Winter Cities Shake Up conference

From left, 8 80 Cities Executive Director Amanda O’Rourke, Get Outdoors Leadville! Director Beth Helmke, Lake County Recreation Director Amber Magee, City of Leadville Administrative Services Director Sarah Dallas, 8 80 Cities Director of Programs Ryan O’Connor and 8 80 Cities Project Manager David Simor pose together at the Winter Cities Shake Up conference in Saskatoon, Canada, in January.

Leadville is now a “Wintermission” city.

Under the guidance of Toronto-based nonprofit 8 80 Cities, Leadville will plan and implement solutions to improve public life and reduce social isolation during Lake County’s coldest months. Cloud City was selected for the pilot program, alongside Buffalo, N.Y., and Eau Claire, Wis., out of 62 cities.

“Winter is a time when people tend to cut back on social and physical activity, and community life dries up. That can have a negative impact on health and well-being,” 8 80 Cities partner Sharon Roerty said. The nonprofit has worked in 37 countries and over 200 cities across the globe.

Earlier this winter, Get Outdoors Leadville! Director Beth Helmke assembled an interdisciplinary team of leaders to contribute to Wintermission’s application including the City of Leadville, Lake County Recreation Department and Public Library, Cloud City Conservation Center, Build a Generation and more.

“8 80 Cities liked that we had different groups at the table who are already doing work together,” Helmke said of Leadville’s selection. “They wanted a community who was ready to create a strategic plan not just an event.”

Over the next two years, the team will develop an asset-driven community engagement plan, an 8 80 Cities financed $15,000 pilot project and a final winter strategy for the county. The end goal is to increase social interaction and physical activity among residents of all ages and demographics during the winter, particularly newcomer families and vulnerable communities.

“If everything we did in our cities prioritized the safety and health of 8-year-olds and 80-year-olds, then we would create successful cities for all,” a Wintermission press release stated.

The project also aims to identify culturally-relevant ways for Lake County’s different ethnic groups to connect with winter as much of winter culture in the U.S., including the ski and hockey industry, is white dominated.

In January, Helmke, City of Leadville Administrative Services Manager Sarah Dallas and Lake County Recreation Director Amber Magee traveled to Saskatoon, Canada, to attend the Winter Cities Shake-Up conference. The women convened with the 8 80 Cities representatives who will guide Lake County’s team throughout the Wintermission program and collected ideas on how to improve public life locally in the winter.

Helmke, Dallas and Magee attended sessions on winterized lighting, “hygge,” a Scandinavian concept of coziness and comfort, winter-focused youth programming, public mobility and plowing in the snow and more. Saskatoon highlighted local winter-friendly initiatives for conference attendees each night; some of the activities included ice skating and an interpretive walk lead by a First Nations elder.

The trio is now back in Leadville where the weather seems tropical compared to Saskatoon’s humid below freezing temperatures. They participated in their first team call with 8 80 Cities and partner organization the Child and Nature Network this week and will continue to lead community engagement efforts throughout the winter.

Representatives from the nonprofits will travel to Leadville on skijoring weekend for a site visit. They will meet stakeholders, talk to locals and get a sense of the town.

“I think we already have a good sense of ourselves as a winter community,” Helmke said. “We want to expand on that.”

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