Off the Couch and Into the Colorado Outdoors
By Art Graham, Raffles Manager, Grand Junction Chapter
Like just about everywhere, there is a great need in Colorado to pry our kids away from TVs, computers and video games. To me, there is no finer way to do that than to get them out into the great outdoors.
In April 2008, RMEF volunteers from the Grand Junction Chapter teamed with Colorado Division of Wildlife and others to put on what we call Outdoor Heritage Day at Riverbend Park in Palisade. We were delighted when 250 kids 16 years old and under turned out for it. They learned about fishing, hunting, hiking, archery and other outdoor activities, and left with free fishing poles, bellies full of hot dogs and smiles on their faces. It seemed we were onto something.
For the 2009 event the planning team decided to start earlier, work harder and get more people and organizations involved. We started meeting in August 2008 during lunch times and weekends to get everything organized.
The big day finally came on Saturday, April 25. Activities included rock climbing, mountain biking, archery, shooting and fishing. Numerous workshops covered topics such as elk calling, animal tracking, bird house building and watercraft safety. About 40 different organizations set up exhibits, including RMEF. Grand Junction Chapter volunteers helped set up, and we invited J.R. Keller of Hunters Specialties to tell the foundation’s history, explain the mission and demonstrate elk calls.
More than 1,200 people attended—with over 900 under 16 years old. We gave away 700 fishing rods, cooked up 2,000 hot dogs and sent a lot of children and their parents home with a better understanding of the outdoors. Everyone left with big smiles on their faces with the exception of one youngster who was in tears—only because the day had come to an end.
A few days later, our team was surprised to receive an invitation to meet with Lt. Governor Barbara O’Brien to discuss how Outdoor Heritage Day is organized and implemented. She asked if we would be interested in helping with a statewide initiative to reconnect children to the outdoors. We were also asked to help write the “Colorado Kid’s Outdoor Bill of Rights,” which guarantees that all Coloradoans, before they grow up, have the right to do things such as camp under the stars, play in a creek or river, and enjoy the view from the top of a mountain.
Outdoor Heritage Day is making a real impact on Colorado’s youth, and we can’t wait for next year’s event on April 24, 2010. For more information visit www.outdoorheritageday.org.