#008 Supporting the Arts in Breckenridge with Becca Spiro of BreckCreate


Colorado.FM Interview with Becca Spiro of BreckCreate

Thanks for tuning in to Colorado.FM – The Colorado Podcast.

In this episode, I had a chance to travel to Breckenridge to sit down and chat with Becca Spiro, Director of Learning and Engagement at Breckenridge Creative Arts, also known when you see their facilities and events walking around town as Breck Create.

If you have wandered around Breckenridge, you’ve probably seen the Breck Create buildings in the middle of town which include artist studios, a theatre, the Masonic Hall, and many more.

I was curious what they were up to so reached out to Becca, and she was kind enough to take some time to explain a little more about the history of Breck Create and what the organization’s role in the town is, and some of her favorite events that they put on – some well known and others maybe less so.

Online, you can find them at and on instagram @breckcreate.

And, of course, we’ll be sure to put any relevant links to find them or anyone else we talk about in the show notes.

Alright, so here we go, my conversation with Becca Spiro of Breckenridge Creative Arts, or BreckCreate.


Subscribe to Colorado.FM – The Colorado Podcast – on iTunes

Selected Links from the Episode

Connect with BreckCreate:


Facebook or Instagram @breckcreate



Wave Festival

Dia De Los Muertos

Trail Mix

Breckenridge Music Festival

Breckenridge International Festival of Art (BIFA)

Unsilent Night



Phil Klein

Nikki Pike

Michael McGillis

Craig Walsh


Other References:

Denver Art Museum

Breckenridge Tourism Office

Breckenridge Heritage Alliance

National Repertory Orchestra

Breckenridge Theater Company


Local Trails:

Moonstone Trail

Iowa Hill Trail

Blair Witch Trail


Related Episodes

Boulder Creative Collective



Everyone Doug Stetzer here and thanks for tuning back into Colorado FM the Colorado podcast.

So the next few episodes are super fun since I was literally able to take the show on the road and go visit some amazing people and companies and organizations across Colorado.

My road trip took me to Breckenridge Crested Butte raise Silverton and a nice big loop some cool stops in between some of these places I’d never actually been to before so that was awesome. And in typical fall Colorado fashion had all the seasons started off with some snow. Rain warm sun by the end to some great mountain biking and hiking it was absolutely amazing.

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Anyway my first stop was in Breckenridge and I had a chance to sit down and chat with Becca Sphero the director of learning and engagement at Breckenridge Creative Arts also known. When you see their facilities and events and signs walking around town as Breck create.

Now if you are one around Breckenridge you’ve probably seen the brick buildings in the middle of town which include arder studios and theater the old Masonic Hall on the main drag there and many more other facilities there which they’ve really fixed up beautifully and so I was curious what they’re up to and reached out to Becca. She was kind enough to take some time. Explain a little more about the history of brique create what the organization’s role in the town is. Some of her favorite events that they put on which is really great insight because you know some of them are. They’re more well-known ones but also she really gets into some other maybe less known events that she really enjoys So that was really fun to learn about.

Online and you can find them at Breck create dot org. And also on Instagram at Brick create. And of course is always you know we’ll put all the relevant links to find them in the show notes as well as anyone else we speak with or mention or any other resources that are helpful. So all right here we go.

My conversation with Becca Spiro of Breckenridge creative arts or Breck create.

  1. Becca thank you for making some time. This is actually. Normally I start off by saying thanks for coming over to the studio but I am doing one of my first ones on location so thanks for having me. Yeah. Thanks for coming in Breckenridge creative arts. All right. So you know we were catching up a little bit just before we started. And

one of the things we were speaking about was that BCA is actually relatively young. It was founded in 2014. And why don’t you just fill us in on what was going on before that and what was that transition going on whether it’s in the arts scene in Breckenridge or the town that kind of precipitated the need for for putting all of these assets together under one roof under the BCA Sure.

So around 2001 the town started renovating what is now the Arts District and there are these buildings on Main Street in Washington. And they were in pretty bad shape like falling over. So a lot of money went into the renovations and those happened between 2001 2008 and then you know we had this beautiful arts district but these facilities you know didn’t have anyone to manage them. So that’s actually kind of how it came into being. As more of like these Yeah facility managers and you know yeah we were just charged with part of these organizational partners that would animate the spaces and then it was kind of like loose like we had this in your operating budget from the town and the it just grew from there. And so yes come a pretty long way since then.

Right. So that’s interesting. So it started off like actually your word used earlier was just the landlords they were starting to put together all of these buildings you know put money into renovating it.

There must have been some kind of master plan behind why they would create this art center in town and I guess a lot of ski towns do invest in that and do have that kind of history right. But I guess Brecht was trying to just take it out to another level.

Yeah I guess so. So he kind of designated in the renovation of the campus.

Each of the buildings was designated for different media. So we have a ceramics studio and a hot shop and a theater textiles and print making all of this on a color we are now is kind of our one of our exhibition spaces and so yeah we’re basically trying to create more of this cohesive arts district campus that people could come and offers an alternative tourism to what currently exists. So you know providing an opportunity are you continuing to provide an opportunity for locals like a center for the arts and culture but also for our visitors here are coming. And some people hoping you know hoping to draw more of that cultural tourism. But then also to draw in the tourists who are coming to ski or to bike. And they might stumble upon Breckenridge creative arts and end up having this wonderful experience. Sure

. It’s there’s a lot of ways to actually participate in that right. There’s a lot of classes and things like that they’re available to the public. I know every time I’ve come to town over the summer there’s been something going on here. Yes but you also do have these artisan residents and I was looking through some of their bio’s and it seems like my impression was that the majority are from Colorado but not necessarily from Colorado including you know some from Europe and all over the U.S.. I mean what is the kind of filter system there are you trying to just bring in a lot of different styles.

So we have two buildings on campus the Robert White House and the tin shop. And both of them have a multipurpose studio on the first floor and a fully furnished apartment on the second floor. And the actor actually applications for 2018 closed today. And we’re basically will fill the schedule in the months ahead for that year. And yeah really trying to create a balance between supporting local artists but then bringing in some international talent and we do the Robert White House is by invitation and that tin shop is by application so. And we do try to make it so it’s relevant with the festivals that we have. So you know we’re talking about before like our year round programming so we have classes on campus throughout the year and we produce four quarterly catalogues with that programming. But then we also have the annual festival also wave as in June and that’s like white light water and sound is the theme for wave.

