After six years of growing the Backcountry Wildnerness Area Base Camp program in Highlands Ranch, the community association is moving forward with designing the Backcountry Outdoor Center to headquarter existing and future services.
On May 9 and May 17, the Highlands Ranch Community Association Board of Directors and delegates approved moving the Backcountry Outdoor Center to the Community Involvement Process to begin getting feedback. The project outlines two phases, with the construction of a Environmental Education Center housing offices, a nature pre-school and program space in the first phase, and an indoor arena and horse corral updates in phase two.
Currently, the backcountry staff do not have a centralized office space and programs are weather dependent without any indoor space in the backcountry wilderness area. With programs mostly contained to summer months, the backcountry doesn’t have a source of year-round revenue.
Additionally, current programs can’t meet the existing demand, especially when it comes to programs for young children.
“We’ve done all of this so far without a building, which I think is pretty remarkable but it means we’ve been dependent on the Law Enforcement Training Facility,” explained Mark Giebel, director of the Backcountry Wilderness Area. “When we have to use that building for shelter, the programs have to stop. We can’t do any lessons or games in there, so it’s not an ideal situation at all.”
Next to the backcountry Base Camp on Ron King Trail is the Law Enforcement Training Facility, which allows the backcountry programs to utilize the building in inclement weather. The space limitations have kept programs from growing to meet their full demand.
Giebel said camps started with just 100 participants and have exploded to the maximum of 1,300 children enrolled and a lengthy waitlist. The backcountry programs are also limited on the kind of childcare license they can have without a dedicated building.
“We’re not serving our biggest demographic of 3, 4, 5 and 6-year-olds,” Giebel said. “Not being able to serve that demographic is hurting us for sure. Also, we struggle to host community programs, senior programs and school programs without shelter.”
A full third of the proposed education center would be a nature preschool where children spend most of the day learning outside.
“There’s a ton of research out there showing the benefits of youth spending time outdoors and they just don’t have the opportunities we had as kids,” Giebel said. “Being able to provide these opportunities is a huge benefit to kids in our community.”
Building the Environmental Education Center is projected to cost betwen $7 and $8 million, which will be paid for through the capital improvement fund that comes from a portion of homeowners’ association dues.
The proposed indoor arena would follow the education center and allow the backcountry area to offer year-round lessons and expand camps.
“I keep on talking about these buildings as investments, so what exactly are we investing in? For one, the future of the backcountry,” Giebel said. “We’re also investing in our community.”
With the approval of the board and delegates to start the Community Involvement Process, there will be a public meeting at 6:30 p.m. June 14 at Southridge Community Center. The base camp will also host a kick-off party at 8:30 a.m. June 4 to show off the planned sites for the new buildings.
Following the Community Involvement Process, the board and delegates will get a second vote to move the project into the Douglas County approval process. Construction is planned for the fall of 2023.
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