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Montezuma Inspire aims to get kids outside

Group is awarded a $75,000 GOCO grant

American kids only spend an average of four to seven minutes per day outside, according to Great Outdoors Colorado.

Locally, the Montezuma Inspire Coalition is seeking to change that by providing youth in the county with programs, places and pathways to get them outside, said coordinator Ellen Shinkle.

“We’re trying to inspire kids to learn about, care for and participate in the outdoors,” she said.

The coalition, known as MIC, was awarded a $75,000 planning grant from GOCO, which was taken from the Lottery fund. In July 2017, MIC will have the opportunity to apply for an implementation grant from GOCO, which could be $1 to $5 million.

About 18 organizations in Montezuma County are members of the coalition. Shinkle said the members are working to gather feedback from area youths on what they would like to see from the initiative.

The group is focusing on designing those programs, places and pathways to give kids access to the outdoors. Many of those already exist, but Shinkle said there are barriers to them for many Montezuma County kids, particularly those in underserved populations. About 30 percent of county kids live below the poverty line, and 50 percent qualify for free or reduced lunches, according to Kids Count Colorado.

Some kids simply don’t know where to go outside, Shinkle said. Others don’t have transportation options. Many adolescents have to take care of their siblings or work part-time jobs, eating up free time, she said.

On the other hand, there are many kids who already go outside regularly, she said. Hunting and fishing are popular in the area among kids, and some adolescents work during the summer on trail maintenance projects through groups such as the Southwest Conservation Corps, Shinkle said. Horseback riding also is common, she said.

“We’re finding different programs that suit different groups of kids,” she said. “We want to see what the kids want.”

Over the upcoming school year, Shinkle said she hopes to start a pilot program and do lots of outreach, partnering with schools, parents and kids. Social media and internet will be a big part of the process, and the coalition might compile a database of outdoor activities going on in the county, she said.

There are a lot of ideas about where to go, Shinkle said. The goal is to teach kids curriculum that might someday allow them to find a job in the outdoor recreation industry, she said. That could boost the local economy in the long run, she said.

“So far it’s been awesome,” Shinkle said. “It’s a really big process.”

For more information, contact Shinkle at 435-260-2278 or email at 1evshinkle@gmail.com.

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