New mascot beckons children into wild outdoors

special to the sentinel If the fresh air, sunshine and mood boosts aren't enough, Wilder, a new 8-foot friend introduced by Great Outdoors Colorado, might be enough to convince Colorado kids and big kids to go outside and get wild.

He's 8 feet tall, part- goat, part-yeti and wants to show your children the wonder of the great outdoors.

Meet Wilder, the fantastical new mascot for Great Outdoors Colorado.

Wilder was introduced last week as part of the agency's most recent push to get children away from screens and outside engaging in unstructured play — in other words, to get a little wild.

GOCO leaders seemed to acknowledge that their new mascot might be a strange sight at first — the agency's "Meet Wilder" webpage starts with the question, "Who's this Wilder character, and what does he want with my children?"

"We intentionally created something to surprise us all, to stop kids and grown-ups in their tracks and say, 'Let's go play,' " said spokeswoman Rosemary Dempsey. "We think of (Wilder) as an embodiment of the wonder and curiosity we experience in nature. He also taps into the nostalgia of parents who spent a lot of time outside and how important that was in shaping who they are."

Wilder's story can be found online at Wilder is also set to make appearances at events around Colorado. The Aug. 3 Olathe Sweet Corn Festival in Montrose is on his schedule.

Since 2017, Great Outdoors Colorado's effort to get more children playing outside has increased overall awareness of the outdoors, according to a study conducted by the agency.

The "Generation Wild" campaign aims to reverse the statistic that the average child spends seven minutes a day outside but up to seven hours a day in front of screens.

The campaign includes a childhood bucket list of "100 things to do before you're 12," with items like find a shooting star, pitch a tent and build a snow cave.

Only 50 percent of children in Mesa County meet physical activity guidelines, according to Mesa County Public Health epidemiology program manager Heidi Dragoo. "We have a lot of opportunity to expand that number, and there's a lot of benefits to doing that activity outside," Dragoo said.

Physical activity helps with overall health as well as improved cognition, brain development and academic achievement, according to Dragoo.

"And that connection with nature, whether it's in a neighborhood park, on the trail, fishing at a lake or skateboarding, is really crucial for kids to have the opportunity to develop at an early age," she said.

And if the fresh air, sunshine and mood boosts aren't enough, a new eight-foot friend might be enough to convince Colorado kids to go outside and get wild.

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