Service Members Extol Value of Public Lands and Rivers

Slate of bills before Congress would protect places of reflection, recovery, and awe

Service Members Extol Value of Public Lands and Rivers
Mount Washington
Veterans have long turned to America’s great outdoors, including Mount Washington in the Olympic National Forest, as places for recreation, reflection, challenge, and solitude. The approach to the peak would be permanently protected under the Wild Olympics Wilderness and Wild and Scenic Rivers Act, which includes safeguards for 126,000 acres of the Olympic Peninsula.
Douglas Scott

America’s wild land and rivers and the wildlife that live within them have calmed, comforted, exhilarated, and awed people for centuries. For many of our country’s service members, public lands and waters can also provide solace and places to reflect, recover, and reconnect with loved ones. Those are among the reasons many servicemen and servicewomen are passionate advocates for the protection of our wild landscapes.  

Several measures currently before Congress would safeguard critical public lands and wild rivers for future generations to enjoy. This Veterans Day, lawmakers can honor our military by passing legislation to designate wilderness in Colorado, California, Oregon, and Washington and rivers in New Mexico as wild and scenic.      

Here are some stories from veterans about the role public lands and waters have played in their return to civilian life.

Southwestern New Mexico’s Gila and San Francisco rivers and their major tributaries, including the Gila Middle Box area, could be protected as wild and scenic through the M.H. Dutch Salmon Greater Gila Wild and Scenic River Act.
Nathan Newcomber
  • “I have long understood the value of our country’s protected lands and rivers. As a child, I went outside to find adventure; today as a veteran, I go there for therapy. In fact, many veterans turn to our public lands and rivers to recover from what they experienced in combat. The fresh air, natural beauty, and rushing waters help wounded souls recover and heal.”

    Brett Myrick, a fifth-generation New Mexican from the town of Gila who served with U.S. Navy SEAL Team 5

  • “After deploying to Iraq for a year, I came home. Everyone tells you how difficult deployment will be, but rarely do we talk about the challenges many service members face when coming home.

    “I started taking solo hikes and discovered that spending time in nature helped me reconnect with my loved ones, my community, and myself. I hear similar stories from other veterans. For many of us, spending time outdoors eases the transition back home.”

    Kate Hoit, from Sacramento, California, who served in Iraq with the U.S. Army Reserve

  • “My daughter just turned 6. I want her to be able to enjoy this land and see the same things and experience it in the same way that I've been able to, and I think it's important for all Americans.”

    Jeff Dray, U.S. Army veteran, Las Cruces, New Mexico

South Trinity
The clear water along this segment of California’s South Fork Trinity River is favored by anglers seeking salmon and steelhead. The Northwest California Wilderness, Recreation, and Working Forests Act would protect 379 miles of new wild and scenic rivers and more than 700,000 acres of forests.
Jeff Morris
  • “Northwest California’s wilderness is where I go to work things out, to reflect on my life and get a better sense of myself. It has been my refuge for the past 40 years, helping me process my time in Vietnam and build relationships with other vets who share my experience. Wild places are therapeutic for all, but especially veterans, those on active duty, or anyone who has experienced trauma.”

    Steve Robinson, Somes Bar, California, who served in the Navy in the Vietnam War

Camp Hale
The Colorado Outdoor Recreation and Economy (CORE) Act would preserve roughly 400,000 acres of public lands in the state, including Camp Hale, where the Army’s 10th Mountain Division trained during World War II. Soldiers returning from the war were among those who founded Colorado’s first ski resorts.
Devon Balet
  • “It’s these public lands and the freedoms they represent that define the America I fought to defend, and that is what the CORE Act will defend as well. It will keep the very best of America’s outdoor playgrounds as a priceless source of peace and harmony for us all.”

    Andrew J. Brennan is a West Point graduate, an Army veteran who served in Afghanistan, and the founder of the Global War on Terrorism Memorial Foundation.

  • “Getting people out in nature is very important. Going just to a campground by itself is not enough; you need to be out in the open, where you're alone, to be with nature as a whole. That is why our wilderness areas are so important to preserve.”

    Retired Air Force Lt. Col. Vitali Mostovoj, Thousand Oaks, California

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