A $2.7 million grant, announced by Great Outdoors Colorado (GOCO) on Dec. 8, will fund outdoor education and recreation programming for 37,000 youth and 13 organizations serving them. The programs focus squarely on improving access for these youths to Northeast Denver-area outdoor assets such as the Rocky Mountain Arsenal National Wildlife Refuge (the Refuge), the Sand Creek Regional Greenway, Bluff Lake and The Urban Farm. A small portion of the grant will fund capital improvements such as a “modest welcome and information center” at Bluff Lake and improvements to the community garden at The Urban Farm.
A separate $1.6 million project will create seven new pedestrian access points (trail heads) on the Refuge perimeter to serve surrounding neighborhoods including Stapleton, Montbello and Green Valley Ranch (see locator map). The grant will also provide nine miles of new trails connecting to the Refuge. The improvements are intended to “promote a greater sense of welcoming to the Refuge,” says Refuge Manager David Lucas, and, for the first time, will allow the Refuge to accommodate bicyclists. A federal grant of $705,000 from FLAP, the Federal Lands Access Program, is being supplemented by contributions from Denver, Commerce City and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. Design work will begin next fall with construction in 2018.
The GOCO grant flows from a new program called the “Inspire Initiative” designed to “invest in places, programs, and pathways to get kids outside in communities across the state.” The GoWild coalition was selected last year as one of six pilot communities that used $100,000 in planning grants to consolidate their coalition and submit an implementation grant. The coalition includes the cities of Denver, Aurora and Commerce City as well as local organizations such as the Boys & Girls Clubs of Metro Denver and Environmental Learning for Kids (ELK). David Lucas serves as coalition leader while the Sand Creek Regional Greenway Partnership will assist with administrative operations.
Local outdoor groups receiving funds include:
- Sand Creek Regional Greenway Partnership $93,000: The funds will support environmental education and field trips to the Greenway for youth from four area Boys & Girls Clubs to supplement their after-school programs. Field projects will include construction and installation of bird boxes and milkweed planting to support the monarch butterfly population.
- The Urban Farm $140,000: Funds will sponsor low-income families who wish to have a community garden plot at The Urban Farm. The funds will also improve the community garden at the farm. Increased program funds will bring more youth to the farm for horsemanship programs and other programs such as All Around the Farm, designed for older youth, and Storybook Farm, designed for younger children. The Urban Farm and Bluff Lake Nature Center will also share a paid intern each summer.
- Bluff Lake Nature Center (BLNC) $238,000: Funds will support construction of a “modest” welcome and information center and a new nature play area. BLNC will fund more Nature Exploration Teams (NETs) where youth get in-depth environmental education on-site at BLNC. Also, BLNC will host family fun days at the nature center.
Despite serving in a leadership role and hosting many of the youth programs, the federal refuge cannot accept any GOCO funds.
Funds from the Great Outdoors Colorado (GOCO) grant are expected to begin flowing in early 2017. The grant is for three years and will end in late 2019.