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Trust Our Land | What are your barriers to access?

by Bergen Tjossem

By Rachael Brard. Photo by Eaglevalleywild.org

If public land is all around us, why isn’t everyone in our community able to enjoy it? This is a question that the Eagle Valley Land Trust (EVLT) is often asked. Looking at a map, it might seem like everyone in our community has the same access to public lands since they appear more or less evenly distributed. The White River National Forest, which expands both North and South of the I-70 corridor, is open to the public to enjoy. Plus, there are many public properties owned by Eagle County Open Space and local towns. So, what are the obstacles?

Well, accessing public land doesn’t happen in a vacuum. There are layers and complexities that reduce the ability of many in our community to access the benefits of nature, that a map simply doesn’t display.

The term “barriers to access” helps us understand some of these obstacles. The list of barriers impacting local people’s access to public lands is long. Some are physical (e.g. distance to trailheads, accessibility for people with disabilities), some are psychological (e.g. fear of being judged, lack of know-how, public lands feel unwelcoming), some are socioeconomic (e.g. outdoor gear and clothing isn’t available to everyone, lack of free time, entry fees, unavailability of childcare), and some are a combination. What we know is that these barriers are real and they matter.

According to a 2020 report by the Hispanic Access Foundation and Center for American Progress, 70% of low-income communities live in nature deprived areas, i.e. areas that have a higher proportion of natural areas lost to human activities than the state-level median. Despite the increasing diversity of the population in the United States, minority groups continue to be underrepresented in visitation to national parks, forests, and other public lands. In a 2018 study, researchers from the US Forest Service found an inequity gap of about 24%, meaning minority groups are not visiting public lands and partaking in outdoor recreation opportunities as much as white recreationists. Colorado Parks and Wildlife (CPW) has done state-wide analyses of these trends as well including their 2020 report, Existing Conditions, Trends, and Projections in Outdoor Recreation. Children, senior citizens, people with disabilities, and parents all face additional barriers of their own to accessing nature. 

To meet local needs, EVLT’s conservation work continues to evolve. It’s not enough to conserve more land; we must also make opportunities to access public conserved land available it accessible to everyone in our community. That’s why two graduate students in the Conservation Leadership program at Colorado State University, Rachael Brard and Gillian Watson, are conducting a research project with EVLT to understand local outdoor recreation preferences and identify local barriers to equitable access. 

We want to hear from you! Please take this survey to help EVLT and partners protect land and enhance access to outdoor spaces for everyone in our community. You can also reach out to our researchers if you’d like to share or learn more:

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