May 19, 2021
Spending time outdoors in nature can be healing and is a key advantage of living in the West, yet access to outdoor experiences is not and historically has not been shared equally with low-income and racially and ethnically diverse youths and their families. To address these issues, HB 21-1318, a bill now under consideration by the Colorado Legislature, will establish an Outdoor Equity Grant Program, taking an important step in fostering innovation, collaboration, and investment aimed at increased engagement in meaningful outdoor experiences and nature-based education for all.
The past year has been difficult for everyone. The coronavirus pandemic subjected Coloradans to quarantine measures that sometimes led to depression, trauma, and anxiety. Racial, social, and environmental injustices were exposed, and the pandemic exacerbated the mental health burden on our communities. To escape, detach, and disconnect from the obscenity of our country’s problems, many of us chose the benefits of the outdoors to improve health and reduce stress. However, diverse and low-income communities face real challenges and barriers in accessing the outdoors, including physical proximity to green spaces or affordable transportation to reach them, a lack of feeling comfortable and safe in those places, and financial limitations for recreational activities and equipment. With the state’s diverse population experiencing exponential growth in the last decade and composing a growing portion of the state’s burgeoning economy, there is an opportunity now to address these issues. A bill currently moving through the Colorado Legislature that would establish the Colorado Outdoor Equity Grant Program is an important step in addressing these issues.
What is Colorado’s Outdoor Equity Grant Program?
The Colorado Equity Grant Program is an important investment opportunity to help correct disparities in formative nature experiences. It’s also an opportunity for Colorado to be a leader in breaking down barriers for families who don’t have extra resources for leisure or transportation to nature. Following the examples of two successful outdoor-equity grant programs in New Mexico and California, as well as an Outdoor F.U.T.U.R.E. initiative that seeks to build momentum for the creation of a national equity fund, a coalition of more than 60 local, state, and national organizations came together to help Colorado find solutions to the racial, economic, and demographic disparities in access to natural areas. Western Resource Advocates helped lead the coalition in proposing policy recommendations for an Outdoor Equity Grant Program that includes meaningful, proportional, and sustainable funding to entities providing conservation, environmental, and outdoor experiences and educational opportunities for underserved youths and families.
Under the program, the Colorado Lottery would fund this initiative, starting at $750,000 for this fiscal year and reaching $3 million annually in the following four years. The director of the Colorado Department of Natural Resources, in consultation with community and advocacy groups, would select an independent board to manage the program and determine grant recipients. These grants could be used to cover program expenses, gear and equipment rentals, staff supervision, and transportation costs. This independent board would be representative of the communities the fund seeks to serve and composed of individuals with experience working in conservation, outdoor recreation, and racial and environmental justice.
Who would the Colorado Equity Grant Program help?
An Outdoor Equity Program would create meaningful outdoor experiences and education for diverse and low-income youths and their families to help them feel acknowledged, valued, and understood, while offering an opportunity to introduce future owners, stewards, and advocates to our beloved Mother Earth. Access to nature shouldn’t be a luxury afforded to only the few, but a rightful privilege bestowed to us all.
Colorado Representative Leslie Herod introduced HB 21-1318, the Outdoor Equity Grant Program bill last week. The bill will be heard in the House Energy & Environment Committee this Thursday, May 20th at 1:30 pm MST. Western Resource Advocates encourages all Coloradans to contact their state representatives in support of this bill.