| Ford Church

Fourteeners Give Colorado Kids An Escape Route to the Great Outdoors

Longs Peak Mike WilsonDenver artist Mike Wilson, who has painted magnificent watercolors of the highest peaks in Colorado, has joined forces with Cottonwood Institute, an award-winning 501(c)3 educational non-profit organization based in Denver, in an effort to break down barriers to get more underrepresented kids outdoors and inspire them to be leaders for the environment. Wilson’s and Cottonwood’s goal: To sell the entire collection, which was recently featured in a one-man show at the Lafayette Gallery, and use the proceeds to provide more opportunities for kids to get outside, through the programs and initiatives of the Cottonwood Institute.

According to the Children & Nature Network, kids today spend over 50 hours per week on some device and spend 90% of their time indoors. This has significantly increased during the pandemic. Kids today are losing their connection with nature and yet in a few years they will be expected to solve the most pressing issues our planet has ever faced in human history. However, students are not learning the 21st century skills they need to be leaders, problem-solvers, and changemakers to address these problems. This is where the Cottonwood Institute and Mike Wilson hope to step in. Using the proceeds of the sale of these 53 paintings, plus fine art posters based on them, Cottonwood will fund additional efforts to get more kids outside into the state’s wilderness areas and tackling hyper-local environmental issues.

“Over the last five years I have painted a series of portraits of Colorado’s 14 thousand foot peaks (aka the 14ers),” Wilson says. “I found a way to view them from locations not available to hikers. I have made watercolor portraits of these mountains using images from the internet. The watercolors are 18″ by 24″ and provide a look at each mountain’s most attractive side. Each mountain gets its best lighting, best background, and even its most striking snow cover. These are portraits.”

The potential market for these images is huge. Half a million people climb Fourteeners every year in Colorado, and the state’s outdoor market accounts for $38 billion in sales. Mike Wilson’s paintings fall squarely at the nexus point of those two numbers, and could provide a peak experience to the right sponsor. Wilson and Cottonwood seek a buyer who would acquire the entire collection, support its dissemination through a number of products and channels, and use the proceeds to train the next generation of outdoor stewards. The fate of the planet may rest on initiatives like this one.

Says Cottonwood founder and executive director Ford Church, “As soon as I saw Mike’s paintings, I knew we’d have an extraordinary opportunity to connect Colorado’s Fourteener fanatics with kids who really need the great outdoors. Cottonwood Institute is on a mission to connect middle and high school students to the outdoors and inspire them to become leaders, problem-solvers, and changemakers in their communities. Just as the Fourteeners rise to the heights above Colorado, we aim to help kids do the same. Mike’s collection will be a great way to help us do that.”

Individuals, corporations, or municipalities interested in buying the Fourteener collection, and educating the next generation of outdoor leaders, can contact ford@cottonwoodinstitute.org, or call 303.447.1076, x700. Mike Wilson can be reached at mgwilson@ecentral.com. Visit https://www.cottonwoodinstitute.org/ for more information on the Cottonwood’s mission, history, and staff. Learn more about Mike Wilson’s artwork at https://www.mgwilsonstudio.com/

Written By: Peter Moore, a decorated magazine journalist and former Editor of Men’s Health magazine. Peter is currently writing Road2Elsewhere where he is tracking is own gleanings and mistakes from a lifetime of purposeful travel, harvesting insights from the best memoirists and travel writers,  including paintings and drawings and cartoons he made along the way.


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