Underserved youth will benefit from the Colorado Outdoor Equity Grant Program
By Kiana Marsan
Last month, the state legislature passed a bill (HB21-1318) to create the Colorado Outdoor Equity Grant Program. Modeled after similar government initiatives in New Mexico and California, it would provide over $3 million over four years in funding to groups with a focus on encouraging underrepresented communities into outdoor spaces.
Since 2019, movement on this bill has been pushed forward by a coalition of over 60 outdoor advocacy and conservation organizations. Support from groups such as the Continental Divide Trail Coalition, Colorado Cross-Disability Coalition, and Environmental Learning for Kids (ELK), among others, was instrumental to its passage.
BIPOC youth are one of numerous groups that would benefit from this funding in Colorado. Almost 75% of marginalized populations in the U.S. live in areas where nature is inaccessible. In Colorado, people of color have 18% less park space than white folks and low-income neighborhoods have 26% less than their wealthy counterparts.
In 2017, a study found that out of all outdoor participants, only 10% were Hispanic, 9% were Black, and 6% were Asian. These dismal numbers are the direct impact of longstanding income, environmental, and racial inequities that disadvantage BIPOC (Black, Indigenous, and People of Color) and push them out of environments that privilege the white and wealthy.
This negatively affects the mental wellness of youth of color, who miss out on opportunities for positive identity development. Research has shown that outdoor recreational experiences lead to improved social skills and a greater sense of self-efficacy in children. In these spaces, kids learn how to form bonds with their peers, gain new knowledge and skills, and challenge themselves. Through this exposure, they are more likely to become participants in recreation through adulthood.
The Colorado Outdoor Equity Grant Program will be funded by spillover money from the Colorado Lottery and provided to outdoor programs like Blackpackers, Wilderness on Wheels, and Lincoln Hill Cares. To apply, they must bring engaging experiences to low-income youth, youth with disabilities, LGBTQ+ youth, or BIPOC communities.
A board of community members with experience in diversity, equity, and inclusion initiatives will determine which grant applications are approved for the program. This funding can cover the costs of gear rentals, transportation, food, staffing, and more.
“The Colorado Outdoor Equity Grant Program will enable underserved communities to meaningfully engage with the outdoors,” said Jason Swann, Western Lands Policy Analyst and co-founder of Rising Routes, in a press release. “Access to nature shouldn’t be a luxury afforded to only a few, but a rightful privilege bestowed to everyone in Colorado.”
Patricia Cameron, founder of Blackpackers, pointed out the benefits to nonprofits during an online forum promoting the bill.
“The program could bring some peace of mind... Nonprofits depend on donations, the goodwill of the people,” said Cameron. “It fluctuates on what social movement is quote-unquote popular. It’s good to know there’s something that might be stable as public interest might wane.”
The bill—which was sponsored by Representatives Leslie Herod and David Ortiz, Senate President Leroy Garcia, and Senator Sonya Jaquez Lewis—was recently signed by Governor Polis. It promises to change who is being included and accounted for in the outdoors, a step towards making recreation more accessible and equitable for all Coloradans.
“I was elated! I am immensely proud of all that our team has accomplished, and I am grateful to Rep. Herod and the bill cosponsors for all of their contributions,” said Jamie Diaz, the communications manager for The Wilderness Society. “The next step is for our coalition to work with Colorado Parks & Wildlife to recruit and seat the board. In the next couple of months, we will hire an OEGP staff person and work on creating an inclusive and accessible grant application.”
To find more information about the Outdoor Equity Grant Program when it becomes available, visit their website at cpw.state.co.us/outdoor-equity-fund.