And so we try to bring in artists who are working with environmental themes. Then Biff is our biggest festival. Brackenridge International Festival of art and it’s two weeks long. And you know that is an opportunity for us to bring in this international artists or you know just a more eclectic mix. So our next festival coming up is Dia de los Muertos So we currently have an exhibition on the lawn up by Ridge Street. And actually the back deck of old Masonic Hall called Last Trump was which means spinning tops in Spanish and the two artists Hector and Ignacio are from Mexico City and their work is also an exhibition right now at the Denver Museum. And similar work those Trump posts are inspired by traditional Mexican weaving.

And then the exhibition at the Denver Museum la cosa La Russa Adora is called and they’re rocking chairs that are place and like a one big line and you know that artwork is supposed to like create community bring people together and it’s very playful and fun. So you know Hector and Ignacio are not coming to do a residency unfortunately but that might be the kind of thing where we draw draw people in. So it’s you know the artwork that’s being exhibited is relevant to the programming that we’re doing. So yeah it’s really the residency program is great. It’s smaller than a lot of residences. You know there’s just two artist in residence at a given time. So we really try to engage them with the schools and bring them into the field trips into our teen programs have open houses three times a week and like one lecture demo or class once a week. So there are just lots of opportunities to engage with the public.

Yeah right. Well and speaking of all those events you know three openings a week and all this other stuff. Yeah. One of the things I noticed when I was doing some research is that your calendar is full. There is a lot of stuff kind of underneath the umbrella of BCA you know like he said it’s grown way beyond just managing the properties here and so on and on top of the kind of daily and weekly stuff there’s the larger festivals mostly throughout the summer and it’s just seems like it’s really busy you guys are keeping those town busy and I guess that’s kind of part of your charter that’s just one of the things that you are here to do. That’s why the city has engaged this organization to create that. But what are some of the challenges with keeping this calendar so full or.

Yeah. Well I mean really just keeping track is a big challenge like there is. Yeah. As you said something going on every weekend and we are fortunate to have you know some really strong cultural partners that Brackenridge tourism office the Breckenridge heritage Alliance the national repertory orchestra Breckenridge music festival Brackenridge theater company just to name a few. And so like working with them and collaborating instead of trying to compete is essential. We have a big event coming up in December that’s really exciting. We’re collaborating with the Breckenridge music festival and tourism office is called and silent night and day.


So every year the tourism office arranges lighting of the Christmas tree and the Blue River plaza and then there’s a really fun Santa raced down Main Street. And you know just different. Like Christmas holiday type events. And so we’re kind of jumping on that train. And we have this light and sound exhibition by this artist Phil Klein. And so it’s it’s a sound sculpture and the way it works is that people bring you some kind of sound device whether it’s like an old school boom box or like a phone or anything to play sound a speaker portable speaker. And then they can download one of four soundtracks and we all like it. It basically culminates in this 45 minute parade around town that’s a lot of noise really. So really fun. And just you know should be like a really great addition to the programming that already exists.

Sounds like something I should have bring my kids to. Yeah. Once you’re like oh you don’t have to be quiet. Yeah.

I mean with a lot of with our festivals wave and Beth Dia de los Muertos we really try to make it family friendly accessible you know and to different demographics in the county. And we’re kind of diving into that a little bit more with some of our program evaluation like who is coming to these events and like how can we get more people here. And you know it was just has been you know like when some were made some changes this year to make it a truly bilingual event. So we have the signs of her that say say Abla Espanol and you know we have facilitators who do speak Spanish and English obviously. So yeah I think those changes are really important to me. And yeah like accessibility on multiple levels is very important to us right now.

So out of all these these events these busy calendars do you have just an overall favorite. And then maybe also a lesser known one that’s kind of slipping under the radar that was amazing or unexpectedly amazing. You know that we should look out for the next time it comes around or yeah. Any any insight on.

I mean I do. I love our way of festival. It’s just you know we can take it as an opportunity to dig in some more dig into some more like intellectual themes so the artists that we had this year. Amanda prayer she is an Australian artist who lives in Tasmania now but in Australia rabbits are an invasive species. So her there her work this year is called intrude and there these giant inflatable rabbits that were all over town so she had multiple sizes the smallest ones were called nibbles and so for some people you know it’s just the spectacle of it like wow they’re the giant rabbits everywhere. For other people those like what is going on with these rabbits and then they dig a little deeper and you know find out about these environmental problems which is really neat. And you know we had collaborated with high country conservation and did a participatory sculpture in the plaza called Recycled rain.

And so over the course of the festival the sculpture grew and it was constructed out of a thousand water bottles from the recycling center. So I just yeah I think it’s a really fun event. It’s a neat time of year in early June like schools just laid out. And so it’s just a different festival and there’s really nothing like that going on in Colorado. And as far as you know projects that are lesser known I think you know this is such a small program but we’ve recently revamped some of the teen programs one of which is a service based project. So we just had the first one last month and the project was dog collars which we donated to summit the Summit County Animal Shelter.

So you know there’s the weather it’s like a large scale event like wave or something small with eight participants in the quandary antiques cabin. I think there’s room for all of that within the organization. And so it definitely keeps you on your toes and it’s it’s fun. Yeah every day is different.

That sounds amazing because it is fun to switch your mind from you know different types of projects and maybe one’s more organizational and those little ones a little more hands on and also ones maybe more international and focus on bringing in tourists and visitors and other ones are definitely way more geared towards the local community. So you really have a diverse kind of projects. It sounds like it would be a super fun job. Yeah yeah that’s great no complaints. Speaking of that we were we were speaking about this a little bit how you ended up here because that is definitely part of the story of all of these conversations that I’ve been having That’s really interesting is you know Choros just a great place to live. And it attracts people from all over we’re in. How did you end up here in Bracken with the BCA.

Yeah. So I was living in Memphis a couple of years ago teaching Spanish actually. And I had some friends who were moving out here to do ski patrol. And I thought like oh that’s cool job. So I came out here a couple of times and try it out and it worked out. And yeah ended up doing ski patrol here for two years in the summer I was working for the National Water leadership school guiding and my background had been in the arts. I had gone to graduate school for contemporary art and just having trouble finding your own job in the art scene.

