Author: Dana Coelho

Taking action.

On Monday, we shared a statement “Black Lives Matter in a Thriving Region for People + Nature” with Metro DNA partners. In this reflection, we made a commitment to the following actions: 

  • Support and lift up our Black-led and Black-serving partners who work each day toward representation, equal opportunity, and youth development in the outdoors. Check out this emerging project – a Digital Green Book – by Crystal Egli (Colorado Parks & Wildlife and Inclusive Journeys) and Parker McMullen Bushman (Butterfly Pavilion and Ecoinclusive).
  • Complete anti-racism training as a Steering Committee and partner network through Summit for Action and other avenues, building on existing Metro DNA and partner commitments to equity and investments in learning and action. 
  • Make thoughtful changes within our organization that are necessary to live up to our equity principles and commitments (e.g., staff and leadership accountability, partnership structure and commitment, how events are planned and facilitated) and led by our POC (people of color) and LGBTQIA (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, intersex, and asexual) partners.  
  • Continue to facilitate dialog among Metro DNA partners and stakeholders around equitable access to nature, safety and representation in the outdoors, and breaking down barriers to the decision making power necessary to our achieving a thriving region for people + nature. This will take shape in our Stakeholder Convenings and other small group meetings.
  • Purposefully integrate diverse voices and ways of knowing into the Regional Conservation Assessment as we co-create a Regional Vision for People + Nature, ensuring that this data-driven exercise is inclusive and transparent, is not extractive, and is able to uplift people with marginalized identities.

We, the Metro DNA Steering Committee, will hold ourselves accountable to taking these actions, to learning, to listening, and to doing better. We invite you to join us, to share ideas and resources, to call us in with constructive criticism when needed, to be called in yourselves, and to take the actions available to you as individuals and organizations committed to conservation + equity in our region. 

What are these actions, you may ask? This article from The Avarna Group is an amazing starting point for our work as a network, your work as agencies and organizations, and our work as individuals in local and global community. In the words of Ava Holliday and Aparna Rajagopal, co-founders of The Avarna Group, (note to self: I finally understand the company’s name!) “this moment should change you and your organization permanently and for the better.”

And where are we starting? Here’s what we’ve been working on this week and are gearing up for next week:

  • I, and at least one other friend from the Summit for Action community, attended this online session on Tuesday night — Anti-Racist Allyship Foundations — hosted by Regan Byrd, a local and super-skilled Anti-Oppression Consultant. Working on a summary to share with partners… 
  • Our Regional Conservation Assessment core team met yesterday to discuss funding and project methodology, making a deeper and more integrated commitment to equity in how we move forward envisioning and implementing the project, convening leaders and decision makers, and engaging technical advisors.
  • I am attending this online session, part of the CPW Partners in the Outdoors virtual conference, later today — No More Volunteering as Tribute — featuring CJ Goulding, Manager of Community Leadership Development for the Children & Nature Network and Partner with The Avarna Group. Advance registration is required if you are also interested in attending and/or gaining access to the webinar recording. 
  • Several of us are attending this online session next Tuesday, June 30th — Equity Accountability Partnership: An Essential DEI Tool — also hosted by Regan Byrd Consulting. Check it out. We’ll feature a summary and discussion of next steps in our Friday High Five, scheduled for Thursday @ 12:30-1:30 pm, because weekends and holidays matter. 

In solidarity, 

Friday Factotum, 06/12/2020

There is so much great content out there right now, so many valuable trainings, so many necessary conversations. We can’t all be part of all of them all of the time. So we have started this dialog, the “Friday Factotum*” for now, because I’m a vocabulary nerd, to highlight some of the week’s lessons learned, share additional resources, and explore next steps. 

This Friday, June 12, 2020 five Metro DNA partners came together to talk about the Equitable Access to Nature webinar hosted by the Salazar Center for North American Conservation. This webinar highlighted the work of Benita Hussein, Director of The Trust for Public Land’s 10 Minute Walk program, and Dr. Scott Sampson, Executive Director and William R. and Gretchen B. Kimball Chair of the California Academy of Sciences. TPL is a Metro DNA partner and Chandi Aldena, Colorado Parks for People Project Manager, sits on our Steering Committee. Scott Sampson is a former leadership team member at the Denver Museum of Nature and Science and thought leader behind the founding of Metro DNA. The California Academy of Sciences is behind the City Nature Challenge, which we have participated in for the past two years, engaging 406 observers and logging 6,211 observations of 970 different species of flora and fauna this spring alone!

