OUT: Youngsters involved with the outdoors understand a little more about the outdoors
When Lt. Gov. Barbara O’Brien arrives in Grand Junction on Friday to start her campaign aimed at getting youngsters involved more with the outdoors, she’ll be a week late to the party.
Politicians can’t be everywhere, but it’s too bad O’Brien missed Saturday’s Outdoor Heritage Day at Palisade’s Riverbend Park; she would have found a lot of answers to the questions she faces.
An estimated 1,250 parents and kids spent the greater part of Saturday flinging baits at well-stocked ponds, learning how to shoot a bow or a .22, climb a rock face, learn about conservation and, perhaps most important, understand a little more about the outdoors and what outdoors heritage means to the people of Colorado.
“It was a great day, especially considering it’s only the second one we’ve had,” said Lynn Ensley, executive director of the Colorado Sportsmen Wildlife Fund, one of the many sponsors for this year’s Outdoors Heritage Day. “We sent fliers to every kid in middle and grade school in the school district. I think there are people out there looking for things for the kids to do and this is the perfect forum to get out and enjoy a day together and see what hunting and fishing are about.
O’Brien’s commendable goal, according to Deputy Chief of Staff Ellen Dumm, is twofold: Help combat the growing problem with childhood obesity through physical activity and develop a “conservation ethic.”
O’Brien’s first stop on a tour that’s planned through September is her Friday visit to Grand Junction, beginning with a 9:30 a.m. public forum at the Museum of Western Colorado, 248 S. Fourth St.
Outdoor recreation is worth about $10 billion to $15 billion in economic impact each year to the state, according to the lieutenant governor’s offices.
But it’s more than simply the money, although that can never be ignored in this time of shrinking budgets, particularly when it comes to environmental and outdoors related issues.
Grand Junction City Council member Tom Kenyon volunteered his day Saturday and said more than 700 rod-and-reel sets were given free to participating youths thanks to donations from the more than 20 sponsors.
“I helped three young kids catch their first fish and that sure was fun,” said Kenyon, who sits on the boards of directors for the Colorado Sportsmen Wildlife Fund and the Colorado Mule Deer Association. “And I heard a lot of parents and kids talking about coming back later to fish, which also is a good thing.”
The initial Outdoor Heritage Day focused heavily on hunting and fishing, but this year’s version broadened its outreach to a variety of outdoor activities. It also attracted sponsors ranging from sportsmen, conservation and non-profit groups to the Town of Palisade, Mesa County Sheriff’s Department, federal land management agencies and the Colorado Division of Wildlife.
“Things like the Heritage Day have been part of the whole Riverfront Foundation idea of getting people outdoors for any sort of reason,” Kenyon said. “Fishing is one of my favorites, but it might be walking or birdwatching or just about anything. It’s having the opportunity to get outdoors.”
Kenyon spent 31 years with Colorado Division of State Parks, retiring six years ago as deputy director. He saw during those years how vital it is to get the state’s residents outdoors, where they learn to respect and support conservation efforts ranging from hunting and fishing to clean water and air and preserving open space.
“You value the things you see and learn and know about,” Kenyon said. “If you can get people outdoors and learning about the outdoors, then those people will be supporters of the outdoors and you know they’ll make the right decisions when it comes to managing their outdoors.”
The lieutenant governor also will be campaigning for a proposed Colorado Children’s Outdoors Bill of Rights, said Deputy Chief of Staff Ellen Dumm, in an effort make the state a leader in re-connecting youths to the outdoors.
“We’re not yet sure of what this will be, which is why we’re going around the state and seeking input from anyone who’s interested,” Dumm said.
Dumm said the Colorado Bill of Rights may be modeled after what other states have adopted but with an emphasis on activities and sights specific to Colorado.
The California Roundtable on Recreation, Parks and Tourism recently adopted the California Children’s Outdoor Bill of Rights, which listed 10 “fundamental experiences that every child in California would benefit from,” according to the Roundtable’s Web site, calroundtable.org.
The 10 experiences include: 1. Discover California’s past; 2. Splash in the water; 3. Play in a safe place; 4. Camp under the stars; 5. Explore nature; 6. Learn to swim; 7. Play on a team; 8. Follow a trail; 9. Catch a fish; 10. Celebrate their heritage.
Following O’Brien’s summerlong swing through Colorado, her office will issue a report that’s “more of an affirmative statement saying these are the things we want to encourage and hoping out of this will start something positive for next year,” Dumm said. Getting kids involved in the outdoors “is critical for our state and for our kids.”