Experiencing Fort Collins’ natural areas in a digital age

Caroline Sears, Activities Beat

C. Sears
Just a five minute drive from Fossil, the Arapahoe Bend natural area provides beautiful views of the changing season.

In Fort Collins, we are so lucky to have the mountains in our backyards and beautiful natural areas surrounding us in each direction. It is easy to get swept up in reposting and following the idea of the outdoors, instead of being able to get outside and experiencing it. However, the 49 natural areas in our city make it possible to slow down and appreciate our environment. 

Zoe Shark, the Public Engagement Manager for the City of Fort Collins Natural Areas Department, said, “…the outdoors have been a really important part of my life, personally. They are my therapist, my gym, my art museum, and so much more.” She feels “great privilege to have a career that gives back to the places that mean so much to me.” Shark, an advocate for preserving our environment and diversity within the department as a whole, works with communication, management, and getting the public interested in the outdoors.

Shark grew up in Boulder, and eventually got her master’s degree in environmental education from Colorado State University. She remembers school trips and summer camps sparking her passion for the outdoors when she was young. Shark has worked for the City of Fort Collins for 18 years. 

The City of Fort Collins website states, “With more than 100 miles of trail, and over 36,000 acres locally and regionally, there is likely a natural area near you!”

Over the years she has seen Fort Collins change and grow. She believes that teens these days lead “lives that are so structured, I mean, the kids I talked to, they’re so busy with school and their extracurriculars and their families and that there’s not a whole lot of time.”

As students, we sacrifice time outside to write essays and study for tests. Angela Borland, the Education and Volunteer Supervisor for Larimer County also believes that exploring our environment is beneficial in many ways for teenagers. Borland said, “There are numerous health benefits of being outside from raising levels of vitamin D to reducing stress and the effects of ADD/ADHD.” 

Over the years, the city, community, and jobs have changed immensely. These departments who work toward preserving the environment are reliant on computers. But they still make a point to take breaks. Borland added, “Being outdoors always helps me to reset from stress or being connected to my computer all day and even finding a quiet 15 minutes to sit and watch the natural world can help me think clearer.” It is essential for students to take, even just a few minutes, to decrease stress, improve focus, and promote a healthy lifestyle.

Whether you are taking a break at lunch or simply in search of fresh air, Borland mentioned, “Finding a favorite city park or green area near your house or school can do just as much for our mental and physical health.” A car is not necessary to explore what is right in front of us.

K. Sears
Although there are so many ways to get outside, some times simply getting a breath of fresh air can improve your day.

The city is also working on diversity and equality in the department. Both of these women chose these jobs to share their love of the Northern Colorado environment with our communities. 

Climate change is a popular topic at the City of Fort Collins’s offices as well. Shark is inspired by the young people protesting and making their mark, as they are left asking the important however scary question “how do we make these natural areas resilient?” When fewer people take advantage of our natural areas, there are fewer people to protect it. That is why these women are providing a everyone opportunities to fall in love with our environment. In a world full of stress and high expectations, taking a second to stop and smell the roses is more important than ever.

Take a break in one of the many natural areas listed here

If your club or organization is interested in getting outside with a field trip, contact the City of Fort Collins natural areas outreach program.