Lt. Gov. Barbara O’Brien was in Steamboat Springs on Friday talking about environmental education for young students and its importance in Colorado.

Photo by John F. Russell

Lt. Gov. Barbara O’Brien was in Steamboat Springs on Friday talking about environmental education for young students and its importance in Colorado.

Officials look to Steamboat for leading environmental education

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— Camp under the stars. Visit a working farm. Enjoy the view from the top of the mountain, or identify the state flower in its natural habitat.

As a part of the Outdoor Bill of Rights, written by Colorado students and compiled by the office of Lt. Gov. Barbara O’Brien, these are activities all children have a right to experience as they grow up.

As she spoke to a group of about 30 on Friday at the Steamboat Springs Community Center, O’Brien touted the importance of instilling environmental values in young students by connecting them with the outdoors.

“We’ve got to focus on kids,” she said. “We can model behavior, and we can lower barriers for them, but they’re the ones who have to get it into their DNA. This is very much about the future.”

And the future is almost upon Steamboat.

Steamboat has “such a reputation for walking the talk,” she told the crowd. “We just know you’re going to be able to teach the rest of us how to make this happen. We need your leadership on this.”

O’Brien, Yampatika Execu­tive Director Sonja Macys and O’Brien’s consultant, Wendy New­­man, spoke to the crowd of state agency and community organization representatives about the progress of local, state and national initiatives on environmental education.

O’Brien and Newman heralded Steamboat Springs as a model for environmental education in the state.

“We’ve been paying attention to the progress you’ve been making,” Newman said. “The state is looking to you.”

Yampatika recently received $4,950 in grants from the Steamboat Springs Education Fund Board to pilot an environmental education program for six kindergarten through fifth-grade classrooms starting in spring semester.

The program combines classroom learning, service learning and field work to encourage connection with nature, knowledge of Colorado heritage and environmental stewardship.

O’Brien said programs like these put Steamboat ahead of the national curve.

The environmental education program in Steamboat is aligned with efforts on the state and national level, beginning with O’Brien’s Kids Outdoors Colorado Init­­­iative, which will distribute about $100,000 amo­­ng Colorado organizations dedicated to connecting youths to their outdoor communities.

Yampatika was among app­­­­l­­icants for Kids Outdoors Colorado grant funds.

On a national level, President Barack Obama sig­ned America’s Great Outdoors Initiative in April, which focuses on community-level conservation and outdoor opportunities.

The No Child Left Inside Act is in committee, and Newman expressed hope that its bipartisan support would allow the national initiative to be passed.

The audience took notes and shared ideas about how to further enhance the connection between youth and the outdoors.

Alexis Wolf, youth program coordinator for the city of Steamboat Springs, said the discussion sparked ideas to incorporate environmental enrichment programs into the city’s summer recreational activities.

Brent Loun­sbury, senior State Park ranger at Steamboat Lake State Park, said he works with Yampatika groups and schools on enrichment field trips because it’s part of the State Parks Service’s mission to pass environmental stewardship on to the next generation.

“If it turns out that these kids don’t appreciate their land, we’ve failed our mission,” he said.

And there is a lot of land in Routt County that the next generation will be charged with caring for.

“About 50 percent of our land is public,” Macys said. “When you think about that, whether kids grow up to recreate on the land or manage it, it’s important they have an understanding of their natural environment.

“If we reinvest these energies in a positive way, it’s going to have a huge benefit. And that’s just one of 1,000 reasons.”

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