An initiative to facilitate conversations and research about growth in our region

Stakeholder Meetings

Mile High Advantage: The region’s dynamic outdoor environment

September 6, 2019

On September 6th, CU Denver in collaboration with the Denver Regional Council of Governments hosted the third stakeholder meeting for Imagine a Great Region initiative in the Terrace Room on CU Denver’s campus.  Approximately 60 planners, students, elected officials, and other stakeholders convened to learn about and discuss the topic “Mile High Advantage: The region’s dynamic outdoor environment”.  The purpose of this meeting was to highlight the importance of the natural environment and outdoor recreation to the regional economy and wellbeing of the region’s residents.

Colorado's Relationship with Outdoor Recreation

The first speaker was Samantha Albert who is the Deputy Director of the State of Colorado Outdoor Recreation Industry Office.  Samantha opened her talk with a great video highlighting the many types of outdoor recreation that can be pursued in Colorado, highlighting the tight relationship that ties Colorado with outdoor recreation.  Her organization focuses on all of Colorado and supporting small businesses and startups in rural communities and not just in the Front Range.  She then dove into the various impact areas that her office works on including economic development, conservation and stewardship, education and workforce training, and public health and wellness.  With regards to conservation and stewardship, she brought up the fact that people generally do not think highly of “pay-to-play” concepts but instead highlighted an innovative case study in which old parking meters were placed at trailheads and were designed to accept donations.  Overall, Samantha inspired the audience to recognize the importance of the outdoor recreation industry for Colorado’s success—the 511,00 jobs, 10% of GDP, 18% of CO labor force—and similarly recognize the threats to outdoor recreation that deserve planners’ attention. 

Local experts outline key priorities and research areas

The second speaker was Jackie Miller who is the Director of Programs for Great Outdoors Colorado (GOCO).  Jackie presented the impressive work currently being undertaken by GOCO including their extensive funding of parks, open space, trails, and other land conservation efforts.  She highlighted key priorities for outdoor recreation, local government, wildlife, and open space and spoke about a fascinating initiative called “Generation Wild” that helps get children out into nature and is designed to instill in them a general love for the outdoors.  Through “Generation Wild”, $25m is allocated to equitable outdoor access and to 15 coalitions in urban and rural communities throughout Colorado. 

The third invited speaker was Travis Warziniak who is a Research Economist for the US Forest Service.  His presentation reviewed some key areas of research around the benefits of nature and “investing in natural capital” to communities and economies, with a strong focus on social disparities present in access to nature and outdoor recreation.  For example, he highlighted how urban tree canopies are positively correlated with wealth such that poorer neighborhoods have thinner tree canopies and therefore do not benefit from trees’ ability to cool neighborhoods in the summer and protect neighborhoods from cold winds in the winter.  He also touched on the relationship between proximity to trails/recreation opportunities and property values. 

A love affair with the outdoors

The last half of the meeting enabled audience members to synthesize what they had learned and work with table-mates to ponder the challenges and opportunities relevant for the success of outdoor recreation in Colorado.   Four groups shared the outcomes of their discussions and offered some fascinating insights into topics that were not covered by the presenters such as how there is a disconnect between the typical “image” of what an outdoor recreator looks like and the actual average recreator.  Along the same lines, one group mentioned how outdoor recreation does not just mean scaling mountains, mountain biking, or skiing, but includes trips to neighborhood parks, chasing butterflies, and walking the dog around the block. 

Overall, the meeting provided invaluable insights into the importance of outdoor recreation for Colorado and the myriad challenges that threaten its key role in Colorado’s economy.  Meeting participants appreciate the ability to network and interact with other attendees, hear from community leaders, and gain a multi-faceted perspective on the topic of outdoor recreation.  Colorado has a love affair with the outdoors, and this meeting proved that this tremendous asset must be protected and nurtured to continue providing benefits for future generations of Coloradans.


CU Denver

CU Denver Building

1250 14th Street

Rm 1110

Denver, CO 80202

(303) 315-2489

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