Tuesday, October 27, 2020

New Met Rec program encourages winter activities

Free equipment and transportation to get local youth exposed to Nordic program

[  by Mark Reaman  ]

A winter outdoor recreation initiative program being led by the Gunnison County Metropolitan Recreation (Met Rec) District is gathering partners to help residents and visitors take advantage of outdoor activities throughout the valley, even in the cold winter months during the time of COVID.

The town of Crested Butte signed on with the Met Rec District at the October 5 town council meeting. The city of Gunnison, the county and the Nordic programs in Crested Butte and Gunnison along with the Crested Butte Avalanche Center (CBAC) have also hopped on board. The idea is to make it easier and safer for people to get outside for winter activities like backcountry and Nordic skiing.

Met Rec has proposed supplying a two-for-one dollar match for the program, so the town of Crested Butte committed $11,300 in funding that will be matched by $22,600 by Met Rec.

Gunnison County is throwing in $4,000 so there will be a total of $44,900 available for the effort.

“The proposal is an opportunity to leverage town funds with a 2:1 match. The proposal is very much in line with the council’s discussions about wanting to support mental health through providing access to outdoor activities this winter during the pandemic,” town manager Dara MacDonald wrote in a memo to the town council.

She said Met Rec was putting together the partnerships. “We expect outdoor usage to increase this winter, which is good but can also be hazardous,” MacDonald said at the October 5 meeting.

Met Rec District manager Hedda Peterson outlined the initiative for the council. The goal is to primarily “support community partners in a collective effort to connect more residents to outdoor winter recreation opportunities, reduce local barriers to engaging in outdoor winter recreation pursuits and promote safe and responsible outdoor recreation for residents and visitors.”

Partner organizations include Crested Butte Nordic, Gunnison Nordic, the city of Gunnison and the Crested Butte Avalanche Center.

“The collaborative initiative stemmed from Met Rec’s work to increase access to recreation opportunities,” MacDonald explained. “Crested Butte Nordic has been providing programming aimed at doing this and we were interested in helping them expand the programming. This brought additional partners to the table, including Gunnison Nordic and the city of Gunnison. Together, the groups have been discussing strategies for growing Nordic programming in a synergistic way. With the onset of COVID, the need for this programming was further underlined and highlighted the need to ensure that rec opportunities were not only accessible but being done responsibly and as safely as possible. The development of CBAC’s new Community Outreach program was perfectly timed and well aligned with some of the Winter Rec Initiative goals.”

Peterson said the county is providing its money to boost the Crested Butte Avalanche Center element of the plan that will enhance avalanche awareness education. She said the CBAC seeks to launch a Community Outreach Program to “emphasize the importance of avalanche awareness.” The group is planning to have trailhead days, fireside chats, youth outreach, general public outreach and avalanche hazard signage this winter.

“After witnessing a spike in backcountry use last spring when the resort closed, we want to get ahead of the curve this winter to increase our presence for visitors and the local community,” commented Than Acuff of the CBAC. “Met Rec was instrumental in our plan and their support, as well as that of the town of Crested Butte and the STOR Committee, is massive in bringing the plan to fruition. We want people to enjoy the mountains but, first and foremost, we want them returning home safe from the mountains.”

As for Nordic, Peterson said Met Rec hopes to help expand the after school programs in both Gunnison and Crested Butte. The idea is to make Nordic skiing more accessible by providing the necessary gear and equipment as well as transportation to trailheads and skiing venues. She said Gunnison Nordic hopes to provide a series of adult ski clinics throughout the season with free equipment as well.

They do not yet have an estimated number for people they hope to include in the new program. Both Crested Butte and Gunnison Nordic hope to expand their outreach to engage more community members in the sport. The hope is that by providing free equipment, instruction and easy to access skis, people will become more familiar with and interested in the sport.

“Details with how to provide the free equipment, for example, are still being sorted out—and this largely hinges off what the Nordic groups can accommodate from a programming perspective,“ Peterson said. “But the hope is to implement a portable trailer that can be used to stage free and/or low cost rental equipment at different trailheads in the north and south ends of the valley. Think library on wheels, but for skis!,” Peterson said.

“Over the last year Met Rec has been building partnerships in an effort to help re-establish its commitment to supporting recreation,” Peterson said. “One element of this is to increase access to recreation for our residents, whether that’s helping reduce the cost of local programs or taking small steps to make equipment and transportation more readily available. Accessibility is important.

“By increasing outreach with various community groups and organizations, the expanded Nordic programs seek to engage more residents with Nordic skiing,” Peterson continued. “Community groups and organizations that we hope to engage with include the Gunnison Watershed School District, Gunnison Mentors, the Senior Center, Western’s Multi-Cultural Center and more.”

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