Breckenridge Outdoor Education Center celebrates 40th birthday | SummitDaily.com

Breckenridge Outdoor Education Center celebrates 40th birthday

Elise Reuter
ereuter@summitdaily.com

The campers gingerly crawled across the spider's web of cables, ladders and platforms woven around the lodgepole pines. The wheelchair-accessible high-ropes course, open last week to participants with the Brain Injury Alliance, ended with a quick zipline trip to the base of the Breckenridge Outdoor Education Center's Wilderness Campus.

BOEC has worked with the Brain Injury Alliance for several years, among several other groups the center hosts each year. A wall-length calendar in their office is packed with dates, each one a program for one of the hundreds of agencies they serve.

Breckenridge Nordic Center owner Gene Dayton is the mastermind behind BOEC. After moving to Summit County, he began offering adaptive Nordic ski courses for people with disabilities, partnering with Olav Pedersen, founder of the Ski for Light program, and local doctor Aris Sophocles to create the BOEC.

"That evolved two years later into BOEC's adaptive sports program," executive director Bruce Fitch said. "Gene's vision was to create Outward Bound for the disabled."

In 1976, the center acquired their current Wilderness Campus, the old Breckenridge town reservoir at the base of Peak 9. An old mining cabin, which used to serve as BOEC's main operations, still rests on the wooded shore.

In 1981, the center began offering a downhill ski program at Ski Cooper. Thanks to advancements in adaptable ski technology, it has little resemblance to the current program.

Recommended Stories For You

"Back then there wasn't any adaptive ski equipment," Fitch said. "Just a sled and rope."

Volunteers would tow people up the mountain, and let them "ski" down about 200 yards. Now, BOEC has offered adaptive ski programs to more than 900 students at the Breckenridge and Keystone Ski Resorts.

While the center began offering wilderness courses shortly after, the donation of the Scott Griffith Lodge in 1994 advanced the program by large strides. Richard and Anne Griffith donated it in memory of their son, a BOEC client who died of cancer.

"A lot of our clientele needed a residential site," Fitch said. "I think that was the trigger that got our summer program going."

helping those who serve

Since 2008, the number of military BOEC has served has tripled, the center's development director Marci Sloan said.

"We've been able to grow with some unique opportunities," Sloan said. "We've been able to do a little bit more because of funding."

The the center hosts Wounded Heroes Family Adventures every year, with the goal of supporting both veterans and their families.

"It changes lives," Fitch said.

A retired Army Sergeant Major, Robert Ahern III, wrote BOEC after going on a six-day rafting trip with his family through the canyon of Lodore.

"The first day on the rafts and in the river was so exciting; my family was astonished at the natural beauty of the canyons," he said. "This trip brought my family so much closer and made me forget my anger with the war. We have built a lifetime of memories together and strengthened our family bonds over those six short days."

To open their programs to as many as possible, BOEC subsidizes program fees by 60 percent. They also have a scholarship fund for individuals or families unable to meet program costs.

"The bottom line is we're not turning people away," board chairman Tim Casey said.

"We're proud of that," Fitch added. "A lot of people we work with, the disability has wiped them out financially."

BOEC serves a wide spectrum of disabilities, from those who have lost the ability to walk, to those suffering from PTSD, to children and adults with mental health concerns. They also work with local at-risk youth, and provide programs for survivors of domestic violence.

SEEKING CAPITAL

In 2015, the center launched a capital finance campaign with four goals: creating staff housing, expanding program activities, increasing their scholarship endowment and upgrading administrative support facilities. To start, the nonprofit is seeking $1.85 million to address these needs.

"The biggest obstacle for working for BOEC is finding a place you can afford," Fitch said. "We quickly identified we have to do something to help with that situation."

Seeking out local architect Jon Gunson to redesign a leaky roof at their headquarters, a former Town of Breckenridge sanitation building, he suggested that adding another floor to the building would be possible. The third floor would offer apartments for BOEC's eight core staff, many of whom work on a seasonal basis.

"We've had all of these wonderful affordable housing initiatives. But even those aren't affordable for us," Fitch said. "We want to do anything we can to attract and retain quality staff."

In addition, the center plans to add an elevator to their headquarters, making it wheelchair accessible. They also plan to add loft storage to the warehouse space, increasing capacity by 60 percent.

BOEC has already seen several in-kind donations for the project, including structural engineers working pro-bono, Rock Ridge Builders offering their services in construction.

"These were two major contributions right out of the gate," Fitch said. "The in-kind support for this project has been unbelievable."

The center has also seen significant support from the town of Breckenridge and Vail Resorts. The town offered BOEC a 50-year lease for their headquarters and a 25-year lease for their Wilderness Campus, both at $1 per year.

Vail Resorts donates free lift tickets for students, volunteers and staff, as well as two offices at the base of Keystone and Breckenridge, in exchange for BOEC offering their adaptive skiing services at the ski school.

"We fulfill that function," Fitch said. "BOEC would not exist without all their support."

The Summit Foundation also donated $50,000 to the capital campaign, an Breckenridge Grand Vacations contributed an equal amount. This leaves BOEC with a remaining $250,000 to reach their fundraising goal.

Of course, the most valuable donation is the more than 300 volunteers who offer their time; a handful of them serve as lead ski instructors.

"What a generous community Summit County is," Fitch said. "People have stepped up in spades. It's extraordinary; more than we'd ever expect."

by the numbers

$76,362 in ski scholarships extended to Ski Program participants

19,627 hours donated by 325 volunteers

9,258 program days 112 veterans served

955 students took ski/snowboard lessons

32 percent of students received scholarships

60 percent participants from Colorado

81 percent of funds go to program services

12 percent of funds go to administrative costs

Go back to article