While Steve Hitchcock is the kind of man who appreciates a long hike and a good beer, he never imagined his personal preferences for the ideal day would eventually become the model for a successful local nonprofit.
But what originated as a pastime for Hitchcock soon took root in the community, and in 2013 his “Upa Mountain, Downa Beer” routine became a 501(c)3 organization called UpaDowna.
The mission of the Colorado Springs-based organization is to “educate and promote adventure for all ages and abilities,” according to UpaDowna’s website. “UpaDowna’s vision includes keeping true to its core by retaining a focus on our traditions, but also by expanding the outdoor gear and product review section as well as developing classes and adventures from day hikes to expeditions throughout Colorado. UpaDowna is here to break down the barriers to a fulfilling and exciting life of adventure.”
Part of the inspiration to turn UpaDowna into a full-fledged nonprofit was noticing the exclusivity the local outdoors culture can sometimes create, he said. There were outdoors organizations targeting specific demographics, he said, but none to bring them all together. So he made one.
“We know society will be better if we all remember what it’s like to be a human being,” he said. “We can all do this together. And when people remember that we’re all human — and that’s actually a good thing — everybody wins.”
Hitchcock runs the organization as CEO with his wife Randi, who serves as chief operating officer. Their friends and compatriots Robert Mitchell and Ryan Ross serve as UpaDowna’s outreach coordinator and program manager.
Since its inception, the nonprofit has grown from a basic beer-and-hiking “adventure club,” as Hitchcock calls it, to offering half a dozen different programs for people of all ages and backgrounds. Among those are:
• Climb Night — a class designed to introduce people of all ages to indoor rock climbing;
• Third Sunday Adventures — a program aimed at connecting people to the natural world around them;
• Adventure on Tap — a networking event each month at the Ute & Yeti (21 N. Nevada Ave.);
• Camping — the last one was a backpacking trip in Colorado’s Lost Creek Wilderness in August;
• Stand Up Paddleboarding — a program that introduces people of all kinds to the sport; and
• The Pedal Party — a summertime bicycle ride in Colorado Springs.
“We’re selling fun — we’re pushing positivity,” he said. “We don’t believe in limiting you, and we don’t believe in reverse discrimination. We want everyone to get a chance to play.”
Hitchcock said he and his wife have now started dreaming about traveling around the country, spreading the good word of UpaDowna.
“The mission of UpaDowna is completely scalable and possible in any city,” Hitchcock said. “Because you can accomplish any one, if not all, of our six programs anywhere you go. All it really takes is getting outside.”
But that task isn’t without its challenges. The organization’s interest in inclusion, diversity and not being pigeonholed to any specific cause or movement means it is continually difficult for UpaDowna to raise funds. But Hitchcock says he’s confident that stakeholders will continue to support programs like his, which serves as a nontraditional educational platform and promotes the philosophy that nature is a level playing field.
“Why don’t we just be people, and take the word community back to its original definition of being inclusive of all people,” he said.
“We know that if we can create positivity through nature, people will start caring about nature. And when you care about nature, you become a healthier person mentally and physically.”
Editor’s note: The Give! campaign is an end-of-year donation drive for local nonprofits, sponsored by the CSBJ’s sister paper, the Colorado Springs Independent. To learn more about the 72 nonprofits benefiting from Give! or to donate, go to indygive.com.