And but yeah very coincidentally Brackenridge creative arts was getting off the ground when I moved back and moved to Breckenridge and I been keeping my eye on the organization.

You know I’d participated in some ceramics classes and just like dabbled a little bit and then I happened to see that there was a job opening and applied. And yeah it’s really been a dream dream job and to have this job here in Breckenridge is just ideal. So that’s pretty special. I still do volunteer patrol and yeah keep my EMT sir and everything.

So not exactly far away from. Just look across the street at my skis in my office. So it’s a powder day. It’s

like you know just going to take a little lunch break. So

I think that’s pretty well understood. Yeah yeah.

That’s awesome. So you know one of the things I like to ask people is you know if you had just a day off day to yourself and no agenda in your case I’d like to ask for McDonnell a couple of different perspectives which is one if you wanted to have just a real day what would you do where would you go would you go to Denver.

Are there things here that you don’t get to spend enough time with. Yeah.

I mean I think there are so many trails here. Forget how many miles of singletrack. But I always feel like you never get enough time outside. Some of the artwork that we produce like the Trail Mix series is out on the trails actually sought to get excused to get out there.

But tell us a little bit about the surprise. I have not yet heard that.

So the sculptures are as part of the Breckenridge International Festival of art. And every year there’s three different locations. Moonstone trail up by Carter Park and an Iowa Hill out on Airport Road and Illinois Gulch by the ice skating rink. And so it’s a collaboration with the Breckenridge music festival and we basically have a large scale sculpture at each of those sites and then three times every day. We have musicians come and play. So sometimes that’s you know just solo acoustic and sometimes it’s a string trio or quartet and it’s it really is in line with you know just the mentality of this town like this. You have to go out and you know hike there and and like discover it and we’ve worked a little bit you know signage has been tricky because we want people to be able to find it but not have it be too easy either. So

there’s no sign on the right turn here. Yeah yeah.

So you know we have some trail trail mix signs that are up during the festival just for a route finding so that you know the journey of getting there is not frustrating or confusing but it really is called trail mix because you love your art and your nature and music altogether. So it’s really become a popular event and we’ve been amazed. You know this past summer we had up to 40 people out there at the individual concerts and so to get you know that many people up like way up on a trail here is pretty fantastic. And yeah I think with the open space and trails here they’ve been you know wonderful and you know letting us use the spaces as well.

Zide Yeah because it has to be coordinated with the open space areas around here. That’s how fun.

Yeah definitely. Yeah it’s always there now.

It’s still up and actually you know the one out on Iowa Hill on airport road is by an artist named Nicky pike and it’s a giant spear made of wood chips and so we’re just going to you know leave it up and let it kind of let nature take its course. The one up on Moonstone is a giant pine beetle so actually has has wings the artist Michael McGillis welded these infrastructure for the wings and then put like a tarp like a tent material over that. And there’s three little cushion so you can sit in the body of the pine beetle. It was kind of fun. And then over on Illinois creek there are these like basically interlocking circles also made of wood. So it’s it’s almost always in a natural materials and biodegradable materials. We do de-install them at a certain point usually before it snows.

Yeah which I saw some on the way here and yes like it’s starting to happen. Yup. But. He so that’s so cool that’s just kind of embodies this whole place. I would guess as far as beauty you have art out on the trails. Yeah. Could

you go ride your bike or hike to it go find it and go find it. Like our campuses. I mean these buildings are so unique like their historic nature and the beautiful architecture and renovations involved. But it is limited and you know they’re smaller there they’re historic. So a lot of you know the fun that we have is finding the sites in town that will work for this like large scale spectacle artwork. So whether it’s giant inflatable rabbits or you know a light installation for before we just had Craig Walsh who was his United States premiere and he filmed two longstanding locals in the community and projected their faces up into the trees. But

you know we Craig spent a couple of days before the festival like choosing like well which trees are going to work. And you know whereas they’re less light pollution and you know all of those factors and you know you have these amazing artists here with the backdrop of the ten mile range you know you can’t beat it. Exactly

. And I know it’s it’s hard to pick favorites but are there. Do you have a favorite trail around here or is there a go to for you.

I think well you know I don’t mind like the first trail that I ever wrote because when I moved here it was only a road biker and you can’t not mountain bike here because it’s just the thing to do. So I was really terrified of mountain biking. And I went out and did the Blair Witch trail which I still think it’s one of my favorites and you know to make it longer you can do the red trail but it’s off of Tiger road driving out of town and Blair which is just yeah I think it’s gorgeous out there. And you can it really just takes 30 minutes to one loop so you know it’s not too committing. You just go out on your lunch break if you want to do it so you can go out on your property.

And then finally like the last thing I I like to ask people is who would you like to hear on this podcast. There’s so many people you can see a list afterwards. If you forget anyone one.

One person in town. Robin Pattee Theobald’s. They are. They’ve been like really big supporters of the arts.

They are behind the rock foundation which supports the 10 shop residency and Robbins a fifth generation Brackenridge local so called family. So you know what we get a lot of the time in the four years that I’ve been here like how this town’s changed so much and I’ve seen it happen in the four years. But you’ve got people who lived here 30 years ago 40 years ago. And so you know I think he’d be Pattie and be very interesting to interview just to hear about the nature of those changes and.

Yeah. I think that the Good the Bad and the ugly side.

Yeah sure. That’s really interesting. Yeah this whole states really changing and that’s one of the motivations behind this whole pikas is that there is really good amazing things happening but you know there’s a lot of balance and you know that needs to be achieved as well. So that would be certainly interesting perspective. Is

there anything else you wanted to mention that we missed come back for details Martos because. Will have an artist talk with Hector and Ignacio Akhtar will be here and his assistant Javier to talk about Trump.

And you can get your face painted. You can make some sugar skulls and paper flowers and we even have a community altar you can add momentos for loved ones and it’s really just a fun community event. So and when is that going to be. That is October 20th through the 22nd. That’s great. Yes.

  1. Well thank you so much for taking some time to chat with us. I really appreciate it. It’s been great to meet you and learn more about what’s going on out here. Thank you. All right thanks a lot.

