Young people today experience the world in a very different way than a generation previous. Time once spent exploring neighborhood fields, splashing in the creek down the street, and strolling through a nearby forest has been replaced by time spent navigating online worlds, diving into the latest season on Netflix, and scrolling through Facebook. Friendships and adventures now are built out of online interactions rather than shared journeys in nature. The people who care about and protect our fisheries and watersheds came to care about them by spending time in them with other people who also cared. If youth lose their connection to the outdoors, it has repercussions for our tomorrows which cannot be ignored even in our successes of today. Be it through a family member or a friend, it is likely somebody else introduced you to the magic of the natural world. That connection usually won’t come as a single moment of insight but rather as an ongoing path, eventually leading to the love of the places you have been and the desire to protect those places. Imagine what your life might be like had you not had such experiences. Colorado Trout Unlimited has developed a program to reach youth who otherwise might not have those experiences, and giving them the chance to fall in love with Colorado’s outdoors, fish, and rivers.
Outdoor Mentors is a coalition of conservation organizations, state agencies, youth development organizations, and other key outdoor recreation stakeholders coordinating their efforts to expand opportunities for disadvantaged youth to participate in outdoor recreation and learn the importance of our conservation heritage. Based on a successful model from Kansas, Outdoor Mentors in Colorado now involves multiple youth mentoring groups, from Big Brothers Big Sisters to Denver Kids Inc. With two large festivals held annually, as well as individual programs offered by sportsmen’s groups, Outdoor Mentors continues to get kids outside. Colorado TU’s participation includes fishing days, science camps, fly fishing day trips, and overnight outings.
On August 16, the coalition held its Outdoor Mentors Festival at Barr Lake State Park, drawing participants both from mentoring organizations and individual families. The event featured the brand new archery range at the Park. As hosts for the festival, and by providing a central point for sportsmen’s groups to coordinate efforts, Colorado Parks and Wildlife has been a leader in the ongoing success of Outdoor Mentors. At Barr Lake, kids and their mentors had the chance to try archery, birding, flycasting, fishing, geocaching, and target shooting. The Park and the festival provided a great opportunity to showcase the fantastic outdoor resources on our public lands.
Fly fishing is just one way for kids to experience the outdoors. Colorado Trout Unlimited is hopeful that Outdoor Mentors will be the vehicle for many youth to find a new hobby or passion in our state’s wild places. Whatever it may be which interests a youth in your life, I encourage you to be a mentor in your own way. If you care about the amazing places in which you fish, hunt, and recreate, there is no better way to care for them than to pass on your passion.
For more information on the Outdoor Mentors Collaborative, to become a partner, or to volunteer as a mentor, please contact Garrett Hanks at firstname.lastname@example.org.