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Kids explore forests on cross-country skis

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Photo submitted Cedaredge Elementary School fourth graders gather for a group photo on Grand Mesa. The Nature Connection provided this opportunity for youth across the Western Slope with support from the U.S. Forest Service and Colorado Parks and Wildlife

The Nature Connection GOCO Inspire program dedicates its efforts to getting youth outdoors, with a special emphasis on outdoor experiences for youth of Olathe and Delta County.

With the Skis for Kids program, The Nature Connection has expanded to serve youth groups across the Western Slope, from Ouray and Ridgway to Glenwood Springs and Mesa County.

Programming is support by a fourth grade Every Kid in a Park grant from the U.S. Forest Service, plus Colorado Parks and Wildlife, which covers the cost of busing groups of students.

The only other cost is the "ski rental" of $5 per participant. "In the past we have been able to get grants for this fee also, but this year that cost has fallen on the student," said Anita Evans, acting director of The Nature Connection. "The fee helps cover our gear transport, hot chocolate and water for youth, as well as cover any incidental costs such as a broken pole or binding. It also goes to program costs -- it takes approximately 2 1/2 days of prep, on snow and post organization for each group we take out. We rely heavily on volunteers and partner support for staffing."

In addition to teachers and school volunteers, about eight staff members are needed to get each group of 60 onto the snow.

Leading into the winter field trips, students first participated in a classroom presentation with multiple activities relevant to the upcoming field day guided by a Forest Service snow ranger. They learned about basic snow safety, avalanche awareness and winter animal adaptations for survival. The Junior Snow Ranger Program provided students with official badges and bandanas after completing the ranger activity booklet.

On arrival to the Grand Mesa, Uncompahgre, and Gunnison National Forests, students engaged in various snow science activities, along with an introduction to a new physical activity -- cross-country skiing. While looking into a six-foot snow pit, students discovered the importance of Colorado's snow pack and how unstable snow layers cause avalanches. Students also played the role of a winter naturalist while skiing and spotting wildlife tracks in the snow.

For more than 14 years, the Skis for Kids Program has provided outdoor experiences with cross-country ski gear for youth on the Western Slope of Colorado. The Nature Connection itself is a newly formed nonprofit organization that runs the ski program and is expanding its programming to year-round outdoor recreation opportunities with the aid of a GOCO Inspire grant.

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Cedaredge Elementary School, Skiing, The Nature Connection
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