“With an eye made quiet by the power of harmony, and the deep power of joy, we see into the life of things.” -William Wordsworth, “Lines Written A Few Miles Above Tintern Abbey”
Let’s get pretentious for a second and (literally) take a word out of William Wordsworth’s book: There can be no doubt that nature is a powerful therapist.
Well, it sure isn’t called the “great outdoors” for nothing. I can’t imagine a single person admitting that they don’t love that moment– after a grueling hike, a gentle walk, or (like most of us normies) somewhere in-between– where you stand back, the breeze in your hair, and all is well.
The view, the peace, the quiet delight; be it your hometown back-roads, a mighty crag along the coast, or standing among trees older than your ancestors, the beauty of our aptly-named great outdoors is immutable. And, here in the good old U.S. of A, we’ve got it better than most.
I am enormously blessed to be able to say that my daily commute to work involves a two-mile walk with a view (for all my desert homies, you know what I’m talking about). But I’m fully aware, and deeply saddened, that most are not so lucky: With the daily rhythm of life constantly nipping away at opportunity, something so simple as getting outdoors can easily seem like an indulgence rather than a necessity.
Thus, it brought me great joy to discover that there are organizations of people dedicated to getting our beloved veterans back out into the America that they fought for and reconnecting them with its raw, beautiful landscape. These non-profit communities exist to serve the people who serve us, using nature as therapy to rehabilitate and empower. We all know that the simplest answers are often the best — and what could be simpler than quality time spent in America’s great wilderness?
So, without further ado, here are five fabulous groups who dedicate their time to honoring veterans through the restorative impact of the great outdoors.
National Park Service
While the National Park Service is not, of course, a veteran-oriented organization, it does a whole lot of good for everyone — preserving some of our country’s most beautiful scenery and making it accessible to all. It’s widely known that they offer free annual passes to active duty military members and their dependents, but did you know that there are other free passes available?
Their disability pass can be obtained for free, along with up to 50%-off certain amenities and activities. There’s also a volunteer pass available– this is free, in exchange for 250 hours of service for the federal agencies who participate in the Interagency Pass Program (including the National Park Service, the US Forest Service, and the US Fish and Wildlife Service). So, not only do participants score an annual pass, but they also something back to the landscape — and, most importantly, enjoy stress-free time spent outside in the most scenic landscapes the US has to offer.
The best, most fitting word for what Warrior Expeditions do?
They provide the necessary equipment and support for long distance expeditions– including lodging and meals along the way– and finish each program off with job placement opportunities at the program’s long list of sponsors and partners. So, basically, it’s a once-in-a-lifetime adventure… with a purpose.
Programs can be hiking, biking or paddling, and take place in an impressive list of locations; I noted, among many others, a March-September Appalachian Trail hike, April-September hike through the Pacific Crest, and a paddling mission down all 2000+ miles of the Mississippi River. The fact that the community bands together to help these vets on their adventure is simply heartwarming, and testimonies make it clear that this unique program is truly life-changing.
No Barriers USA
No Barriers USA made it their ethos to ensure participants “learn more than outdoor skillsets, (they) teach mindsets.” This fantastic organization offers the chance to connect with fellow veterans, and overcome physical challenge in breathtaking scenery.
The opportunities are open, free of charge, to veterans with disabilities from all branches of the military, and– once the expedition is over– they maintain a relationship with their participants, providing individual support and further networking events.
Reading through the testimonies at the heart of their website, the words of Terry Haney (US Army, retired) distill the lifeblood of this organization: “I originally thought this would be a fun time to get away for a couple days, de-stress and hang out with some other veterans. But it turned into one of the most influential weekends of my life.”
After hearing about OATH, Inc from a friend, I was immediately hooked. This organization began as a fund for Texan veterans to get outdoors and have some fun, and has since blossomed across borders into states such as Indiana and Idaho. Each state “chapter” has accumulated a true, blue brotherhood in their stead and, I’m sure, there will be many more to follow.
Their passion is evident, and the passion of their residents/participants from a slew of testimonials speak volumes. Their core principles are faith, family and community, and they put this into practice with outdoor events like clay shooting and trips further afield to places like Utah, Idaho, and (soon) across the Pacific to Hawaii.
Also, in honor of our diligent “home front,” they also run an annual retreat for the spouses of OATH veterans — simply put, it channels the life force of a military family into veteran families, too, and it’s wonderful to see.
First of all, Camp Patriot looks like paradise. The secluded ranch, located in 90 acres of Northwest Montana wilderness, truly is a “living monument” to America’s finest. Programs are specifically tailored to each individual’s needs, ranging through homesteading, lake fishing, archery, and epic cross-country ski trails. And that’s just a taste of their “on-ranch” activities; off-ranch, participants can enjoy dog sledding, motor sports, and hunting.
One of the most heart-warming testimonies I came across was that of Scott Smiley (Army), the first blind veteran to summit Mount Rainier– with a little help from the Camp Patriot team. He writes that the experience was “the centerpiece of (his) successful transition back home.” The Patriot community is dedicated to assisting veterans of all abilities, establishing solid relationships with each veteran, and ensuring every experience is a positive, restorative one.
Amy Byrne is a native Brit, whisked away to the Mojave desert by her cunning (read: charming) USMC husband. She is probably a little too fond of her cats, wine, and online shopping — which are the main components of her life when not found peddling vitamins at a local health store, or typing out articles from the comfort of her couch.