Engaged in Friday’s dialog were Jo Burns, sole proprietor of Jo Burns Connects and Chief Collaboration Officer of the Colorado Public Health + Parks and Recreation Collaborative; Dr. Susan Sherrod, Ecologist with Biohabitats and instructor at the University of Colorado; Maggie Lea, Director of Programs for Mile High Connects; and Tracy Coppola, Colorado Program Manager for National Parks Conservation Association. Some highlights from the webinar for us included:

  • Dr. Scott’s (yeah, the PBS Dinosaur Guy) shout out to a national audience of Environmental Learning for Kids and Thorne Nature Experience here in Colorado’s Front Range for their work connecting kids and families to nature.
  • Data on the relative safety of nature play structures compared to “traditional” plastic and metal playground equipment. 
  • The experiential value of curiosity for kids as they are exploring nature with adults and peer mentors.  
  • The scary fact this generation of kids might be the first to experience a shorter life span than their parents. 

We discussed a number of ideas, including: 

  • Our engagement, led by Mile High Connects, in the national SPARCC network and Equity and Results leaning cohorts. 
  • The work of community-based organizations like Montbello Walks, the Montbello Organizing Committee, and Southwest Denver Coalition engaged in related activities supporting healthy, active, outdoor lifestyles. 
  • A future Metro DNA partner dialog on equitable parks investment via Blue Print Denver and other local decision making frameworks.
  • The possibility of formal and/or informal research within our community on the health benefits of nature and how our partners and their networks are spending time outside. This research could be pursued in collaboration with the Denver Urban Field Station, which includes partners from multiple federal agencies and universities. 
  • Conversations around defunding the police and reimagining public safety, including the Denver Streets Partnership’s efforts to open local streets to pedestrians. See their recent email newsletter, a related Denver Post article, and additional context from the podcast “War on Cars”. Denver City Council members Kneich, Hinds, and Gilmore (not mentioned in the Denver Post article) have all expressed support for the concept, and it sounds like the discussion will be primarily focused on the 2021 budget and potentially reallocating some funding from the DPD to other City services.

Please have a look at this summary and the links to additional resources. We are hopeful this will become a valuable space for Metro DNA partners to get to know one another, share different perspectives, and dive into the issues they care about. 

In solidarity, 

Partner Highlight: Environmental Learning for Kids

Creating opportunities for youth of all backgrounds to enjoy nature

Environmental Learning for Kids LogoInterview with Loretta Pineda, Executive Director, Environmental Learning for Kids (ELK)
By: Ben Soofer, Maddie Buel, Brady Olcott, and Maggie Albro (University of Denver)

Dondre Smallwood is a freshman currently enrolled at Colorado State University, but his road to get there started nine years prior. Growing up in Montbello, Dondre lacked access to the resources for engaging with nature until he was introduced to Environmental Learning for Kids.

Dondre Smallwood climbingThroughout nine years of being involved with ELK, Dondre was given the opportunity to fish, hike, camp, visit Mesa Verde, and go to museums in Denver. With the help of ELK, Dondre improved his skills in leadership and self-development.

“Environmental Learning for Kids has helped me see that just because I am a young black man or a minority it does not mean that I cannot get into a good college or get a good job. ELK has given me, and continues to give me, the tools to help and encourage me to keep moving on during hard times in life. They let me know that I can become a useful source in our community and that I am important. I am a Daniels Fund Scholar and that dream was made possible by ELK. Coming into this program is like meeting another family.” – Dondre Smallwood Read more

Stakeholder Convening Summary

Metro DNA Stakeholder WorkshopThank you to Metro DNA partner, the Denver Botanic Gardens, for hosting our Stakeholder Convening on Monday, April 8, and thank you to everyone who participated in a full day of workshops, presentations, and collaboration! This semi-annual gathering is an opportunity for partners and friends to get together and network, learn, and co-create collaborative projects.

We started the day in collaboration with the University of Denver’s Grand Challenges Environmental Sustainability Cohort by exploring collaborative projects around the Metro Denver region to ground and expand their understanding of what is being done, what can be done, and how to measure our collective impact and progress toward shared goals.

