Great Outdoors Colorado, a Colorado nonprofit dedicated to stewardship of the outdoors and equitable access for all, has awarded Aspen Valley Land Trust $399,665 in order to improve five outdoor community spaces, which would allow more students to learn outside and relieve the increased pressure on outdoor places as result of COVID-19.

“We are elated about this generous support to connect our community to the outdoors,” Suzanne Stephens, AVLT executive director, said in a statement released Friday.

“With GOCO funding, this highly collaborative and community-driven project will help build a healthier, more connected, more capable and more resilient community in the Roaring Fork and Colorado River Valleys — now and for future generations,” Stephens continued.

In Marble, AVLT will expand access and infrastructure at Chapin Wright Marble Basecamp, a 47-acre property owned by AVLT since 2015. This grant will fund building restrooms and wastewater infrastructure on the property, allowing for organizations to host more students and ensure the area is up to Gunnison County code. The grant will also help AVLT to restore Marble Children’s Park, improving visitors’ experience.

AVLT also plans to improve the Silt River Preserve, home to Highwater Farm, which employs local students to grow produce for distribution to food banks. Funding will support restoration and an outdoor classroom at the preserve and will also help Highwater Farm improve and expand several pivotal facilities and support structures on the property. Local schools, nonprofits and community groups can benefit from these improvements to the preserve and grow food locally despite pandemic-related challenges.

“We are incredibly grateful for this support from GOCO,” said Sara Tymczyszyn, director of Highwater Farm. “This will help bring our farm operation to the next level and allow us to expand our impact in the community.”

Funds from the GOCO grant will be used in Carbondale to complete restoration projects at the new Red Hill trailhead and Riverfront Park to improve access for residents and visitors. Red Hill projects include building a shade structure, installing picnic tables and interpretive signage and landscaping in the area. Similarly at Riverfront Park, AVLT will round out the funds necessary to build an outdoor classroom and expand ADA accessibility.

Due to consequences of COVID-19 — budget cuts in school districts, in conjunction with reduced enrollment because of online learning — there is a serious risk to local public schools’ ability to support outdoor education and enrichment programs, the release explains. Once schools safely reopen, “students and staff will need places for outdoor education more than ever, and this GOCO grant will help connect more public schools to AVLT’s outdoor education programs.”

“Partnering with AVLT will increase the availability of accessible outdoor spaces where authentic learning can occur,” Roaring Fork School District Superintendent Rob Stein said.

The grant is part of GOCO’s Resilient Communities program, which assists grantee partners to advance outdoor recreation, stewardship and land protection work. Funding is granted for one-time, immediate needs or opportunities that have emerged in direct response to the pandemic — within the context of GOCO’s five program values are resource conservation, outdoor stewardship, community vitality, equitable access and youth connections to the outdoors.