to embrace our nature-bound heritage while engaging our younger population and encouraging healthy, active lifestyles — a core of our local ethos.
Last year, Gov. John Hickenlooper made a bold vision statement: He wants every Coloradan to have access to trails, parks or an open green space within 10 minutes' walking from their door. His "16 in 2016" initiative, which included finishing our region's Ring the Peak trail, aims to further connect people to our outdoors by completing missing trail segments.
Beyond the health and lifestyle benefits of "America's Mountain" locally, Pikes Peak attracts significant tourism dollars, which proves our outdoor areas are economic assets too. A recent study from the Outdoor Industry Association indicates that more than $887 billion is generated from the outdoor industry in the U.S. annually, supporting more than 7.6 million jobs. In Colorado, that figure is estimated to be close to $18 billion, from manufacturing and retail to tourism and everyday usage.
In a study performed by the Trust for Public Land for our city's Parks, Recreation and Cultural Services Department, our community was referred to as "super users" of our parks systems. Health benefits to some 45,200 users of our parks were estimated to save nearly $60 million on medical care annually. Nine percent of tourists claimed to come just for our parks, representing $6 million in tax revenues. Homes near parks in our city are valued at more than $502 million more than similar homes that are not. On average, our citizens spend more than $32.4 million on equipment for outdoor activities.
But despite this glowing report and our "super user" demographic, why aren't more people getting outside? The simple truth: We aren't "triggering" the younger generation to get outside as much as we did in times past.
As part of El Pomar Foundation's Heritage Series, "Mountains Matter to Millennials," Luis Benitez, Colorado's director of outdoor recreation, recently asked a group of young professionals what it will take to get more of us outdoors, to begin to feel connected back to Mother Nature? They all said to make it easier, and to ask and encourage them to do it more.
Start with a short walk or even a picnic in the park. We won't all climb Mount Everest (the Manitou Incline will do), or even run a marathon. But that's OK; big feats and competitive times aren't always what being outdoors is about.
Floating on a lake or wading in a river can be equally rewarding, especially if you do get your hands around one of those slimy but beautiful fish.