Under a blanket of trees, snow glistened on the hillsides of Golden Gate Canyon State Park. As chickadees fluttered through the branches, squirrels chattered above and the wind swept gracefully through the forest. Planted safely on the ground, eager families delighted at the wide variety of animal tracks meandering through the snow. With big smiles and rosy cheeks, they left their own tracks as well— ones just slightly larger than a typical human footprint.
For the first time, Colorado Parks and Wildlife’s (CPW) Schools and Outdoor Learning Environments (SOLE) program hosted a free Family Snowshoeing event. Families ventured from all over the Denver area, from the plains of Aurora to as far north as Milliken, to experience the breathtaking views at Golden Gate Canyon State Park.
Despite Denver’s proximity to the mountains, many families experience barriers that prevent them from engaging in activities like this. Gear and clothing are often expensive. Access to transportation may be difficult. Unknown trails can be intimidating, especially when exploring them with an awkward platform of a snowshoe strapped to your feet. Simply put, many outdoor recreation opportunities are a luxury that may be out of reach for many Colorado families.
The Great Outdoors Colorado funded SOLE program strives to hurdle these obstacles. We rented snowshoes for all 27 participants, provided a shuttle to and from Union Station in Denver, loaned proper clothing for guests who needed it, and offered friendly faces with a few introductory tips. Of course, a day in the snow wouldn’t be complete without snacks, hot cocoa, and s’mores by a crackling fire.
CPW staff guided the new-to-snowshoeing and new-to-Golden Gate Canyon State Park families through the forest. With wide eyes, everyone searched for signs of wildlife. Squirrels scurried across the ground and disappeared as quickly as they came, leaving tracks that revealed their brief journey between trees. Gnawed tree bark told stories of elk overwintering in the area. Families cheered during a snowshoe family relay race and whispered as they peered at birds through their binoculars. They laughed as they played a Scavenger Hunt Bingo game that encouraged them to imitate a bird call, pick up litter, build a snowman, smell a pine tree, and see something that makes them happy. When asked what they saw that warranted checking off that last box, a mother responded, “Being out here, together with my family.”
Though our tracks in the snow were temporary, the experience lives on. Families pursued inspiration to visit a new park, tried something new, and captured everlasting memories. Through this experience, they forged a deeper connection to the outdoors with their loved ones. With this introductory adventure on snowshoes, we hope their outdoor family journeys have only just begun.
Photos by © Sheryl Horton/CPW SOLE
Thank you to Mountain Side Gear Rental for participating in the event and for the generous gear rental discount, to Golden Gate Canyon State Park for offering this wonderful event space, and to Eldorado Artesian Springs, Inc. for providing water and a dispenser.
Connecting Kids and their Families to the Outdoors
Schools and Outdoor Learning Environments (SOLE) is designed to increase interest and participation in the outdoors by connecting Colorado students and families to environmental education programs and outdoor locations.
We do this by:
- Providing field trip opportunities and access to transportation to take 4th-grade students on field trips.
- Providing in-class programs, curriculum support, and professional development for teachers.
- Facilitating opportunities for students and their families to connect with partner programs and opportunities to recreate outdoors.
Initially a two-school pilot created for the 2013-2014 school year, SOLE has quickly grown. During the 2017-2018 school year, 48 schools across Colorado are participating in the program.
SOLE schools are recommended and selected by Colorado Parks and Wildlife field staff and through a partnership with the Great Outdoors Colorado (GOCO) School Yard Initiative grant program. Learn more at cpwsole.org.
Partners work with SOLE schools and Colorado Parks and Wildlife staff to schedule and provide field trips, in-class programs, and activities at Family Nature Nights. Learn more about becoming a partner.
How to Help
If you have a passion for education and making a difference in families’ lives, we would love to have you as a volunteer!
For more information, please visit the SOLE website.
Written by Shalana Gray. Gray is the SOLE Family Programs Coordinator for Colorado Parks and Wildlife.