- Courtesy UpaDowna
- UpaDowna's weekly Pedal Party averages 70 riders all summer.
Have you always wanted to try a new activity like paddleboarding, cycling or rock climbing, but you fear being the rookie who will somehow mess up in a disastrous fashion? Are you aching to hike, bike and play in the surrounding mountains but lack an outdoorsy pal to join you on the adventure? If so, there's a family waiting for you right here in Colorado Springs. For more than a decade, UpaDowna has brought folks of every age, experience level and ability together under the welcoming umbrella of Colorado's wide-open spaces, cultivating communities of outdoor enthusiasts who live to share the love.
Chief Operating Officer Randi Hitchcock says that the idea for UpaDowna took root when her husband, UpaDowna founder and executive director Steve Hitchcock, returned from Iraq and looked for ways to acclimate to the natural surroundings and get to know the people of Colorado Springs. It was a lonely experience at times.
"He saw a need and wanted to fill it," Randi says. "He asked himself the question, 'How can I help people not feel the way I feel right now?'"
The answer was UpaDowna.
"We think of the name 'UpaDowna' in terms of going up a mountain to overcome an obstacle or achieve a goal, then coming back down a wiser, stronger person," she says. "For some, that can be an introduction to the outdoors or an advancement on the skills someone already has."
For others, she explains, it can be as simple as overcoming the fear of meeting new people or leaving their comfort zone to try a new activity. One of her favorite stories is that of a single mom and her young son. The pair went from tentatively trying out the summer paddleboarding program to camping outdoors in a tent to taking a road trip with other UpaDowna folks to see the Breckenridge troll.
Hitchcock's voice quavers as she reflects on the story: "Being able to provide these activities and create these happy stories? It's so important to us, to the community."
UpaDowna participants have hiked fourteeners, cleaned up trails, run wild in the city during the ROAR Urban Adventure Race, chilled at the Folk 'n' Flannel Festival, camped, biked, and boarded their way through the Pikes Peak region and beyond. They've also relied on the organization's gear reviews and donation-based classes to enhance their adventures.
Hitchcock hopes that with more funding through initiatives like Give!, the organization can add beginner camping trips here in town and increase transportation options on away trips. She'd also like to increase her roster of volunteers and continue to grow the diversity of both volunteers and participants. As she puts it, UpaDowna really is for everyone.
UpaDowna's most popular activity is stand-up paddleboarding, which offers anyone who shows up and signs a release the opportunity to try it. UpaDowna offers boards of all lengths and can support people of varying abilities. The "stand-up" part of paddleboarding is a bit of a misnomer as far as the organization is concerned. People can sit and have just as much fun as those who stand.
In addition to paddleboarding, UpaDowna's longest-running event, the Pedal Party, averages about 70 riders each Wednesday evening from May to September. Leaders help new riders learn how to cruise safely on city streets, something that can be quite intimidating for cyclists new to riding with traffic. Participants can even borrow a bike for free when they register, which means no wistful riders are left sitting on the curb.
"We want you to be physically healthy, mentally healthy," says Randi. "That's why we're out here offering all of these programs and activities for free. Come out and get to know us — and the great outdoors."