By Erinn Callahan
As the ground starts to thaw out and cabin fever reaches its peak, the Peterson Air Force Base Outdoor Recreation Center is here to help Airmen and their families take full advantage of Colorado Springs’ natural resources.
Regardless of physical ability, or whether they are traveling solo or with toddlers in tow, Colorado Springs residents have almost endless possibilities when it comes to outdoor recreation, said Dave Schmidt, 21st Force Support Squadron supervisory recreation assistant programmer.
“We basically exist to provide a service to military members and their families, or any other Department of Defense ID cardholder, to get them either the equipment they need to enjoy the outdoors or to provide programs to be able to facilitate the leisure aspect of getting outdoors,” Schmidt said.
Customers with young children are often intimidated and unsure where to start when introducing their families to outdoor activities, he said. He is hoping to develop programs that alleviate that fear as he develops the schedule for the upcoming spring and summer months.
“I have a wife and a daughter and we do a lot of stuff outdoors. That’s something I’m passionate about and that I would like to get other people passionate about as well,” Schmidt said. “I would like to offer not only in-house classes to get people the tools and knowledge that they need to go out and explore on their own, but also develop day hikes and other programs aimed specifically at those with young ones from birth to 4 or 5 years old.”
For families looking to introduce their young children to camping, Schmidt recommended starting small at an established campground such as Farish Recreation Area, located at 12005 Rampart Range Road in Woodland Park.
“If you’ve never camped with a toddler, it might be a little much your first try going out with a tent and trying to camp with your toddler. I’ve been through that struggle,” he said. “You don’t want to be 5 miles down a trail with a toddler and that’s the first time you’re sleeping in a tent with them.”
Fountain Creek Nature Center, 320 Peppergrass Lane in Fountain, and Bear Creek Nature Center, 245 Bear Creek Road in Colorado Springs, also offer low-impact options — as well as local historical knowledge — for inexperienced hikers or young children, Schmidt said.
“Those are a couple of good options for people who are trying to dip their toes into the water,” he said.
As with children, Schmidt recommended a slow start for those unaccustomed to outdoor activity.
“Although it can be enjoyable and they might love it and want to do more activities outdoors, it has the potential to be a little bit high risk and maybe put them off other outdoor activities,” Schmidt said. “Start with something low-impact to get your feet wet. That’s a good foot in the door to see what else is out there.”
Palmer Park, along with North Cheyenne Cañon Park and Ute Valley Park — all in Colorado Springs — all offer hiking trails of varying difficulty, Schmidt said.
“There’s something for everyone in North Cheyenne Cañon,” he said. “It offers day hikes, mountain biking, and it has a lot to offer as far as scenic views and easy access to anything from beginner to intermediate to expert.”
Ute Valley Park also offers bouldering options, which is ideal for those not prepared for the hefty financial investment required for rock climbing, Schmidt said.
“It offers different challenges than rock climbing — you don’t go as high and you’re not climbing up these big long walls – but it is a very enjoyable activity,” he said. “A lot of people like doing that because it’s very low-investment as far as the equipment you need. You don’t need a harness or a rope to be able to boulder.”
Thanks to federal funding, the Peterson Outdoor Recreation Center can offer the necessary equipment at a low cost to Department of Defense cardholders who want to try activities such as rock climbing for the first time, Schmidt said.
“As a beginner, you’re not going to want to spend hundreds or thousands of dollars on equipment for something you don’t know if you’re going to like. That’s a high price to pay to realize you don’t like doing something,” he said. “So that’s one of the really nice things about this building is we have a lot of resources to be able to offer people that are beginners in a lot of areas.”