All right thanks for listening and I hope you enjoyed this conversation. I really had a good time. As we mentioned in the intro you can find links to any related articles or content in the show notes to this podcast episode. If you’ve enjoyed this episode please subscribe to this guest on iTunes and leave a review if you have a few moments. If you prefer to get our updates via email or use a podcast service other than iTunes such as stitcher or Android you can learn more on how to subscribe at Colorado dot FM forward slash subscribe. Thanks again. I really hope you enjoy this episode and we will see you next time.



Featured Photo credit: Liam Doran, courtesy Breckenridge Creative Arts



#006 Building a Family Nature Club with Jason Sperling

Colorado.FM Interview: Jason Sperling


Thanks for tuning in to this episode of Colorado.FM.  In this episode I will be speaking with Jason Sperling about his latest book titled Unplugged: 15 steps to disconnect from technology and reconnect with nature, yourself, friends and family.

This is Jason’s 3rd book on the subject of getting your kids outside, and while many of you Coloradoans out there are thinking that you’ve got this outdoor kid thing under control, we all know that this is a real societal challenge that we face right now.

And as someone who is raising kids in Colorado, I can tell you that Jason is committed to getting not only his kids, but all the kids in his neighborhood or circle of influence if if you will, outside.  And his latest book offers a blueprint to making this happen in your community, no matter how big or small.

As always, we get into what brought Jason to Colorado, or in his case, back to Colorado.  And as someone who’s day job is in tech, this conversation really gets into some of the great things going on here economically as well as lifestyle-wise.

We get into how nature as the quote-unquote “third parent” can actually make raising your kids easier.

And as someone who is dedicated to getting the family outside, Jason offers some great tips on where to go here in the Boulder area.  So whether you live here or are visiting, I think you’ll get something useful out of that.

Finally, our first give away.. I’m pretty excited!  Jason has very generously left me 3 copies of his latest book to give to our listeners.  So we’ll have some details on how you can get your hands on that at the end of the podcast.

Online, you can find Jason at and on Instagram @jsperling.

And, of course, we’ll be sure to put any relevant links to connect with Jason or find the resources he mentions right in the show notes to this episode.

I hope you enjoy this conversation with Jason Sperling, author and pied piper of getting kids dirty.


Subscribe to Colorado.FM – The Colorado Podcast – on iTunes

Selected Links from the Episode

Jason Sperling

Unplugged: 15 Steps to Disconnect from Technology and Reconnect with Nature, Yourself, Friends, and Family

Mud Kitchen in a Day

The Backyard Play Revolution

Instagram: @jsperling


Other Books & References

Last Child in the Woods – Richard Louv

Children & Nature Network

Playborhood – Mike Lanza

Bobolink Trail Boulder

East Boulder Rec Center

Laughing Coyote Project


Boulder Startup Accelerators



Unreasonable Group


Show Notes

[3:00]  Why Colorado? Boulder to Los Angeles and back to Boulder

[7:00] Making change happen: the power of setting deadlines

[11:00] Tech ecosystem in Boulder and how it made change possible

[11:45] Unplugging and building a family nature club – the inspiration for the book

[20:45] Nature as a ‘Third Parent’ and how being outside makes parenting easier

[23:00] Never saying ‘No’.  Risk vs. Consequence

[25:45] The ‘How’ of creating a family nature club

[27:30] What’s next?  Managing after school time

[32:00] Favorite spot:  Why South Boulder Creek / Bobolink trail rules!

[32:00] Who Jason wants on this podcast:  Neal Ritter from Laughing Coyote Project




Colorado.FM – Colorado Podcast Interview with Jason Sperling

Hello, everyone. Doug Stetzer here, and thanks for tuning into this episode of Colorado FM – The Colorado Podcast. In this episode, I’ll be speaking with Jason Sperling about his latest book titled Unplugged: 15 Steps to Disconnect from Technology and Reconnect with Nature, Yourself, Friends, and Family.

This is Jason’s third book on the subject of getting your kids outside. While many of you Coloradans out there are thinking you’ve got this outdoor kid thing under control, we all know it’s a real challenge that we face in society right now, and as someone who’s raising kids here in Colorado, I can tell you that Jason is committed to getting not only his kids, but all the kids in his neighborhood, school, circle of influence, if you will, outside. His latest book offers a blueprint to making this happen in your community no matter how big or small a group you really want to get involved with.

As always, we get into what brought Jason to Colorado, and in his case, back to Colorado, and as someone whose day job is in tech, the conversation really gets into some of the great things going on here economically as well as lifestyle wise. We get into how nature as the “third parent” can actually make your life or raising kids easier. As someone, like I said, who’s dedicated to getting family outside, Jason offers some great tips on where to go here in the Boulder area. Whether you live here or visiting or thinking about visiting, I think you’ll get something really useful out of that. He’s got some great ideas.

Finally, our first giveaway, and I’m pretty excited about this, Jason has generously left me three copies of his latest book to give to our listeners, so we’ll have some details on how you can get your hands on that at the end of the podcast.

Online, you can find Jason at That’s Jason Runkel, R-U-N-K-E-L, Sperling dot com, and on Instagram @jsperling. Of course, we’ll be sure to put any relevant links to connect with Jason or find the resources mentioned right in the show notes to this episode.

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Here we go. My conversation with Jason Sperling, author and pied piper getting things dirty.

Thanks for coming to the studio today. I have been looking forward to talking with you about projects you are working on, and in particular, we’re going to get to your latest book Unplugged: How to Build a Family Nature Club, and this is something that we’re kind of involved with personally and through the school and everything, but before we get to that, why Colorado? I know you’re actually from Colorado, but something about the state and what’s going on here, I guess, brought you back. Why don’t we get into that a little bit first, and then we’ll move into what started your interest in these books.

Jason Sperling:                   Yeah, that’s a great place to start. I’m happy to be here. Very excited. Good to see you again. I grew up and was born and raised here until, I think I was around 20 or so, and then I left after finishing college and lived around the world a couple of different places. By the time I ended up getting married and having children, I was in Los Angeles. Me and my wife lived in a one bedroom condo and didn’t really think about having a kid at that time when we bought the place. When we did, there wasn’t really any place to put her. We had a really big walk-in closet, and for the first two years of her life, Nyla was sleeping in the walk-in closet, which was sort of awkward and a little strange, but it was a big closet.

Doug Stetzer:                       Having the great outdoors in the closet.

