There has been a slew of sightings of a mysterious creature across Colorado. Eight feet tall, the big wooly beast lumbers along on two legs, with the face of friendly goat and the body of a Yeti — maybe a touch of sheepdog and the Hoth snow monster from “Empire Strikes Back” thrown in, too.
His name is Wilder, and his natural habitat is, well, nature. The mythic creature padded his way through the Olathe Sweet Corn Festival, where children kept running up to confront him.
“Are you real?” demanded 5-year-old Aubrey Witte, craning to see his slight smile.
He roared in response.
Wilder is real, at least aspects of him, stressed Chris Castilian, executive director of Great Outdoors Colorado. The new mascot for the outdoors embodies the “wonder and curiosity we all experience while we're out in nature,” he explained.
GOCO has shepherded Wilder to events throughout the state for a few months as the new face the nonprofit’s Generation Wild campaign. The effort, which has been going on since 2017, is all about helping youngsters feel comfortable and confident being outside.
“Kids need that experience, that unstructured playtime to be able to grow into the, you know, the people that we want them to grow into,” said Castilian, who cited a recent University of Michigan study that found kids get fewer than 7 minutes a day of outdoor play.
“That’s less than any other generation.”
The hope is that Generation Wild breaks this cycle and GOCO has given grants to 15 community organizations across the Colorado trying to help. Their list of 100 outdoor activities kids should do before they turn 12 was an early success along with other whimsical ideas, like a touring fairytale fort and installing temporary eyes on trees.
Wilder, however, is by far the campaign’s flashiest, furriest addition. You can spot him on billboards, stickers and temporary tattoos. He even stars in his own video about a young girl who befriends him, then loses touch as she grows into adulthood.
“And I dare you not to cry at it,” Castilian said.
Don’t worry, it has a happy ending. But Castilian acknowledges that there is a bittersweet, nostalgic aspect to Wilder, a creature that harkens back to the kind of childhood he had. He and his brother would spend all day outside exploring trails and ditches and streams, only returning home for dinner.
“What we're trying to do is give parents that confidence, that the outdoors are a fun place to be, a safe place to be,” he said.
Generation Wild wants to teach, wants to charm, whatever it takes to get youngsters hooked on nature. Even if it takes a Yeti-goat chimera.