Kid at the park—or future field biologist?

By Trust for Public Land
Published November 17, 2015

Kid at the park—or future field biologist?

Though they live in a state famous for outdoor recreation, most of the children in Denver’s Montbello community lack access to parks and green space. To change that, The Trust for Public Land recently helped secure more than five acres of land in the neighborhood for the future Montbello Open Space.

In addition to creating a new place to play outside, the park will serve as home base for local nonprofit Environmental Learning for Kids (ELK), which hosts educational programs for youth who face barriers to experiencing the outdoors. We sat down with ELK’s Jolynn Crownover to find out what the new space means for the work they do.

Q: What’s ELK all about?

A: ELK was established by wildlife biologists of color who noticed a lack of diversity both in college science courses and in natural resources professions. We use outdoor recreation to develop leadership skills—and as a pathway to college and careers in STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics).

ELK recruits students through programs that focus on science education through activities such as fishing, camping, and hiking. We provide transportation, gear, outdoor clothing—anything that might otherwise be a barrier to participation.      

Q: How will Montbello Open Space change what ELK can do?

A: The Montbello neighborhood is really representative of our service area: it’s a high-need and low-income community with minimal access to parks and open space. Thanks to The Trust for Public Land and Denver Parks and Recreation, we’ll soon be working from the heart of the community.

One acre of the site will house ELK’s offices, as well as classrooms open to the community. The remaining 4.5 acres will be restored into a native short-grass prairie where people can connect with nature and enjoy the best thing about Colorado: the outdoors. 

Q: What other features will Montbello Open Space have when it opens?

A: There will be walking trails and pathways that lead to outdoor classrooms. There will be natural play features—logs and boulders and other elements you’d encounter in the outdoors. The roof of the ELK building is structured like butterfly wings, designed to capture stormwater that will flow to drainage areas for wetlands education programs. When it rains, there will be a stream for the kids to play in.

Q: Did the kids play a role in the design of the park?

A: Absolutely! The Trust for Public Land helped us lead community meetings to engage youth, families, and the whole community in the design of the park. The kids played a huge role in choosing the materials being used and the play features they wanted to see. Parents have been especially involved in the safety aspects of the park, and ensuring that there’s shade and comfortable places for parents to watch their kids play. 

Q: Why is a place like this so important for the youth you serve?

A: It’s important for our students to experience nature because it opens the door to other opportunities they didn’t know were possible. We have students who are now wildlife biologists or work for the National Park Service—even one that works for the FBI. Our programs broaden their view of what they can accomplish.

We need to ensure that all of our youth have access to nature and understand the importance of conservation and the environment: they are the next generation of voters and leaders and stewards of our community. It’s difficult to appreciate nature if you aren’t connected to it.

The Trust for Public Land is the recipient of ELK’s “Celebrated Partner” award for our design, fundraising, and community contributions to Montbello Open Space. We’re proud to support our friends in cultivating a diverse community of learners in Denver—thank you, ELK!

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