Jason Sperling:                   Right. We had a balcony, like a, you know, eight by four balcony with some plants on there. I would go, for the first two years of her life, very frequently to the marina in the mornings because she wasn’t a big sleeper, and she didn’t sleep through the night for years. She would wake up at around 5:00 in the morning and not go back to sleep, and Michelle had been up for most of the night with her, so I would go with Nyla down to the beach, at Marina Del Rey, and we would walk the beach.

Every time I drive back to the condo, I was just like, what am I doing here? I had a great job, great friends, great family nearby, and it was wonderful when we were adults and not parents.

Then my grandpa passed away, and I went to a funeral in New York. On the plane ride back, I was with my brother, and we were talking about life, all those big conversations that you have, and it just struck me that I should be not returning to Los Angeles but going back to Boulder where I grew up so I could be close to my family. My mother and father still live here in Boulder. I took about a year or so thinking about things before we made the move, but the main idea was to come out here to be closer to nature and to raise our children really in the mountains and with nature and close to family and friends.

We made the move, and I remember the first day we were here, we were living near Wonderland Lake and walked to the lake, and it was just this amazing experience. Like wow, we did it, and we’re here, and it’s beautiful, and the waves are sort of lapsing on the shore, and there’s birds flying. Just amazing.

Coming from a one bedroom condo in LA to living out here, my commute was 5 or 10 minutes long, and now we’ve been able to do so much stuff out in nature, and it’s really been, I think, profound for the children, whereas if we had stayed in LA, we’d be trying to escape to the mountains, which were 45 minute drive away from our place. The beach, of course, is wonderful, but is also 20, 30 minutes away. I just think that the quantity and the quality of time for the children in nature would’ve been way different. It’s been just pretty amazing being here.

Doug Stetzer:                       You’re actually from Boulder. Did you go to CU right down the road?

Jason Sperling:                   I did go to CU, yep.

Doug Stetzer:                       Oh, okay.

Jason Sperling:                   Yeah.

Doug Stetzer:                       Like you mention, you still have family here, which is obviously helpful when you’re making these big moves, it’s … We’ve had to move around a lot, and we haven’t really been able to do it with family, so it’s always kind of harder trek.

Just a year to go from that cathartic mindset of, “Hey, I want to make a change,” to actually making it happen is actually pretty short and spectacular. I mean, that’s something that takes people a lot of time to do, sometimes. Is there something about … Were you able to just transfer your job here and work remotely or is what’s going on in Colorado from a business perspective economically part of what allowed that to happen?

Jason Sperling:                   I mean, so I couldn’t transfer the job at the time. What’s happening in Boulder, as you probably know, is the amount of start-up activity and the activity in the technology sector is really vibrant here right now, and so it’s growing quite a bit. It’s way different than when I was growing up here. The cafes are just bustling with people, talking about ideas and making things happen. As part of that, there’s a support ecosystem, and my profession is in the technology sector, and so that did allow the transfer for me really easy because there’s a lot of companies I could work with.

What I did, which was one of those experiences that gave me shivers, is I wrote down the actual date that I wanted to start here in Colorado. The date I was going to move here, and the day I wanted to have my first day of my new job here, which was, I think, the 23rd of may. I wrote that down, and when I started networking in Boulder, I would tell people, “This is the date I’m going to be in Colorado,” which was a year out, which is a weird thing to say.

What’s different than the big cities where I had been working is that people in Boulder just open up their networks. I would talk to one person, and then they would introduce me to three, and so on, and it was just the most welcoming community to come into. I had some 30, 40 conversations with different businesses, and then eventually, I found one that was looking for someone with my background and skillset, and the start date was on that date. It was just a very other worldly experience. I was crazy.

I think that really helped, having a really concrete plan because people also responded to me differently than saying, “Hey I would like to come out there at some point. I don’t know when, but at some point,” instead of emailing and telling people, “I’m going to be there on the 24rd of May,” and … I think that helped make the transition.

Doug Stetzer:                       Right, and that really helped make it real in your mind. It helped with your job search. It just helped people respond well to deadlines, obviously-

Jason Sperling:                   Yeah.

Doug Stetzer:                       Instead of that kind of up-in-the-air out in outer space, “I want to move one day.”

Jason Sperling:                   Right, right.

Doug Stetzer:                       Now, that’s really interesting. I think it’s just as important about … It’s an important quality of what’s going on here in the sense that, and I didn’t know this about Boulder before I moved here. I had just knew it was a town near the mountains that was popular for its outdoor activities and had the university. I knew that much.

What I didn’t realize was that, that university’s cranking out PhDs, and people here have had good jobs for decades, not just ski-bum jobs. They’re working at NOAA and National Science Laboratories, and they’re working at the big IBM campus north of town. I mean, these people have had what, to me, was like a really great secret.

Jason Sperling:                   Yeah, yeah.

Doug Stetzer:                       But now the secret’s kind of getting out, obviously, not just for Boulder but for Denver as well, but that idea that you can have this well-balanced lifestyle, be outside, get your kids outside, but that there’s jobs. I mean, that’s part of the magic of what’s going on here and is what’s making these conversations really interesting.

Jason Sperling:                   Yeah, and like the early stage start-up ecosystem is growing. There’s, I think, three incubators now. You’ve got Techstars, you’ve got Boomtown, and then the Unreasonable Group is doing a bunch of stuff, so there’s a, becoming a really good ecosystem in Boulder, in Denver as well, and everyone is just very, very friendly, and that is attracting bigger companies. Google, of course, is coming in, expanding their campus here. There’s a lot of really great intellectual capital in town, and yeah, it’s a fun place to be with family, and it’s just great all around.

Doug Stetzer:                       Right, right. Well, let’s move in the direction since we talked about tech, and we’re going to talk about un-teching. Getting the kids away from it, getting the family and even ourselves. We’re all are battling with our own screen time issues and just trying to unplug.

You have written three books. Mud Kitchen in a Day, The Backyard Revolution, and then the latest one, Unplugged: How to Build a Family Nature Club. Let’s talk about this latest book. Just tell us, what is a family nature club to you? What inspired this idea?

Jason Sperling:                   Sure. The inspiration for the book is from another book, actually, written by Richard Louv, The Last Child in the Woods, and in that book, it’s not a footnote, but it doesn’t have a lot of attention, but that’s where is sort of introduced to the mainstream. I think that’s where the label came from, but the concept of Family Nature Clubs is piping around for forever or for quite a while where basically, it’s a group of people who are committed to going into nature. It’s family oriented, so you have the parents and you have the children organizing to go into nature and to try to really inspire children and parents to make a deep nature connection.

