Colorado libraries of all kinds are celebrating summer by launching a statewide collaboration with Colorado Parks and Wildlife (CPW). The Check Out Colorado State Parks program allows library patrons to borrow a backpack containing a CPW pass, which admits a carload of visitors into any of the state’s 42 parks.
June 20, the first day of summer, was the official launch of the program, at a press conference hosted by Denver Public Library, which included appearances by Lieutenant Governor Donna Lynne, Department of Natural Resources deputy director Bob Randall, and Colorado State Librarian Eugene Hainer.
Patrons can check out the backpack, which also includes binoculars and educational materials, from one of 287 libraries throughout the state, free of charge, for a full week. This includes every branch of every public library, three military libraries, and 17 academic libraries in the state of Colorado.
The program was spearheaded by Beth Crist, youth and family services consultant for the Colorado State Library, who had been toying with the idea for years. She and library development director Sharon Morris began conversations with CPW and discovered that librarians and park rangers have a lot in common. “The partnership we developed with the park rangers has been great; in every meeting we are all on the same page,” Morris said. Crist and Morris initially met with parks staff last summer to discuss partnership opportunities. The agencies quickly identified the “ParkPass” park/library program model in Georgia, from which they adapted the design of the Colorado program. Said Crist, she is “grateful for wonderful partners at the State Parks as well as the public libraries. They have been so very enthusiastic and willing to go out on this adventure together!”
Each Colorado library has been provided with two backpacks, the Park Pass, and a set of binoculars funded through CPW. The Colorado State Library provided the educational materials, including items such as laminated Colorado Wildlife, Tree, and Wildflower viewing guides; an outdoor ethical use guide from Leave No Trace; and an evaluation and use survey used for feedback to strengthen the program. Each library will also receive a subscription to Colorado Outdoors Magazine.
Backpacks will be catalogued using MARC records and each library will decide whether to allow patrons the ability to place a hold on the item or treat it as a “LUCKY DAY” pickup item. More information is available in the Check Out Colorado State Parks Toolkit.
First foray a success
Check Out Colorado State Parks first debuted as a pilot in fall 2015 at eight public libraries in both urban and rural areas. CPW marketing coordinator and planning team member Debbie Lininger said State Parks and Wildlife have some real strengths in getting the word out to their very broad base of supporters, which includes biologists, law enforcement personnel, and especially people who are interested in the state park network. Several Denver television news channels covered the press conference and Colorado Public Radio featured the program during their Morning Edition newscast.
Lininger thought the project was a “natural partnership, with both groups focused on similar goals of encouraging people go to new, experiential learning [opportunities].” As the evaluations and feedback poured in, she said they “definitely had very positive comments coming out of the pilot program. We used evaluations and lessons learned…to simplify some of the items in the backpack.”
Jackie Kuusinen, manager at the Anythink library in Brighton said her “biggest concern was the sheer number of items (originally more than 20) to confirm every time we check [a backpack] in. But my fears were not really warranted.” Not one item went missing from any of the backpacks at any of the eight locations during the entire time of the pilot.
When asked about the program itself, Kuusinen couldn’t be more excited. “The pilot was absolutely wonderful. Fifteen to 20 people showed up before we even had the backpacks at the library. People are coming to library looking for things they could be doing and they were so excited to have access to these tremendous resources and activities.” The pilot was so popular, many locations experienced holds and at one point this spring the Aurora Public Library had over 90 people on the waiting list.
“Barr Lake State Park is just 15 minutes from the Brighton Anythink library,” Kuusinen said, “but folks used the backpack to explore parks that aren’t so close to our branch. They are driving farther away. It sparks people’s curiosity and people are getting excited about exploring the whole area, and perhaps the whole state. There is a sense of adventure outside the realm our own community.”
The increased access to state parks for first timers also helps to celebrate and sustain the 2016 summer theme of health and wellness for both CPW and libraries. The collaboration has already fostered some closer collaborative relationships.
The Anythink pilot library has a STEAM focus and after a staff visit to Barr Lake, Kuusinen realized both the park service and library are actively engaged in hands-on experiential learning.
As a result, Barr Lake Park ranger Michelle Seubert and other naturalists partnered with Anythink to present programs at the library on the second Tuesday of every month with topics such as endangered species, habitat, and more. Friends of the Park are even working with Anythink patrons to build and install bird feeders on the library property as an extension of this partnership.
Crist said library staff are exploring additional programing ideas such as placing picture book StoryWalks on state park trails, installing Little Free Libraries at park trailheads, and taking field trips for story times at nearby park sites. Users of the backpacks are encouraged to post pictures on Instagram or Twitter using the hashtag #CheckOutColorado, so the rest of the community can be inspired by their travels.
“We would do it again in a heartbeat,” Kuusinen said. “It is has been awesome. It is a great addition for our community and they are very grateful for it.”