Colorado’s outdoor visitors are overwhelmingly white and wealthy. A new initiative hopes to change that.
During the first 10 minutes of a fly fishing lesson at Lincoln Hills, an outdoor camp west of Boulder, the children are mostly catching the shrubs behind them. But Terah Griffin isn’t giving up. The 14-year-old from Aurora is wearing a shirt emblazoned with a fish and text that says “keep it reel.”
It’s a hot morning in July, and Terah and his classmates in a Black youth empowerment program called Queenshipp are casting their flies deeper into the pond.
Then, Terah feels a tug at the line. A rainbow trout pierces the pond’s glassy surface.
An hour later, Terah is still beaming about his first catch.
“I was so excited. I had to keep it inside of me like this. I was shaking,” Terah said. “The fish was a little bit little, you know, but it was still cool. It was, like, the best experience of all time.”
Terah and the other kids who come to this day camp learn about much more than catching fish. They discover this place was created a century ago by Black Coloradans who were not welcomed at public parks and open spaces during segregation.
It’s called Lincoln Hills Cares, and its legacy of promoting racial equality lives on.
“This was a safe haven for Black people from the 20s through the 60s,” managing director J.R. Lapierre said. “And it was a great opportunity, people to come. They recreate.”
Lapierre has served for many years as an outdoor guide at Lincoln Hills. He says the courses teach children of color they can have fun connecting with nature regardless of their income level, race, or level of experience in the outdoors.
“You see interviews that have been done … of not feeling comfortable being in the outdoors and, you know, Black and brown kids and other marginalized youth and adults being told they don't belong,” he said. “So we're breaking down those barriers.”
That includes the high cost of outdoor gear and transportation from cities to the mountains, something Lincoln Hills pays for. Their mission is getting a boost this summer from the state government, which is investing $1.8 million in outdoor programs that help underserved communities.
Lincoln Hills is one of 43 groups getting the first round of money. Lapierre says it will boost attendance.
Meanwhile, more than a hundred miles to the north, in the ski town of Steamboat Springs, a group called The Cycle Effect is also using the state money to break down barriers.
Vanessa Avitia joined the girl’s mountain biking club last year. She says she’s learned how to tackle steep hills, pop wheelies, and much, much more.
“How to be a better person, and how to be a better friend,” she said. “We’re like a family out on the trails.”
After the girls carefully air up their tires, they form a circle for a meet and greet.
A majority of the camp’s athletes are people of color. And there are several adult translators in the group to simultaneously give the lessons in Spanish.
Marketing Director Carly West said the outdoor equity grant will help cover the cost of purchasing bikes, gear and transportation. It also supports a new initiative.
“We've made a commitment that 70% of our athletes will be BIPOC, which in most of our communities is the Latinx community. And I think it's really incredible,” she said.
West says the athletes stay with the program for several years.
The Cycle Effect and Lincoln Hills are both trying to reduce inequity that still exists in Colorado’s outdoor spaces.
Researchers with the Outdoor Foundation say 75% of people who regularly visit the outdoors are Caucasian.
And another survey shows Black and Latino people account for less than 7% of visits to national forests.
The outdoor equity grants are rolling out in several Colorado counties, from a paddleboarding group in Loveland to a rock climbing camp for girls in Boulder.