I read his book, and then put it on my bedside table for a couple of years, and then as our children got a little older, decided to try to make it happen. There’s not, at the time, there wasn’t really any good books on here’s how you do it. There was some support from the Children Nature Network, which is the organization that kind of grew out of the work that Richard has been doing. There’s some great support from them.

I started out by asking parents at the school where Nyla goes to if they would be into this idea. I explained it to them and said, “Hey, I’m thinking about doing this thing. We’d organize an event every two weeks to start,” and I just wanted a small group of people. I didn’t want to create something huge. I had no desire to create a thousand-person organization. I just wanted to build something around Nyla’s community so it’s really centered on her community, and now, my son’s community. We basically organize events. Originally, it was every two weeks, now it’s transitioned to every week when we’re in town.

I try to have the events be a combination of just having unstructured time in nature where the idea is to try to recreate the experience that children have more frequently in the past where they could be outside and do whatever they want in nature.

Then the other ones are more adult-guided activities like go skiing or mountain biking or boating. Some of it requires some adult leadership. Because we’re in Colorado, the opportunities for amazing things to do is just so huge, and so we do things from skiing, rock climbing, mountain biking, boating, playing in the streams, just going out on hikes, and the snowshoeing. I mean, the list just goes on. Everything you can think of in snow and in summer except for surfing. You don’t get surfing or scuba diving or snorkeling.

It started off really small with just a few families coming, and it’s grown. I think the biggest event we’ve had is some 27 folks or something. Most of the events are a couple of hours, and then we do some overnight camping trips, backpacking trips. I think my sense of the purpose of it has changed over time. I think I can be more articulate about the outcomes, which is that the children have these really profound experiences that are just what you would expect in a childhood, but you don’t see as much today.

For example, the last one we went on, we climbed and walked up a stream, and they caught a toad. We found a bunch of feathers. We tried to catch a crawdad but failed. We saw a snake. It’s the kind of things that you would expect and maybe you remember from your own childhood, but that is happening less and less because kids are spending less time outdoors doing nothing.

That’s a big emphasis of what I love is the idea of going out there and doing nothing always turns into something amazing. Going snowshoeing was one of our really fun experiences last year where we go into the woods, it’s snowing, it’s quiet, you’re sort of traipsing through the trees, and then we find this lake.

For the children, it really was this discovery of a lake because they didn’t have the map in their hands, they didn’t know where we were going. They just went over a ridge and dropped down to this lake, and the lake was covered with ice. They were wearing snow shoes, and then when you go on the ice with snowshoes, it makes that creaky sound that sort of is like scratch. We had a sled with us, and we were sailing across the ice in the sled because it was really windy.

That is the kind of stuff that I just love giving those experiences to my children. Part of it is for wanting them to have a connection to nature. The other part is that I really see their behavior a lot differently when they’re inside, indoors versus when they’re outside. I think the indoors is architected for adults very much and not for children.


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Children like to fun fast. They like to have big movements. They like to have their volumes at different levels, and they like to manipulate their environment. When you’re outdoors, that’s very possible. When you’re indoors, and that happens, it turns into just, giant mess. Children don’t love cleaning up messes, and it’s very loud. It becomes less, I think, less beneficial to them, whereas outdoors, everything really interoperable. For example, the toys all interact with each other. You can play with a stick with other sticks or a sticks with water, stick with mud, but indoors, the toys tend to be things that you use in a very linear and fixed way.

I just find their behavior outdoors is really, they seem happy, they seem engaged, they’re not frustrated. That’s one piece, and then, I think, maybe a third is I really want them to have a sense of grit, being strong, being able to overcome challenges. A lot of the things that we do, even when it’s unstructured, they tend to find challenges that are appropriate to their age, and they also take risk, which helps them learn things.

I was on this road trip that we just took. We were at my stepbrother’s, or brother-in-law’s place, and I was just saddened to see his children, bright sunny day, cousins visiting, and they’re all indoors, each in their room, each on their own computer. Their house backs up to this amazing woods. They’re up in Washington, so beautiful, dense, thick, lush woods. I went out there with my children because that’s what we do is we go outside and explore. Only the youngest of his children came out with us.

There’s a rickety bridge that went over a little gully, and the gully’s only a foot or two deep, and the rickety bridge was really just two logs with some unsecured crossbeams going across. My children just walked across it like you would, but then their daughter, who I think is, she must be five, five or six, was scared to walk over it. Then when we finally convinced her to walk over it, and it’s maybe two feet of walking, she had very difficult time balancing.

That’s something that we also see. You hear, talking to school administrators and folks at the schools who work with children, is that the development, physical development, motor skills is all happening a lot later with children now because they’re just not doing as much physical stuff anymore.

I think that’s another piece is having the children doing these things outdoors really gives them the opportunity to use their muscles and climb up rocks, climb up trees, all the stuff that was more common in past childhoods.

Doug Stetzer:                       I think, just getting on one of the things you said, and also, one of the things I read in one of your bios or on some bit about you somewhere was that getting into how house play just doesn’t fit like that. It also lends to disciplinary action because they’re just, they’re doing the same stuff they were doing outside, but your house doesn’t fit that. Again, it’s like, “Oh, man, be … Keep it down. Stop jumping off the bed. Stop doing all these things.”

One of the things that really caught my eye was when I was reading this blurb was that you were making the argument that it actually makes parenting easier. I think a lot of people initially, at least, see it the other way. One of the benefits of the club and just interacting with you that we’ve gotten is that when you do get that weekly or bi-weekly email, “Hey, we’re going to go to this river,” even if it’s for unstructured play, it’s like, all right, well, I now have an activity that I didn’t necessarily organize. I know that there’s going to be kids there that my kids know. They’re just going to play, but we’re just going to get them in the right spot.

If we’re probably geared up, then I don’t have to tell them not to go in the creek or not to get wet or not to get dirty or not to … They’re there to do all of those things that “the no machine,” the parenting “no machine”-

Jason Sperling:                   That’s right, that’s right.

