By Michael Abeyta

DENVER (CBS4) – Latinos and Latinas are the second largest ethnic group in Denver, but statistically, very few get outdoors to hike, trail run, or just spend time outdoors. This week, groups and organizations are looking to change that and teach Latinos about protecting the environment.

“There’s something really spiritual and healing about being in nature,” said Candace Gonzales. She is a proud Latina who grew up exploring the wilderness. “Yeah, I did grow up camping and it was a lot of fun.”

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She is a trail runner, a hiker, a stand-up paddle boarder and all around outdoors-woman. She loves to see other Latinos enjoying mother nature.

“I get overly excited because it’s very rare to see,” she said. “It’s just a matter of representation and how important it is to feel welcomed and like you belong somewhere because you see people that look like you doing what you love to do.”

That’s one reason the Hispanic Access Foundation launched Latino Conservation Week. It is an annual initiative created to support the Latino community enjoying the outdoors and participating in activities to protect our natural resources.

This week all around the nation, including in Colorado, the group will partner with nonprofits, faith-based and government organizations for a week of events. In Colorado, events can be found between Cortez and up to Estes Park where the YMCA of the Rockies will guide a hike through Rocky Mountain National Park on July 24.

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After the hike, a park ranger will talk about local wildlife with participants. Activities at the YMCA, including archery, a climbing wall and mini golf, will be free to those participate. It is free and open to the public.

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On July 21, the group Defenders of Wildlife will host a discussion about Proposition 114 which surrounds the reintroduction of gray wolves in Colorado. The proposition was approved by voters in the November 2020 election. The discussion will be held virtually, but organizers ask you pre-register.

Latino Conservation Week was first celebrated in 2014 with nine events and has since grown to more than 160 events across the country.

Gonzales thinks this is an important step toward getting Latinos out into the wilderness. She says it’s especially important with that love of adventure she hopes people will learn how to protect the environment they recreate in.

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“This is the only earth we have, and it gives us so much. The air we breathe, the water we drink, the food we eat. If we don’t do something to protect that we can’t pass it on to younger generations.”

Michael Abeyta