Eight Denver-Based Nonprofits Working in the Outdoors

In a world with a lot of need and not enough resources, there are a lot of nonprofits. Like, A LOT of nonprofits. Most of them started with the goal of taking the lead on important initiatives with like-minded communities. While they all run impactful and important programming, nonprofits are constantly hustling to receive funding and to get noticed. Unfortunately, there is no easy way to recognize every nonprofit that ever existed – we’ll need an encyclopedia for that – but it is possible to highlight some that are doing extra awesome work, specifically in the outdoors. To set some boundaries for ourselves, we decided to focus on outdoor-themed nonprofits based in Denver.

Nonprofits Increasing Access to the Outdoors

Sure, Denver has the front range, access to several ski mountains less than an hour and a half away (sans traffic), and a plethora of open space parks. However, recreating outside is still very inaccessible to people from low socioeconomic backgrounds and underprivileged groups. Transportation, time, and money—among other factors—make it difficult for many people to enjoy the outdoors. Fortunately, there are several nonprofits within Denver trying to eliminate those barriers.

1. New Treks

Student learning how to load and tie canoes and kayaks onto a trailer with New Treks.

New Treks partners with Title 1 schools and organizations serving underprivileged groups to bring outdoor education to kids’ everyday lives. In their main program, New Treks partners with schools to bring experiential and social-emotional learning to the classroom on a daily basis. Specifically, they teach a variety of outdoor activities, such as rock climbing, survival skills, paddling, and backpacking.

Through a combination of in-class lectures, hands-on activities, and mini-field trips, students learn about risk management, technical skills, and techniques for each sport. Along the way, they practice social-emotional skills as they grow in confidence, try new things, and communicate with their peers. Students get actual school credit for the class, which can be anywhere from six weeks to a semester long. By partnering with schools, New Treks lowers the barriers of time, money, transportation, and knowledge that many underserved youth face when trying to explore the outdoors.

Know a school that would benefit from this programming? Get in touch here.

2. Bikes Together

Bikes Together increases access to bike maintenance, knowledge, and actual bikes. Because of this, more people are able to use bikes to recreate and commute. Through bike programs, they address the wealth and health disparities that exist within Denver and to show that biking is a viable means of transportation. They believe in sustainability and recycle and repurpose donated bikes. Then, they offer the bikes to the public for little to no cost. At their bike distribution events, they partner with organizations working with underserved youth and give the students bikes for free! They also offer mechanics classes to women, non-binary, and trans-identifying folks to empower people who have been marginalized by bike culture.

Need a bike? Want to donate a bike or old bike parts? Head to their website for more info.

3. Big City Mountaineers

Big City Mountaineers provides free, 100% outfitted backcountry trips to underserved youth. Their goal is to offer transformative experiences that their students would not normally have access to. They believe nature empowers underprivileged youth to build resilience, become outdoor stewards, and develop new skills and strengths. In addition, they partner with local youth agencies, such as the Boys and Girls Club of Metro Denver, to recruit youth that would benefit from their programs.

Over the summer, participants go on seven-day backpacking trips in wilderness areas near Denver or eight-day canoe trips in the Boundary Waters of Minnesota. On these trips, they learn backcountry skills, engage in team-building activities, and practice group and individual reflection. After the trip, the cohort is reunited for one-day overnights in August and September so they can reflect on their experience and continue relationships with their cohorts.

Know someone who would benefit from a backcountry trip? Here is more information.

4. Lucky to Ride

Students learning basic bike maintenance with Lucky to Ride’s Learn to Earn program.

Lucky to Ride is a nonprofit that offers bike programming to underserved and at-risk youth. Through a variety of programs, they give underprivileged populations the chance to explore Denver’s outdoors from the seat of a bike. For example, Lucky to Ride provides bikes for their programs because underprivileged youth often cannot afford to own and maintain a bike. They have a shop where they recycle and repurpose donated bikes to build bikes for those in need.