Doug Stetzer:                       … is always talking about, and you’re really more worried, at that point, about safety, but not the dirt or the water or things like that. I thought that was an interesting blurb that, you do go there, you relax, you’re less in charge of directing everything, and also less in charge of stopping them to do stuff, as long as it’s safe.

Jason Sperling:                   That’s right. Yeah, I mean, maybe I’m really just a lazy father. I just want to go do something that’s easy for me as a parent, but I there’s also this helpful concept of nature as a third parent, and that there’s so much that children learn from being in that space that’s hard for me, as a parent, to teach them, but nature is doing it seamlessly and effortlessly.

I think when we go out there, there’s this exercise I like to do for myself, which is just to never say no. Of course, you can’t do that all the time, but understand that idea of risk versus consequence where you … Let’s say we go out and we play in the ice, and my son who’s now four, but earlier, would be playing with a hatchet. You think to yourself, well, that hatchet is dull, so if he hits himself, it’s not going to slice his arm. It’s going to hurt a lot, but how’s he going to learn how to use a hatchet if he doesn’t have that opportunity.

The risk is high. I think he’s probably going to hit himself. The consequence is low, versus, let’s say we’re climbing on rocks. It’s really easy to climb up some rocks that you could fall 30 feet down from, especially here. There’s tons of beautiful rock to climb on. That is lower risk, perhaps, because it’s not a very steep incline. It’s not going to be that likely he’s going to fall, but the consequence is he may go to the hospital and not come back in the same shape.

Those kind of things will, I’ll really look and be careful to have low consequence activities, but I’m okay with risk. He’s hit himself a lot with that hatchet, but he also now knows how to use a hatchet. I think that’s probably what I try to express in the book is that my experiences doing this is going outside of the home is much easier parenting.

Also, if you think of having to schedule a play date or something, this is kind of like a play date in that there are other children coming, which is great for the social aspects for the children, but it’s a lot less work for me than trying to coordinate. If I’m trying to coordinate with you, we’re trying to find something on our calendars, something shifts, now the play date’s ruined because I can’t come or you can’t come. Now, I gotta find someone else to do this play date with, whereas the Family Nature Club is organized using Meetup. You could use Facebook, any sort of event management type thing, and I’m inviting 30 people every time, and maybe 5 of those 30 families come, and that’s in a great community for play for my children.

The work for me, I’m not managing schedules with 30 people, I’m just saying, “Here’s what we’re doing. Here’s the time we’re doing. Here’s where. We’d love you to have you join us,” and if we get some, it’s great. It’s also easier from a scheduling perspective, which is huge, so I don’t really do play dates, like the more traditional play date type thing. In a lot of ways, this has become that for the kids. It makes a lot easier parenting.

Doug Stetzer:                       That’s kind of some of the things that you mentioned there that you actually talk about in your book that I thought was interesting when I took a look at it was that not only, it’s not only just a why do Family Nature Club, it’s kind of a how. It actually is a guide to how to set up your own, some of the tools and successes, things that worked and didn’t work.

For example, I thought it was really interesting how you mentioned Meetup, but how it didn’t work for you because you were getting all these requests for invites from people you didn’t know, and you were just interested in keeping it with people you knew from the school and things like that, and you wanted to keep it at that scale. I thought that was really helpful, again, that idea of things that are working for you, but also things that aren’t, and that’s what the book brings you.

Jason Sperling:                   Yeah, that’s right. I mean, the idea of what the book is to try to demystify how to start a Family Nature Club because there are resources out there, but I feel like I wanted … There wasn’t really this step-by-step guide of like, what do I do on day one? What do I do on day two? What do I do when something doesn’t work as planned?

The book basically chronicles my experience in starting it and offers a lot of tips and advice for how to do it. It’s been really neat to see people read this and then contact me and say, “I’m starting one, and your book helped me feel confident to start one, and it did demystify what I thought was going to be a really hard, complex process into the simple steps to just make it happen.” That’s really neat to see other clubs popping up and people feeling like, from reading this, they’re able to start their own, which is very cool.

Doug Stetzer:                       Well, one thing I’ve learned, also, from writers is that by the time book comes out, you’ve already been working on it for a couple of years, right?

Jason Sperling:                   That’s right, that’s right.

Doug Stetzer:                       It’s so new to other people so by the time that’s kind of the end of the process for you, where it’s just the beginning of the process for the reader. What are you working on now? What’s the next thing?

Jason Sperling:                   Right, so I think the Family Nature Club is all about the weekend. When I think of the time my children have, there’s the time they’re in school, there’s the after-school time, and then there’s the weekend time. I think that the Family Nature Club has been great for the weekends. Really helps get them out there.

But I’ve been frustrated that, and sorry, just to backtrack into school, also, I think I found a great school where they’re at. It’s a Waldorf school, so they have a similar philosophy of connecting with nature and making sure that children have those kind of experiences, but the after-school time is really challenging. This is a, I think it’s a social problem that we have where it used to be in the past that children could just go outside and there’d be other children outside to play with, and they could play with them for hours. Then you ring the bell and the kids come back for dinner. That’s how I grew up. I think previous generations, my parents and so on had that experience, but children today don’t, and they’re not playing outside.

There’s a book that I’ve just started last night, which is a book called Playborhood by Mike Lanza that addresses this exact problem. He had the same feeling that he wanted to his children to have an outside-the-home experience as they were growing up, playing in their neighborhood. He worked hard at researching it and then testing out different ways to make that happen. I started it last night, literally, and-

Doug Stetzer:                       Nice.

Jason Sperling:                   … but I’m really interested in that and trying to figure out how to do that for my children and our neighborhood so that they can go outside and play with friends during the week. I don’t know. That may not be a writing project, but it’s a project that I’m kind of working on.

Doug Stetzer:                       Well, like you said, it fills in … It’s, when you block your week into times and how you connect all of these things, that’s the next missing piece, and it’s really more of like a mental exercise at this point trying to figure it out, the we’ll have to … If you decode that a little bit, then you’ll have to come back and tell us what’s working for you because it is a, interesting problem. We live in a great neighborhood with lots of kids, but you don’t see them in the front yard, for sure, and so you kind of wonder where they are.

Jason Sperling:                   Yeah, I mean, that’s been my … I spent the first two books talking about how to make your backyard great, and now, I’ve just realized the kids should be in the front yard, not the backyard.

