With over 67 million acres of land, it’s no wonder Colorado is home to some of the best outdoor recreation opportunities you’ll find anywhere in the country. Whether you’re into mountain biking, skiing, hiking, trail running, climbing, whitewater kayaking, there’s a world-class spot for you in Colorado. With such incredible natural resources, though, comes much responsibility: Our public lands need advocacy and maintenance to keep them healthy and abundant for subsequent generations of outdoor enthusiasts.
Fortunately, Colorado plays host to several non-profit organizations dedicated to conservation and stewardship. From building and maintaining trails, advocating for public lands, to teaching stewardship skills to tomorrow’s leaders, these organizations are literally blazing the trail to Colorado’s future.
1. Volunteers for Outdoor Colorado
If you’ve hiked on a Colorado trail sometime in the last 30 years, chances are good that Volunteers for Outdoor Colorado (VOC) had a hand in building or maintaining it. Since the organization’s inception in 1984, VOC has engaged over 105,000 volunteers on hundreds of projects in some of Colorado’s most beloved and iconic locations. VOC projects offer volunteers a chance to learn useful skills and put in a hard day’s work constructing new trail, restoring lands damaged by flood and fire, and maintaining well-worn trails in desperate need of some TLC.
Get involved: VOC projects take place all over the state. From do-it-yourself stewardship tasks via VOC’s first-of-its-kind mobile app to five-day horse-packing trips deep into the Weminuche Wilderness, Coloradans can participate as close to home or as far afield as they’d like.
2. Colorado Youth Corps Association
The benefits of youth corps are manyfold. Young people get boots-on-the-ground experience on conservation projects, become engaged in their communities, and serve the public by making significant improvements to public lands and recreational infrastructure. The Colorado Youth Corps Association (CYCA) raises funds and advocates for Colorado’s nine corps groups, making it possible for youth and young adults to help maintain forest health, enhance critical wildlife habitat, and learn crucial life skills.
Get involved: Youth and young adults can join the corps, which is largely funded by individual donations.
3. Big City Mountaineers
Students who participate in programs led by Golden-based Big City Mountaineers (BCM) are less likely to engage in violence and drug use and more likely to stay in school. This may sound like a huge undertaking, but head into the wilderness on a week-long backpacking trip or overnight camp experience with BCM youth, and the positive transformations these kids go through is obvious. BCM engages underserved youth in Denver (and at its satellite offices around the country), who gain leadership skills and self-efficacy on their trips with a one-to-one, teen-to-adult ratio.
Get involved: Volunteers can participate in the youth trips or raise funds for a kid’s one-in-a-lifetime experience with a professional guide climbing any number of peaks on a Summit For Someonetrek.
4. Western Resource Advocates
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With soaring populations and energy demands to match, the American West is facing serious environmental challenges in the 21st century. Western Resource Advocates seeks to provide clean energy, preserve rivers, and conserve the iconic western landscape through law, science, and economics. The organization has spearheaded projects that include drafting a plan for a Carbon Reduction Credit Program and working with whitewater boaters in Glenwood Springs to keep water in the Colorado River.
Get involved: Donors can make a gift in a variety of ways, including workplace giving, stock, vehicle donation or volunteer/intern in the Western Resource Advocates’ Boulder office.
5. Colorado Fourteeners Initiative
With a quarter-million annual visitors, Colorado’s 54 fourteeners—peaks over 14,000 feet in elevation—are among the state’s most popular hikes. That means there are many trails to summits through fragile alpine tundra badly in need of restoration. The Colorado Fourteeners Initiative (CFI) partners with the U.S. Forest Service, Bureau of Land Management, local volunteer organizations, and individual donors to protect the fourteeners—and keep them accessible—through stewardship and public education.
Get involved: In addition to volunteering on a trail crew, fourteener enthusiasts can act as Peak Stewards, engaging hikers in the field to minimize impact and encourage Leave No Trace best practices.
6. Conservation Colorado
Advocacy is a key step to protecting Colorado’s environment, and for 50 years, Conservation Colorado has been on the front lines of the fight. The Denver-based organization works all over the state, educating and mobilizing Coloradans about key issues and environmental threats. They also identify and work to elect pro-conservation policymakers. Conservation Colorado maintains a bill tracker tool to keep citizens apprised of environmental legislation, as well as a conservation scorecard, which tracks legislators’ votes.
Get involved: Sign up for the Conservation Colorado newsletterto be alerted when a key environmental issue needs action, whether it’s signing a petition or writing to lawmakers.
7. Environmental Learning for Kids
Each year, 5,000 kids from underserved urban communities in Denver, Adams, and Arapahoe counties get to participate in after-school programs through Environmental Learning for Kids (ELK). ELK staffers go into schools to run hands-on presentations like “Skins & Skulls,” “Our Colorado Water,” and “Schoolyard Habitat.” The organization also runs a Youth in Natural Resources program, which engages young people to explore career options and secure summer internships and employment in the outdoors.
Get involved: ELK seeks volunteers to help run programming at schools, and, at present, needs help from the community to develop the ELK Education Center and Montbello Open Space Park.
Originally written for Colorado.