December 22, 2017-Great Outdoors Colorado has awarded the Montezuma Land Conservancy a $1.8 million Inspire Initiative grant for programs that focus on outdoor activities for local youths. The grant will be used to expand and create programs under the Land Conservancy’s Montezuma Inspire Coalition, whose goal is to get kids and their families outside.

“The main focus is to provide every kid in every county ZIP code access to outdoor education and programming,” said Travis Custer, executive director for the Land Conservancy. “It’s a big deal and is a great opportunity for our community.”

The details of all the new and expanded programs are still being worked out, he said, and a coordinator for the Inspire Coalition is being advertised. As part of the grant, a coordinator position was created for the Montezuma School to Farm Project.

“It is a three-year grant, but the goal is to make the new and expanded programming self-sustaining long-term,” Custer said.

Programs targeted for the grant funding include expanding youth programs at Fozzie’s Farm in Lewis, supporting the School to Farm Initiative, and working with the Piñon Project to create an outdoor gear lending library.

The Inspire Coalition is made up of more than a dozen community organizations and has been working for two years on how to get the next generation excited about land, agriculture, health, and outdoor fun.

They conducted local surveys that showed there are many barriers for youth and their families in accessing the outdoors, said Jay Loschert, outreach and education coordinator for the Conservancy.

“Costs, lack of outdoor gear, not knowing where to go, and limited transportation were some of the barriers to outdoor experiences, and this grant will support programs to help alleviate those barriers,” he said. The goal is to offer programs, activities and field trips for free, or at very minimal costs.

The Inspire Coalition believes it can reach 5,300 local youth through the additional programming, according to the grant. Youths in middle and high schools will be targeted, because surveys show they spend less time outdoors than younger children. Programs will be accessible to county and town residents, and the Ute Mountain Ute tribe. Community members, including youths, will have active roles in planning and implementing Inspire Coalition projects to ensure they meet local needs.

The grant funding will also create increased opportunities for youths in Montezuma County to experience pathways to future careers in the outdoors, through mentorships and internships with outdoor-related businesses and nonprofits in the area.

Montezuma Land Conservancy is known for working with landowners who want to put their property in conservation easements that protect agricultural and natural values in perpetuity, even if the property sells.

Custer said they felt it was crucial they expand their mission to include youth education on land stewardship, farming, and promoting a love of the outdoors. “Our future depends on the next generation caring for the land and appreciating the importance it has for our community,” he said. “Fostering a sense of place is what drives people to be stewards of the land throughout their life, and we and other organizations want to lead that effort.”

To find out more about the Inspire Coalition coordinator position, go to the website of the Montezuma Land Conservancy at https://montezumaland.org For more information on the new School to Farm coordinator position, visit http://www.montezumaschooltofarm.org

jmimiaga@the-journal.com

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