Doug Stetzer:                       Right, right. Yeah, that’s interesting. When we lived out in California before we moved here, we were in kind of your typical little town home. Everything’s really narrow there, but it had a front patio, and at first, you kind of thought the front patio was weird, but you came to realize that the front patio was awesome because you just met all the little people who shuffle by your street. I’m out there with babies and so people stop and talk and other people are pushing carriages around, and old dudes are walking, and it’s super fun to get to know the old dudes in your neighborhood, but spending a lot of time out in the front is what allowed that, so that’s really interesting.

Jason Sperling:                   Just imagine if the design of homes was, instead of having a backyard, move the backyard to the front, and move the homes to the very back of the property, and you do that along all the street, then you have this huge park on the-

Doug Stetzer:                       Basically. Yeah. Every block’s-

Jason Sperling:                   Every block-

Doug Stetzer:                       … a park.

Jason Sperling:                   Yeah. That would be amazing.

Doug Stetzer:                       Right, right. Well, I think that’s just a really interesting topic, and it’s just really something that’s obviously that’s, even in a place like Boulder or even in Colorado or whatever, people are still struggling with, not to mention, the well-known problem, societal issues that people are dealing with. Really recommend the book. I think it’s interesting, and I thank you for your efforts with the Family Nature Club, personally, so that’s really awesome.

Before we wrap up, I do like to ask people just a couple of specific things. With your background, I think this is really, will be great information. What’s your favorite spot with all these things? Like what … I know favorite spots are hard, but with all the organizing of these things, what has become maybe a repeat, like a go-to, what’s a real win when you just are out for the day with the kids and everything like that? What’s an example of a really great spot around here?

Jason Sperling:                   In Boulder, there’s a challenge because the Open Space Mountain Parks area gets a lot of visitors, and because they get so many visitors, they really want you to stay on the trail, which makes sense because otherwise, everything would be trampled. Likewise, there’s not tons of water. There’s some creeks. But in the summer time, actually this is really my go to for all seasons, there’s a creek, South Boulder Creek has some access points that the city’s made along the Bubble Lake trailhead, which is off Baseline. You can go there with the kids. There’s about a mile, mile and a half stretch from Baseline going south. What we do is we go into the creek. There’s three or four access points, and we just go in the first one-

Doug Stetzer:                       Nice.

Jason Sperling:                   … and in the summer time, the water’s shallow enough that you can walk in the creek going up, and that’s just an amazing, amazing experience.

In the winter time, it’s frozen, and you can actually do the same exact thing. It’s beautiful walking up a frozen creek with ice on it, and then in the shoulder seasons when the ice is melted partially, you can have the kids going on to shards of ice. They can break and cut through the ice.

Doug Stetzer:                       Okay, breaking ice is like a win every time.

Jason Sperling:                   It’s a huge win. Huge win. It’s kind of like this nice little nature corridor that has just amazing access. It’s really easy to get to in Boulder, and it is really fun for the kids. It’s shaded by trees, so when it’s hot, it’s great. It’s just a all-season, wonderful spot, super close.

Doug Stetzer:                       I think one of the interesting things about that area, that if you were visiting, like whether you’re visiting Boulder or you’re just coming up for a day trip or you’re following this advice and you’re looking for something to do, just go give you a bit more of a picture is that it’s relatively flat out there. You’re not going into Chautauqua. I mean, you go to Chautauqua you have to be ready to just start doing the StairMaster, right?

Jason Sperling:                   That’s right.

Doug Stetzer:                       It’s hard with, when you have kids of different leg lengths and even for me, like say when my parents come into town. You’re like, “Let’s go for a hike,” but they’re not really up for the big elevation hikes and things like that. So when grandparents are in town, and you’ve got little kids, and you got middle kids, one of the interesting things about that area is that you’re not dealing with steep trails and-

Jason Sperling:                   That’s right.

Doug Stetzer:                       … a thousand steps and things like that. It’s a nice flat area just to go stomp around.

Jason Sperling:                   Yeah, and it’s a little less crazy, like parking wise. You can usually find parking. You can access it from the other side, which is at East Boulder Rec Center, so there’s tons of parking there. But yeah, it’s great for different skill levels and all that.

Doug Stetzer:                       Yeah, see, I like that. That’s a great recommendation. Finally, the last question I like to ask people, who would you love to hear on this podcast?

Jason Sperling:                   Yeah, I’d love to hear Neil from Laughing Coyote Project. They’re doing some amazing things with children. They’re teaching them primitive skills. They have a beautiful property. I’ve just recently got to know him. He would have a lot to share. That would really be interesting for folks.

Doug Stetzer:                       Yeah, and we were talking about this a little bit. I’ve researched it. I don’t know, there’s … It looks amazing, and they’re out in Longmont-

Jason Sperling:                   I think that’s right.

Doug Stetzer:                       … I believe. They do all sorts of just really cool hands-on type kid stuff.

Jason Sperling:                   Yep, yep.

Doug Stetzer:                       All right. We’ll reach out to him, and if you know him, if you can help make that happen, that’d be awesome.

Jason Sperling:                   Absolutely, absolutely.

Doug Stetzer:                       Awesome. Well, hey man. Thanks for coming in. I think this is just really awesome to learn more about, not only what you’ve done but what you’re up to and the impact it’s having. These are just real societal challenges that people are facing, and it’s … But it’s something that I think people are moving to Colorado to consciously address those things, and so I think it was super relevant to not only me to learn stuff, people who are listening, like people who are moving here, they’re making those types of lifestyle decisions. I think that’ll be really interesting to see how it pans out.

Jason Sperling:                   Yeah, it’s a great place to do it. Really is.

Doug Stetzer:                       Awesome.

All right, everyone. Thanks for listening. I hope you enjoyed this conversation with Jason Sperling. As we mentioned in the intro, you can find links to connect with him or find resources, books, trails, whatever in the show notes. Also, if you enjoyed this episode, please subscribe to this Colorado podcast on iTunes, and leave a review if you have few moments. It really helps get the podcast found, and of course, I learn a lot from your feedback. If you prefer to get our updates via email, you can subscribe at Colorado FM.

As far as the book giveaway is concerned, we’ll keep it simple. The first three people to subscribe for email updates will get the copy, and I’m happy to send it free to anyone here in the US, lower 48 states. Thanks again, and I hope you enjoyed this episode.