For the past 7 years, the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation has awarded the Culture of Health Prize to American communities that are pursuing innovative ideas and creating solutions to put good health within everyone’s reach. This summer, I photographed one of the five winning communities: Lake County, Colorado, nestled amongst the highest peaks of the Rocky Mountains. The area is characterized by a rich mining history that ended when the last mine closed in 1995, devastating the local economy. After struggling with poor health outcomes for children and teens and failing schools, the county has turned itself around in the last ten years with the strength of its partnerships between county government agencies, local nonprofits, grassroots activists and engaged youth, particularly amongst Latinx residents, who make up a third of the population.
No matter the issue, the county uses a tried-and-true formula to improve the lives of its residents: review data, engage many voices, make a plan, act on it together, measure success.
You can read more about the Culture of Health Prize winners
Cristina Reveles and her 19 year old son Brayhan in front of the new pedestrian crosswalk that connects Colorado Mountain College with Lake County High School across Highway 24 in Leadville, Colorado. The project was initiated by Brayhan, a Colorado Mountain College student and Healthy Eating/Active Living coordinator at Lake County Build a Generation and his mother Cristina, who has advocated for safe routes to schools since Brayhan was a child.
The Lake Fork manufactured housing park in Leadville, Colorado. Many residents work in the tourism industry in surrounding resort towns like Breckenridge and Vail.
Alma Macias, Anabel Dominguez and Rosa Lopez stand on the busy state-owned highway next to the Mountain View manufactured housing park in Leadville, Colorado. After participating in the Family Leadership Training Institute 20 week civic engagement program they raised community support to build a new playground at the housing park, worked with the fire department to install fire and carbon monoxide detectors and advocated for a safe pedestrian crossing on the highway.
Juan Manuel Perea, 11 plays on the playground at the Mountain View manufactured housing park in Leadville, Colorado. His mother and other residents who participated in the Family Leadership Training Institute 20 week civic engagement program have raised community support to build a new playground at the housing park.
Becca Katz leads a Taking Kids Outdoors workshop for Lake County School District staff at Ice Palace Park in Leadville, Colorado. The 3.5 hour workshop by Get Outdoors Leadville! helps educators develop a toolkit for how to teach kids outdoors effectively including planning/prep, student management, risk management, Leave No Trace, and practicing inclusivity in outdoor spaces.
Jackie Radilla and Cisco Tharp organize camping gear at the Get Outdoors Leadville! community Gear Library, which shares gear and outdoor recreation knowledge at low-to-no cost, reducing barriers to getting outdoors and recreating in Lake County, Colorado. Radilla is the Community Hub Coordinator and manager of GOL! Gear Library and Tharp is the Healthy Kids Director.
Lake County High School senior and student rep Michaela Sanchez gives updates about the beginning of the school year at a meeting of the Lake County School District Board of Directors in Leadville, Colorado.
9th and 10th graders from Lake County High School spend the day at Colorado Mountain College in Leadville, Colorado for an Outdoor Community Building Day to focus on strengthening bonds within school “crews”. The goals for the day include building a sense of each crew as a family within the larger school family and fostering a relationship with a trusted adult (crew leader).
Lani Meyer, farm manager of Cloud City Farm and Kendra Kurihara, Executive Director of Cloud City Conservation Center, examine cucumbers growing in the geodesic dome greenhouse at the farm in Leadville, Colorado. Partners in Lake County have taken steps to address the county’s status as a “food swamp,” where unhealthy food outlets outnumber healthy ones 17 to 1. Cloud City Farm aims to boost healthful options. In 2018, its first year of production, the farm provided more than 1,200 pounds of locally grown produce to the community via a farm stand, donations to a local church’s meals program, and vouchers for Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or SNAP, participants.
Lani Meyer and Kim Jackson, examine the compost bin at Cloud City Farm and Conservation Center which offers community compost drop-off, providing soil for the farm in Leadville, Colorado.
Amanda Good rides her bike during a family trail ride with the Cloud City Wheelers, a bike club which promotes cycling opportunities, and has been building and maintaining trail systems in Leadville and Lake County, Colorado since 2007.
Howard Tritz, an 83-year-old former employee of the Climax Mine, walks on the Mineral Belt Trail, an 11.6 mile all-season biking/walking trail that loops around Leadville, Colorado and through its historic mining district.
Lake County High School students take a semester long fly fishing class at Crystal Lake outside of Leadville, Colorado through a partnership between Lake County High School and Get Outdoors Leadville! Three days a week the students are in class learning about fly rod construction and two days a week they go out and fish at various local places with instructor Colin McFee.
A Lake County High School student writes during a Wilderness Experience class at Colorado Mountain College in Leadville, Colorado. The dual-enrollment course offers Lake County High School students the opportunity to earn both high school and college credit while learning leadership, camping, and backcountry travel skills. The course is taught by Becca Katz of Get Outdoors Leadville! and Cooper Mallozzi, professor of Outdoor Education at Colorado Mountain College.