Next, Dr. Jennifer Neale, Director of Research & Conservation at the Gardens, shared current projects including the Colorado Mycoflora Project, seed collection efforts, and BioBlitzes on the Highline Canal.

After lunch, the meeting turned toward updates and dialog around our primary collaborative projects: Regional Vision for People + Nature and Nature Narratives. Table-based dialog was facilitated by CU Boulder graduate students and members of the Metro DNA Steering Committee. Many of the ideas, questions, and opportunities shared cut across both projects. The conversations also surfaced needs to better define and communicate expectations of and benefits of becoming a Metro DNA partner and serving on committees and project teams.

Read more

Safe Summer Kick Off on Get Outdoors Day

June 8th at Garfield Lake Park in SouthWest Denver

Get Outdoors Day Colorado and SouthWest Denver Coalition are joining forces to host Safe Summer Kick Off on Get Outdoors Day (SSKO GO), Saturday, June 8, 2019, at Garfield Lake Park from 10am to 3pm. This free, family-friendly event is designed to promote access to healthy and safe outdoor spaces, support under-resourced communities, and celebrate nature exploration.Safe Summer Kick Off on Get Outdoors DayAn exciting coming together of two long-time successful events, this partnership facilitated by the Metro Denver Nature Alliance seeks to strengthen connections between resource providers and the communities they serve; promote healthy, active, outdoor lifestyles; and reflect and celebrate the diversity of people and nature in our region.





Metro DNA welcomes our new Alliance Director!

Metro DNA welcomes our new Alliance Director!

The Metro Denver Nature Alliance Steering Committee is pleased to announce Dana Coelho, as our new – and first – Alliance Director!

After an extensive national search we are so excited that Dana has decided to step into this role.  We all feel Dana is the perfect person to lead us through this crucial time for Metro DNA and our community. Please see Dana’s letter to us all below.

–  Metro DNA Steering Committee


Dear Collaborators,

It is my sincere pleasure to have been selected for this leadership adventure, working alongside some of my most-respected and creative colleagues to continue our evolution toward a region that is a thriving place for people and nature.

Having served on the Metro DNA Steering Committee for the past two years as a representative from the US Forest Service, I am committed to activating our small but mighty organization’s potential to connect, champion, and build capacity among the region’s many capable nature-based partners.

My most recent experience with the US Forest Service has been as Urban & Community Forestry Program Manager for the Rocky Mountain Region. In that capacity I worked alongside five state coordinators from CO, WY, SD, NE, and KS to build vibrant local community forestry programs. On a broader scale, I co-led the Western Urban & Community Forestry Network, co-founded the Denver Urban Field Station, and actively participated in the National Urban Technology & Science Delivery Team. These coalitions co-created products such as the Green Infrastructure in the West publication, the Urban Forest Connections webinar series, and the Vibrant Cities Lab, all freely available resources for conservation practitioners and allied professionals.

Closer to home, I am proud and humbled to have been part of the creation and continued development of Promotores Verdes and United Cultures for Arts + Nature, two partnership programs of Americas for Conservation + the Arts born out of the Metro Denver Latino community’s interests and needs surrounding nature, health, arts, and culture.

As I reflect on what I’ve learned over the past few years and throughout my 18-year career as a sustainability student and practitioner, I am fundamentally drawn to complexity – the dynamic and interconnected nature of the social, biological, and physical world we live in – and equity – the rights that each of us have to health, prosperity, and the opportunity to engage in decisions affecting our lives and our communities. This is precisely the lens that Metro DNA brings to regional conservation.

What we are doing as the Metro Denver Nature Alliance is not new, but it is radical. Our work is motivated by the belief that a coordinated alliance can achieve more than the sum of its parts: as partners jointly consider the intersections among key regional issues, we can develop and implement more equitable, effective, and sustainable solutions.

What we are doing is also place-based, but it is not place-bound. I am immensely thankful for our colleagues working in the US and abroad to affect real change in our urban and community ecosystems, especially the pioneering work of Chicago Wilderness, the Baltimore Ecosystem Study, and the Urban Ecology Center in Milwaukee; the successful alliance models provided by the Portland Intertwine and LA’s Amigos de los Rios; and the connectivity provided through the Urban Waters Partnership, Biophillic Cities Network, and Network for Landscape Conservation.

We are all in this together, so let’s keep moving forward, learning, and co-creating the future we most want, need, and deserve.

With humility,
Dana Coelho