Steve Hitchcock and his nonprofit UpaDowna are on a mission to slow people down and show them the value of community. The 37-year-old Florida native serves as executive director of the organization, which aims to provide access to outdoor adventures and bring all walks of life together on the trail. Hitchcock, also known as “Yeti,” is also a husband, father, military veteran, beer lover and outdoorsman. He spoke with the Business Journal about what UpaDowna means, how it has evolved and the impact he hopes it has on the Colorado Springs community.
Where are you from and how did you end up in Colorado Springs?
I was brought here by the military in 2004. I’m originally from Jacksonville, Fla., but I’ll never, ever go back there. … My entire life I’ve spent a lot of time outdoors — hiking and biking, climbing and skiing, running and jumping, skipping and scraping and just getting dirty — and I love it. Colorado is a great place to do that, especially Colorado Springs because we’re so close to Pikes Peak, Pike National Forest, the trails and open spaces. There’s no better place to be involved both with the human culture as well as nature.
Can you tell me a bit about your education and military service?
I went to Northern Arizona University in Flagstaff and was a philosophy major. … After that, I joined the Army, went in as a private and then 9/11 happened. I went to Germany, then Iraq, and then after some incidents in Iraq and a couple of surgeries I was brought here and medically discharged/retired.
How did UpaDowna get started?
I had been doing the UpaDowna thing in Germany since 2002. We knew we were going to war and a lot of the soldiers were 18 or 19 years old and afraid they were going to die. They weren’t retaining the information and it was extremely important that they did. So I started taking them into the Swiss Alps and we’d go up mountains and teach tactics, movements and drills in our civilian clothes and then we’d come down, camp and drink good, strong German beer. Those are the “up a mountain, down a beer” roots.
What role do you feel it has played in the community?
One of the greatest things UpaDowna has done is help me. I moved to Green Mountain Falls to escape people but now it’s forced therapy, if you will. Being able to share my passions with others helps me deal with some of the stresses of combat. I didn’t know what community was — I thought it was a word used as a catchphrase for someone to sell you something. … It doesn’t matter where you come from, whether you’re rich or poor, if you’re underdeveloped or overdeveloped, whether you have a disability or some hang-up — we’re all part of it, and that is what UpaDowna stands for.
We truly are a community. We’re everybody, and we’re not exclusive. That’s a valuable lesson for me, and I think that is a valuable lesson for the world. We’re all people but we just have to respect each other. … Outdoors, everyone comes together around this one thing, and that is the experience. Nature opens up a new part of us and we become more in tune with ourselves and each other.
How has UpaDowna evolved since it started?
When I came here, I was pretty wound up still and had a lot of anxiety — it’s really hard going from being shot at constantly to come to a city where things come at you from every direction. I started just getting out in nature and began asking people if they’d like to come along … and people liked it. Then we started doing the Incline happy hour. We would hike the Incline (before it was legal), drink a beer at the top and run down the Barr Trail. That grew to 70 people through word of mouth. Then we started teaching classes and the name UpaDowna slowly started to stick. … It was just a club where we would go for a hike and drink a beer, climb a 14er and drink a beer, get outdoors and drink some beers. That’s the Colorado mountain lifestyle — bust your ass on the trail and enjoy a craft beer. … Then Michael Hannigan and the Pikes Peak Community Foundation took us under their wing and gave us some of the tools to really do it. Now we’re community-supported rather than having to rely on advertising dollars through our website. … I’d rather have a little money for the right reasons than a lot of money for the wrong reasons.
What do you think of the young professional community in Colorado Springs?
I think a revolution is coming and we’re seeing it right now in Colorado Springs. We’re starting the Ute and Yeti pub over at City Rock, which is an effort between a climbing gym and a nonprofit to raise money but it’s also to build community. … The problem I think Colorado Springs has with young professionals is that the young professionals aren’t opening their damn eyes.
Look around: There are great groups, there are great organizations and there are great resources. This is the rebirth of America! We have people who are creative, passionate and hard-working. We may not have a lot of money, but we love what we do and we’re not going to let anything stop us. That’s what young professionals need to do. … Stop whining and get engaged; you’re the voice of change, so if you want something, then do it and don’t take no for an answer.