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Celebrating a Century of Protected Places to Play

​The triple anniversary of three organizations that protect land, conserve natural resources and promote recreation merits celebration. The cause of connecting children and families to nature demands commitment.

In early April, supporters of Denver Mountain Parks, Jefferson County Open Space and Great Outdoors Colorado gathered at Red Rocks Visitor Center to celebrate a century of protected places to play. Denver voters approved the creation of Denver Mountain Parks 100 years ago. Popular votes also created Jeffco Open Space, celebrating its 40th year as a pioneering open-space program; and GOCO, in its 20th year of preserving, protecting and enhancing habitat, parks, trails, rivers and open spaces through Colorado Lottery proceeds.

The foresight of voters and grassroots volunteers has resulted in magnificent parks and places in Jefferson County that people across the Denver Metro area and visitors from around the world enjoy. GOCO’s investments are visible statewide, and nearly $30 million in GOCO/Colorado Lottery funds have been awarded in Jefferson County since the program’s inception.

Amid a celebration of accomplishments, all three organizations realize there is much more work to be done. At the top of the list is getting more young people outdoors.

Baby Boomers are quick to point out that their childhood included many hours playing outdoors, which in turn created their strong conservation values. Today, our kids average just seven minutes outdoors in unstructured play per day and more than seven hours in front of screens.

Childhood obesity and diabetes rates are skyrocketing. Unfortunately, Colorado kids are not bucking the trends. According to the Colorado Health Foundation, obesity among the state’s youth is growing at the second-fastest rate in the nation.

These trends signal a public health crisis and a challenge for the future of conservation. We can respond by promoting the value of parks and supporting programs that connect children and families with nature.

Parks and health go hand in hand—a natural conclusion that is backed by research. An analysis of 11 different studies in the journal Environmental Science and Technology associated outdoor exercise, as compared with indoor exercise, with “greater feelings of revitalization, increased energy and positive engagement, together with decreases in tension, confusion, anger and depression.” We could all use more of those benefits, especially our young people.

For years, youth have enjoyed parks in Jefferson County and participated in nature and history education programs through field trips funded by the Jeffco Open Space Foundation. Recently renamed the Jeffco Outdoors Foundation, this 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization has an expanded role in a larger initiative to promote the health benefits of enjoying the outdoors. All proceeds from the April celebration at Red Rocks benefit the foundation’s efforts to connect youth and families with the outdoors.

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