The benefits of using nature contact or outdoor recreation with Service members are well documented, including contemplative, recreational, and hands-on habitat restoration activities.
In December 2015 MFLN Family Transitions hosted a webinar, Returning Warriors: Using Outdoor Recreation for Restoration & Resilience, that engaged military service providers to identify the value of transitioning service members’ participation in outdoor recreation; analyze research related to using outdoor recreation; become familiar with formal and informal opportunities; and prepare to refer Service members to recreational/outdoor opportunities. Facilitators for the webinar included Stacy Bare, Director of Sierra Club Outdoors and Keith Tidball, Department of Natural Resources, Cornell University. Both are Veterans.
Following the webinar MFLN Family Transitions connected with Stacy to learn more about the value of interacting with the outdoors and to seek advice for military service providers.
MFLN Family Transitions (MFLN-FT): When you talk about ‘outdoor recreation’ what does that all involve?
Stacy Bare (SB): Anything outdoors. Stop and take a look out your window into the backyard, take a walk around the block, cast a fly in your driveway or spend four months hiking the Appalachian Trail, a couple of days attempting to summit the Grand Teton or car camping with your family.
MFLN-FT: Tell us about your favorite outdoor recreational activities and how you became involved.
SB: I’m lucky enough to do a lot outdoors and have a lot of very kind friends who invite me on some really cool trips. Climbing saved my life and skiing sustains it, but what makes an activity great is the people you are with—and sometimes solo trips. My wife just gave birth to a beautiful baby girl and I’ve spent the last month doing a lot of cross country skiing because I’ve enjoyed the exercise and the easy nature of getting out into nature and on skis with a far shorter drive and far more spontaneously then I could go ski touring for example—so right now that’s my favorite.
MFLN-FT: What are the benefits for service members and their families who participate in outdoor recreation?
SB: The benefits are many, I’ll give you a short list here:
- Experiencing awe, which we’re learning through our partnership with the Greater Good Science Center at Cal-Berkeley and the Great Outdoors Lab has real physical and mental health benefits
- Camaraderie and connecting with your friends and family, we also are learning it improves overall mental and family health resilience
- Seeing the country you fought for—the actual physical country
- Learning a new skill can be a benefit
- Often times a lot of laughter
- Creating a sense of purpose
MFLN-FT: How might communities benefit when individuals become involved in outdoor recreation?
SB: People who spend time outdoors we know are typically more empathetic and more curious, more willing to seek help and more willing to engage with strangers. That means if you have a community full of people who are engaging in outdoor recreation, they’re interested in meeting people, solving community problems, and they put themselves in the shoes of other folks. Who doesn’t want to live in an empathetic, caring community that’s working to help each other and find solutions to problems?
MFLN-FT: Describe the Sierra Outdoors Program.
SB: I like to think of us as the heart and soul of the Sierra Club. John Muir’s original vision of the Sierra Club was to get people outdoors to experience the beauty and joy of outdoor spaces. We still do that. We get out more than 250,000 people each year through three broad programs: Local Outings, which operate out of our 63 chapters nationwide, there are 400 plus groups doing everything from family picnics to movie nights to ski mountaineering, white water paddling, international trips, day hikes, etc. Inspiring Connections Outdoors works in 50+ communities nationwide to get people outside who otherwise may not have the opportunity. Finally, our newest program, started in 2006, is the Military Outdoors program which connects service members, veterans, and their families to the outdoors. I came to the Sierra Club in 2011 to redesign and relaunch the Military Outdoors program, which as a veteran of the war in Iraq, remains very close to my heart.
MFLN-FT: How can military service providers connect service members & their families with your program or similar programs in their community?
SB: Call us (385-209-5681), connect with us on Facebook, Twitter @SierraOutdoors, Instagram (stacyabare), or email firstname.lastname@example.org. One of the things that is unique to our programs and that I’m most proud about is our volunteer leadership training. If we’re not doing something in your area or something you want to be doing, come get trained as a leader and we’ll have you leading a trip soon after that training. The thing to remember is that we don’t care what your background is or your current state of health—we will work with you so you can enjoy the outdoors how you want to under human power. There’s something for everyone outside.
MFLN-FT: What advice do you have for service members who don’t want to participate in a formal program, but just want informal experiences?
SB: We really hope that our program isn’t just getting people outside, but is inspiring folks to go out and do more and that people will leave our program and keep getting outside—so that’s a long way to say that I think most people get outside informally. You don’t have to use a lot of fancy gear, for most things jeans and good sneakers will work fine—
Look first in your immediate community, where are the parks? If you’re active duty call the MWR office, see if you can rent gear, go talk to someone at your local outdoor store about where to go and what activities are available in the area and how to access them. Buy a guide book or watch a YouTube video about what you want to do, take a day class, go for a walk—just get outside!
MFLN-FT: What is your vision related to military service members and their families related to outdoor recreation?
SB: Long term I want every service member to be able to use at least a week of permissive TDY to get outside throughout the year. I’d love to see all mental health resiliency programs include an outdoor recreation component and outdoor recreation be a part of all mental health treatment programs vs. an alternative or elective treatment program.
MFLN-FT: Please share any final thoughts (if any).
SB: Go outside!
Stacy Bare is a climber and skier, the Director of Sierra Club Outdoors (SCO), a brand ambassador for The North Face, Keen Shoes, and a veteran of the war in Iraq. SCO gets out 250,000+ people each year. Under his direction, SCO launched the Great Outdoors Lab with the University of California-Berkeley in 2014 to put scientifically defensible data behind the power of the outdoors to support improved mental, physical, and thereby public health with an emphasis on youth and military veterans. He is also the 2015 SHIFT Festival Adventure Athlete of the Year and a 2014 National Geographic Adventurer of the Year. He, his wife, and their new daughter live in Salt Lake City, UT.