Congrats to Kristen Wilkinson who joined City of Greeley as a GOCO fellow in 2022! The GOCO Fellowship Program supports positions at our partner organizations to prepare young people for careers in the outdoors. GOCO fellows gain experience in the fields of conservation, outdoor recreation, and stewardship while growing a professional skill set to apply to future endeavors.
Tell us a little about yourself. What did you do before you began the fellowship?
I grew up in New Mexico, spending my formative years living at the end of a dirt road many miles from the nearest town. Growing up in a place where the best entertainment option was to dig a hole or catch bugs gave me a strong connection to nature, which has guided my path in many ways.
When I got to college, I studied Biology, convinced that I wanted to work in a genetics lab--that is, until I tried working in a lab. The solitary, indoor work wasn’t for me. I shifted gears to environmental education and found a passion for working with kids and facilitating their connection to nature. I did that for 10 years, until I had a baby and decided that I didn’t have the capacity to work with kids all day and then go home to my own child. So, I looked for ways I could continue connecting people to nature, perhaps on a community scale. I also wanted to address some of barriers to accessing nature that I had observed in my work. I applied for the GOCO Fellow position at City of Greeley Natural Areas & Trails because I was inspired by the work the division was doing within the Greeley community and I wanted to be part of a community-wide natural areas program. So far, the position is exactly the right fit for me!
What’s been one of the best experiences of your life so far?
Being a mother is one of the most challenging and rewarding experiences of my life. It has re-shaped my sense of who I am and my purpose. I’m constantly in awe as my little one learns and grows. She’s beginning to explore her world, and I get to witness all her frustrations and discoveries. I hope that she develops a love for nature and can access and enjoy the natural world wherever she goes in her life.
What have you learned so far through the fellowship experience?
I’m learning how to take a project from the idea phase to reality. My type A personality struggles with the uncertain nature of this work; it’s very much like building the plane while flying it. It requires me to start working on a course of action but remain flexible enough to adjust if needed. I’m learning how to work through an iterative process both internally and in collaboration with the community. This process is very interesting and rewarding.
How do you think the outdoors contributes to communities or to individuals’ quality of life?
I personally find that spending time in nature is very rejuvenating and important for my physical and mental health. I think access to safe, welcoming outdoor spaces is vital for a community’s quality of life. It’s incredibly rewarding to work for an organization that shares this value and is working towards more equitable access to nature in Greeley.
What are some of your favorite things to do outside?
I love to hike with my family. It’s become a bit of a family tradition to visit the high elevations of Colorado in July to see the alpine wildflowers. I also like to paddleboard, camp, and garden. I have never lost my love for exploring the natural world, so you may find me catching grasshoppers or observing a spider as it goes about its daily business.