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How this nonprofit is helping to bring the great outdoors to the city

Access to the great outdoors will no longer be an issue for Montbello residents come July.

Daisy Madera is new to climbing, but she is already getting the hang of it.

“Once you do it, you feel freedom in yourself,” the 15-year-old from northeast Denver said.

Madera belongs to a group called ELK, an acronym for Environmental Kids for Learning.

ELK works with children in Denver, exposing them to nature and outdoor opportunities that are not often accessible to children in urban neighborhoods, like ethnically-diverse Montbello.

“There is a real access problem," Loretta Pineda said, executive director of ELK. "A lot of the kids in Montbello can see the mountains. That’s what Montbello means, you know, ‘beautiful mountain.’ And so they can see the beautiful mountains, but sometimes it's difficult to get there.”

Access to the great outdoors will no longer be an issue for Montbello residents come July.

Emily Patterson with nonprofit The Trust For Public Land says The North Face activewear and sports gear company has given money to the group to build climbing walls across the country.

“So today we are here at the American Mountaineering Center for a workshop to design climbing boulder for Montbello Open Space Park,” Patterson said.

ELK kids and the City and County of Denver are set to work on the 4.5-acre park through the spring and into the summer. Patterson says Montbello Open Space Park will be complete by July.

The park will be unique, Patterson says.

“A park where people can come and learn and engage in the natural world and a short grass prairie ecosystem," Patterson said. "Do things that they might find in a national park like climbing, bouldering, scrambling. This is a really special place and I think it will be a model for other communities across the country and the city of Denver.”

Patterson hopes to see more of these parks pop up throughout the country.

“We want everyone to live within a 10 minute walk of a quality park,” Patterson said.

Pineda says this park will make a big impact on the ELK kids who live in Montbello.

“The other kind of barrier to getting outdoors is that people of color don’t see themselves. They don’t see themselves on the trail, they don’t see themselves working in these outdoor fields,” Pineda continued. “You have to see it to be it, and so a lot of our students now are getting very interested in those careers.”

Madera agrees. She thinks Montbello Open Space Park will encourage her neighbors to try climbing.

“In Montbello, not a lot of people go out much. Having a park there with a rock climbing wall is going to get their interests up and they will be able to try it.”

In the future, Madera hopes to teach people in her community how to climb.

“Once you do it. You will want to do it more.”