In their Learn to Earn program, Lucky to Ride combines STEM education with the joy of bike riding. Students learn about bike mechanics and maintenance through a 10-hour course and…wait for it…get to keep their bike at the end! In addition to recognizing how expensive bikes are, Lucky to Ride also acknowledges the gender disparity in cycling with their Lucky Girls Initiative. Many girls stop riding at a young age, while boys are more likely to continue biking.

Want to get involved with one of their programs? Here is their website.

Nonprofits with a Focus on Environmental Education

As the effects of climate change worsen, environmental education is becoming more and more important. Research shows that the more time kids spend outside interacting with nature, the more likely they are to be stewards of the outdoors. In an era where screen time trumps outside time, it is imperative to encourage kids to get out there, get dirty, and learn about the earth. Numerous nonprofits exist within Denver doing just that.

5. Kiva Center

The Kiva Center offers experiential, nature-based education so that students can learn life skills, connect with their environment, and become stewards of the outdoors. They work with schools to provide standard-based workshops in permaculture gardening, waste management, and nature connections. Not only do students learn about gardening and waste reduction techniques during these workshops, but they also grow in confidence, develop emotional well-being, and become more involved in their community. In their homeschool programs, kids spend the entire day learning through outside play. As kids learn about farms, gardening, and forests, they develop an appreciation for nature and the desire to conserve and protect it. Finally, they have after-school programs and family weekend workshops to bring communities and families together through environmental education.

Interested in their programming? Here’s a link.

6. Environmental Learning for Kids

Environmental Learning for Kids (ELK) has been working with underrepresented youth in the outdoors for nearly 30 years. They provide activities in science and science-related careers to students of color and who identify as female and LGBTQ+. ELK comes to schools to deliver hands-on lessons in natural science. In these classes, students get to dissect owl pellets, touch skulls, and more. They also offer overnight and single-day field trips where students get to explore Denver’s outdoor spaces through different outdoor activities. ELK offers environmental career opportunities for teenagers and young adults so that people continue their relationship with the outdoors beyond ELK’s programming.

Through their programs, ELK is opening doors for people who have been marginalized and is creating outdoor stewards. Want to participate in one of their programs? Check them out here.

7. Lincoln Hills Cares

Lincoln Hills Cares has a variety of programs. They help increase access to the outdoors, educate folks on the local cultural history, and encourage youth to take on environmental-based careers. By partnering with other nonprofits, they reach more people who want to engage with their natural surroundings.

Their culturally responsive outdoor education programs help youth and families learn how to recreate in the outdoors without having a large impact. Adolescent and teenage girls develop social and emotional skills through their equestrian program and youth can begin to pursue environmental careers through LHC Pathways.

If youth are engaged with their surrounding environment, they are more likely to want to give back to nature. They might pursue careers in public and environmental health and encourage other communities to do the same. What more could we want right now? Check out Lincoln Hills here.

8. Mile High Youth Corps

Mile High Youth Corps offers career pathways so young adults, ages 18-24, can give back to their environmental and urban communities. Whether they choose a pathway in land conservation, energy & water conservation, healthcare, or construction, they experience personal development while working on meaningful service initiatives for their communities. These initiatives are paid, and projects include building green, low-income housing, installing energy and water-saving measures, and restoring native habitats.

Each career pathway has different crews to choose from so participants can choose the option that best serves their interests. The participants work in cohorts of 7-9 people, creating a close-knit community where they can share experiences and grow together. Mile High is building the next generation of conservationists so we can live in a sustainable, community-centered world.

Think this would be a good opportunity for someone? Here is more information.

These Are Only a Few

There are SO many nonprofits in Denver doing work to improve people’s access and relationships with the outdoors. It would be awesome to live in a world where this happens naturally, but…that isn’t always the case. Supporting some of these nonprofits through an Instagram follow, donation, or like always helps! Because who doesn’t want to live in a world where everyone treats Mother Earth with respect and people have equitable access to the outdoors?

Linnea Delucchi is the Assistant Director for New Treks.

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