Sydney Gart may only be 16 years old, but she has more experience in the political world than most adults. The Gart Family has been involved in the Colorado outdoor recreation scene for decades, and when her father got involved in politics as an advocate for the environment, she started tagging along. "I’ve been going to political events since I was five years old—I was this little girl running around shaking hands," she laughs. “People kept thinking I’d get burned out, but the older I get the more interested I am.” Over the summer, Sydney completed a three-month internship at Colorado Governor John Hickenlooper’s office, and then in the fall she was asked to be the first-ever Colorado Outdoor Recreation Industry Youth Ambassador.
The Colorado Outdoor Recreation Office (OREC) itself was just created by Governor Hickenlooper in 2015, and is only the second office of it’s kind in the entire country (the other is in Utah). Luis Benitez, Director of OREC, calls Sydney a "force of nature" and says that her “thoughtful, passionate approach to global affairs ties to a deep, family-instilled love of the outdoor industry,” which is why she was chosen as the first youth ambassador. Benitez believes that “the next generation of the outdoor industry must be just as passionate about policy and politics as they are about how great the skiing, biking, boating was that day,” and Sydney fits that description to a T.
While Sydney spends most of her time as an ambassador talking with people, attending events, and making connections, she’s really passionate about "making my peers and other teens my age aware of the outdoor recreation industry and aware of conservation." To do this, Sydney thinks the most important thing is for people to understand that they can have an impact and they can do something about the issues they care about. “A lot more people are realizing that if you care about something you can protest, you can call someone, and you can do something about what you believe in. I think it's the same thing in the outdoor industry—if you believe in climate change or land conservation, there are people you can talk to, organizations you can donate to, and not just sit idly by—you know that you matter.” Even though many teenagers aren’t able to vote, it’s still important for them to get involved, whether it’s locally or nationally, she explains.
And what better place to have as a home base for creating environmental change than Colorado? More than 35% of the state is public land, and each year the outdoor recreation industry boosts the Colorado economy by $10 billion, brings in nearly $500 million in state tax revenue, and generates $7.6 billion in retail sales and services. Business, as they say, is booming when it comes to outdoor recreation in Colorado. And it’s not just tourist dollars, either. "The population is a group of really active people who care about getting outside—it’s the perfect place for environmental activism," Sydney says.
Besides her internship with the Colorado Outdoor Recreation Industry Office, Sydney is captain of her high school’s speech and debate team, treasurer of her local BBYO (a Jewish youth organization), a board member of the Rose Foundation, a board member of Breakthrough Kent Denver, and (because of her school’s sport requirement) participates in varsity yoga. As she rattles off the list of activities that she’s involved in, Sydney can’t help but gush about how much she loves her home state. "Colorado is really special because the mountains and trails are basically right in our backyard," she says. “During the summer I love to ride on the bike trail in Denver from Cherry Creek to downtown for lunch. I love Vail and the back bowls in the winter, and hiking in Boulder—Mt. Sanitas is my favorite hike.”
But with recent bills proposed to sell off public lands (though this particular one was withdrawn) and plans to reduce the power of the EPA, the outdoor places that we love are at risk. Sydney has high hopes for the future, though: "National administration changes are definitely going to have an impact on land preservation... but if anything it’s only going to cause the outdoor recreation industry to rally together more and to unite, regardless of political party, over the common love of the outdoors."
And it’s very likely that someday, Sydney Gart will be leading the charge in Colorado. "My dream would be to be a U.S. Senator but for now I’d just love to get involved in local Colorado politics."
She’s got my vote.
Originally written for RootsRated Media.