Larimer County and communities throughout Colorado and the country are experiencing a cultural trend in which youth and families are increasingly disconnected from the outdoors. The growing gap between individual's interactions with nature and their everyday lives has consequences for the future stewardship of our natural environments as well as for the health and wellbeing of citizens.
There is significant evidence that other societal trends which are increasingly apparent in younger populations — obesity, chronic disease, and behavioral issues — can be at least partially addressed by fostering healthy emotional, social and intellectual development through nature play. Another concern is that if new generations are being raised without significant experiences in the outdoors, they may not give priority to conserving land and natural resources or values for nature. Collaborative partnerships forged to address such issues will have a greater benefit than any one working alone. The barriers to connecting to the outdoors that people in Larimer County experience may differ, as their definitions of "nature and outdoors" may also differ. Therefore, understanding their perceptions, desires, choices, and behaviors is essential to developing solutions to ensure that everyone in our community has access to the natural world.
Reversing the barriers that are currently preventing youth and families from accessing and interacting with the outdoors within Larimer County requires understanding both the perceived and actual barriers to engaging with the outdoors. The project team should build on the existing literature and knowledge addressing the growing gap between youth and the outdoors, while at the same time staying open to discovering new barriers or barriers that may be unique to Larimer County. The project team will conduct an inventory and analysis of existing nature programs, facilities, and conserved lands and will identify gaps. We will examine how the goals of these programs and physical elements are meeting the goals of connecting families of all types to the outdoors. This will lead the development of recommendations for potential programs, facilities, partnerships and target areas for conserving land. Drawing from the values articulated by the public, the results will inform future funding and prioritization of projects to fill identified gaps and eliminate barriers. The team will formulate outcome driven strategies that are focused on realistic changes that could be made to improve the future. As a pilot project, the team will seek to invent a process that is replicable and tools to assist other Colorado communities in measuring success and comparing to a baseline over-time. The resulting process and strategies will be transferable to suit the needs of diverse populations across the state.