Community Outdoor Outreach Program (CO-OP) Diversifies Audiences Engaged with the Outdoors
AUSTIN – Communities in Texas will be healthier and more engaged with their natural surroundings thanks to grants awarded through the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department’s Community Outdoor Outreach Program (CO-OP). This opportunity will create 10 grant partnerships, totaling $290,000, supporting community-based conservation and outdoor recreation activities throughout the State.
CO-OP grant recipients are as diverse as the communities in Texas they serve. They include Boys & Girls Clubs, Nature Centers, non-profit organizations, school districts and municipalities. Partner projects in 2021 range from birding on the Devil’s River to aquatic science education along the Colorado River to canoeing on Caddo Lake. Participants learn how to hunt, fishing, camp, hike, kayak, and much more. Young adults receive in-depth, natural resource career development and mentoring, which cultivates the next generation of outdoor leaders. The benefits to Texas communities are endless.
As a response to COVID-19 restrictions, CO-OP grant partners have creatively modified their programs to ensure the safety of project participants and staff. As an example, East Central ISD will incorporate virtual experiences of natural areas, including South Llano River State Park, where students will engage in a virtual tour of the park and interview TPWD Interpreters about their careers.
CO-OP was established by TPWD in 1996 to help introduce under-represented audiences to environmental education, conservation, and outdoor recreation programs. The program is authorized by the Texas Legislature through the department’s budget as a specialized component of the Texas Recreation and Parks Account Program. Grant funds may be used for supplies, travel, training, food, personnel costs, and equipment for ongoing use.
Over the last 24 years, TPWD has awarded $22 million around the state to assist in this effort.
The following organizations will receive funding:
Austin Youth River Watch — $30,000 – Supports a year-round youth mentoring program through the Environmental Education in Uncertain Times: Inspiring a Love of Texas from the Backyard and Beyond project. Students learn how to collect, analyze, and publish water-quality data along local waterways, perform riparian restoration projects, and experience a 5-day camping trip in the Davis Mountains.
Families in Nature – $30,000 – The Reconnecting Families with Nature program engages under-represented families in day trips and overnight camping experiences at State Parks. FIN incorporates Guide Development programs, Junior Ecologist certifications, and internships for high school students to build the next generation of outdoor leaders.
Lone Star Paralysis Foundation – $30,000 – The DOORS program enriches the lives of individuals living with disabilities by eliminating barriers that exist for outdoor recreational sports. Participants engage in activities that were once thought of as impossible, such as hunting, archery, cycling and kayaking, to enhance their physical and mental health.
Today Foundation — $29,450 – The Collins Academy Land Stewards & Conservation Leadership Program engages 100 high school students from multiple East Texas school districts in canoeing and hiking field trips at Caddo Lake State Park. A 9-week, paid conservation internship connects 12 students with service-learning projects and prepares them to lead interpretive lessons for future careers.
Vickery Meadow Youth Development Foundation — $24,474 – Summer Environmental Explorations is a 4-day camp that immerses Eagle Scholars in nature using hands-on lessons to explore environmental issues in their community. Scholars take field trips to State Parks, hear from professionals about their careers and participate in aquatic science lessons, fossil hunting, kayaking, bird watching, and hiking.
Casa de la Cultura, El Comité Cultural del Pueblo — $29,994 – Exploring Nature engages minority women and youth in outdoor recreation events at Devils River SNA, Kickapoo Cavern and Seminole Canyon State Parks. Participants engage in day-long and weekend events centered around hunting, archery, birding, fishing, kayaking and Texas Aquatic Science investigations.
The Woods Project — $30,000 – Experiential Environmental Education offers low-income Houston-area students access to outdoor spaces and recreation activities through their after-school club programs and weekend camping excursions. The Junior Leaders Program also engages 20 students to strengthen their capacity as outdoor ambassadors in their communities.
Boys & Girls Club of Kingsville — $26,870 – Fishing and Aquatic Conservation allows low income community youth to experience fishing and coastal ecology projects at Goose Island State Park. Club youth will also camp at Buescher State Park and engage in wildfire restoration projects.
Communities in Schools of South Central Texas — $30,000 – CIS Project Success Summer Bootcamp and Alumni Camping and Outdoor Adventure provides a positive outdoor experience to at-risk youth and young adults. Project alumni engage in outdoor leadership development including 4 wilderness camping trips and a 6-week bootcamp for leadership, career development, and natural resource training.
East Central Independent School District — $30,000 – Park Place 2.0 expands their previous service-learning program. Virtual learning experiences linked to hands-on engagement outside will now accompany their existing program which offers Project WILD curriculum, monthly outdoor recreation day trips and multi-day camping excursions around the State of Texas.
Visit the CO-OP program website for more information about grants and the program.