After almost two years of a pandemic which shuttered schools, camps, and even public facilities like pools and playgrounds, it’s been harder for Colorado’s millions of children to stay engaged with the outdoors. That’s where Generation Wild comes in: an organization, campaign and community dedicated to preserve the value that comes from outdoor play.
Generation Wild is a branch of Great Outdoors Colorado (GOCO), an organization which diverts portions of the Colorado Lottery into funding for the state’s outdoor recreation areas, the settings of Colorado’s iconic traditions of skiing, mountain biking and hiking. However, GOCO board members saw a glaring lack of support for younger children. “Kids were not as connected with the outdoors as they used to be,” says Rosemary Dempsey, Generation Wild’s director of communications.
Thus, Generation Wild was founded in 2017, providing not only funding for areas of play frequented most often by children, but also 12 distinct “communities” throughout the Denver area and Western Colorado that offer outdoor programs in leadership, stewardship and education for kids. Some of these communities offer pathway programs that children begin as campers and leave several years later as interns or employees in an outdoor recreation field. “It’s a pretty sweet gig to be motivating the next generation to enjoy and take care of (Colorado’s) great outdoors,” says Dempsey.
How It Works
Generation Wild often chooses these communities on the basis of existing access: despite Colorado’s reputation as a premier state for outdoor recreation, an astounding number of residents still struggle to access or even learn about ways to play outside in their own backyards.
Beyond the long-term benefits of preserving Colorado’s outdoor landscapes and connecting underserved communities with recreation opportunities, Generation Wild emphasizes immediate benefits for its children, who see both mental and physical growth when participating in outdoor programs.
“As families felt the stressors of pandemic life, we wanted to remind them that getting outside decreases stress, anxiety and negative thinking,” Dempsey says. “The outdoors can be a place for adventure, physical activity and a space for deep breaths.”
Plus, the pandemic might have been a silver lining in terms of learning the value of the outdoors.
“It’s been so important for kids, and adults for that matter, to get outside and experience the happiness of the outdoors,” says Dempsey. “We hope any new habits are sustained as pandemic life evolves.”