Partnership Taps the Teaching Power of the Outdoors

Celena Shepherd, Communications

February 16, 2022

Ten years ago, city officials and community leaders in Denver, Colorado, helped preserve a 5.5-acre property scheduled to become a 12-story commercial building. This action created an opportunity to accomplish a nonprofit’s 25-year-long dream to build a facility and launch Denver’s first nature education park.

The nonprofit is Denver-based Environmental Learning for Kids (ELK), which now has its first facility on the horizon. ELK serves Denver’s far northeast neighborhood of Montbello and introduces under-resourced Black, Indigenous, and people of color to science, leadership, and careers, and ensures equitable access to the outdoors.

Montbello had been missing a dedicated area for people to experience outdoor parks and spaces. Until now.

The 4.5-acre Montbello Open Space Park was completed in 2021 and is a free and public space that hosts ELK programming. The 4,000-square-foot ELK Education Center will be located next door to the park; it is scheduled to open this spring and will house the nonprofit’s programs and operations.

Work on the education center and surrounding area couldn’t progress until precise topographic survey services were performed. That’s where we came in.

The City of Denver worked with Olsson on past projects and recruited us to scan the future ELK Education Center with lidar, which is a technology that uses laser pulses to produce data-rich digital scans of objects, landscapes, or worksites. In 2020, Olsson surveyor Laura Minchk visited the site and used the Riegl VZ-400i scanner to collect important data for the client. She generated a 3D point cloud, which is a collection of millions of data points used to create a detailed and accurate digital representation of the area.


“The scans are really useful to decrease return trips to the site and provide our clients with precise dimensions, so they can make informed decisions about designs, materials, and construction,” Laura said. “Helping with the initial groundwork of this project to seeing it soon become an important pillar of the community has been very cool to watch.”

The ELK Education Center and Montbello Open Space Park were made possible through a unique partnership with ELK, Denver Parks and Recreation, The Trust for Public Land, and the City of Denver. The goal for the area is to provide a home in the community to learn, play, and create through improved access to nature and educational programs in a safe place within the neighborhood.

“Historically, there’s not a lot of resources to support students and families in Montbello, so I hope our new building will help us connect people with more resources and facilitate relationships,” said Kristina Gray, ELK’s director of corporate relations and marketing. “The education center is a dream we’ve been working on for over 25 years, so this is a huge step for us.”

The nonprofit affects more than 5,000 students yearly through in-school, after-school, and community programming. The ELK Education Center will have several indoor and outdoor multipurpose areas and office space, expanding its ability to serve more youth and families in the community.


Through this project, Laura enjoyed working with ELK and the City of Denver to support Montbello youth and families. She attended the nonprofit’s annual virtual fundraiser in 2020 and 2021 and looks forward to attending the grand opening of the ELK Education Center this spring.

 “It was really rewarding to be a part of a project that is building a strong foundation with the next generation and is increasing outdoor experiences and STEM opportunities for youth,” Laura said.  

Our Denver Survey team has worked with the city on several projects that benefit the community over the last few years such as parks, recreation centers, schools, and a police department, said Nic Schrader, leader of Olsson’s Colorado Survey team. 

“This project is another great example of the partnerships Olsson has in Colorado that help build and make better the place that we call home,” Nic said.

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