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Mission Outdoors

Bring the Parks to the People - 2nd Century NPS


In four years, the National Park System will be 100 years old (almost as old as the Sierra Club). Last week, I attended America’s Summit on National Parks to participate in a discussion about the future of what Ken Burns has called (and I agree), America’s Best Idea – the National Parks.

Speakers, ranging from Interior Secretary Ken Salazar, to National Park Director Jon Jarvis, to REI CEO Sally Jewell, to Sierra Club volunteer and Natural Leaders Network Coordinator Juan Martinez helped paint a vision for the parks in the second century.

For those of you concerned about the growing divide between kids and nature, you are not alone. The alarming trend towards indoor-ism has the leaders of our parks systems concerned, too. Who’s going to care for our parks and public lands in the future when today’s kids spend only minutes a week in nature-based activities?

One of Interior Secretary Ken Salazar’s priorities for his agency is to get youth back outdoors through service, education, recreation and by making the outdoors more accessible. With more than 80% of Americans living in urban areas, investments in close-to-home parks must be part of any plan to reconnect our kids (and adults) with nature. During his keynote address, Salazar reemphasized the importance of park accessibility. Last year, as part of the America’s Great Outdoors initiative, Salazar announced that the National Park Service was working with the local community to establish the largest urban park campground in America at Floyd Bennett Field in New York City.

During a break out session on urban populations and parks, I learned about additional efforts to bring the parks to the people. In San Francisco, Crissy Field was established following a massive community outreach effort that would lead to an attractive and useful urban park with historic, cultural and natural features. We also heard from a small but important program of the National Park Service – the Rivers, Trails and Conservation Assistance program partners with communities upon invitation to support neighborhood greening initiatives. RTCA might provide assistance to turn a brownfield into a greenfield, or plant trees along a route from a school to a park. The program recognizes that greening initiatives within a community are the first step towards connecting people with nature and our parks and public lands more broadly.


Getting people outdoors where they live is not just good for our parks and green spaces. Did you know that Gallup has a well-being index that has begun looking into access to the outdoors and health? During a panel presentation, Gallup revealed some of its findings: people who live near parks have fewer headaches, lower obesity rates and as many as 25% fewer heart attacks.

Getting outdoors is good for people and good for the planet. The “Call to Action: Preparing for a Second Century of Stewardship and Engagement,” released last August, says the second-century National Park Service “connects people to parks and helps communities protect what is special to them, highlight their history, and retain or rebuild their economic and environmental sustainability.” Over the next one hundred years if we want to reverse this growing divide between people and nature, we will need to do more to bring the people to the parks AND the parks to the people.

--by Jacqueline Ostfeld, National Youth Representative, Sierra Club


Partnership for a Healthier America: Making the Healthy Choice, the Easy Choice


The inaugural summit of the Partnership for a Healthier America (PHA), “Building a Healthier Future,” was held this week in Washington, DC. The PHA was established as a parallel to First Lady Michelle Obama’s Let’s Move! campaign to eliminate childhood obesity in one generation. I was fortunate to represent Sierra Club’s Mission Outdoors initiative at the summit as one of few representatives from the environmental community.

The summit’s message was clear: we must make the healthy choice, the easy choice. With over 800 industry and civic leaders, primarily from the health sector, I was there to contribute a voice for the role our urban, state and national green spaces (as well as dedicated mentors) play in encouraging childhood physical activity and wellness. Our mission is “outdoors,” and we are finding that there are innumerable co-benefits to the health and wellbeing of our children from the work we and many of our partners are doing to connect kids with nature. And the health community is beginning to recognize our contributions, as well.

Throughout the two-day summit, I was reinvigorated by some of our most distinguished leaders. PHA’s honorary vice-chairs, Former US Senate Majority Leader William Frist and Newark Mayor Cory Booker, kicked off the opening session, announcing their commitment to work to build a healthier future. Booker had the crowd rolling with a tale about the time someone told him that what he wanted to do was impossible. Then he got serious and let us know that the “greatest threat to democracy in America is the health and wellbeing of our children,” and reminded us that “change will not roll in on the train of inevitability.”

Throughout the two days, I participated in break out sessions addressing the sedentary lives of children. The Executive Director of the President’s Council on Fitness, Sports and Nutrition, Shellie Pfohl led a session called “not every energy crisis is about oil; getting our kids moving again.” She challenged us to think more collectively about the commitments that need to be made to get kids off the couch, away from the television and physically active again. One of the ideas on the table was the establishment of the National Physical Activity Plan for Kids, which would be an extension of the National Physical Activity Plan (Sierra Club co-chairs an advocacy strategy around Parks, Recreation, Fitness and Sports for the Plan).


The summit ended on a high note, with closing remarks by PHA’s honorary chair, First Lady Michelle Obama. Mrs. Obama reminded us of some of the sobering statistics:

  • One in three children is overweight or obese, with higher prevalence in low-income communities
  • One-fourth of American kids play outside, down from three-fourths of all children just one generation ago
  • Only about half of all young people have playgrounds, parks or even sidewalks in their neighborhoods
  • Obesity has become one of the greatest threats to our national security as nearly 27% of 17-24 year olds are too heavy to serve in the military and additional training to ensure servicemen and women are combat ready is costing our country millions of dollars

Following a good reality check, the First Lady also instilled in the crowd the hope and motivation to tackle the challenge of childhood obesity. Appealing to a common sense of nostalgia for those of us over thirty years old, the First Lady conjured up images of the time when we were kids and we played outside and didn’t come home until dinner time. She encouraged us to “make play cool again,” and to dig deeper into our individual and collective abilities to help kids have healthier and more active lives.

The summit made me proud to work for the Sierra Club and the commitment our organization has made to connecting kids and families from all walks of life (including our nation’s youngest heroes – military kids) with the wonders of the natural world where they can be inspired and physically active. Visit our website to learn more about how you can contribute to getting kids moving again in nature.

--Jacqueline Ostfeld, National Youth Representative, Sierra Club

The Healthy Kids Outdoors Act: Bringing Families Back to Nature


After indulging in a day of turkey and football, many families will be looking for ways to get off the couch and into the outdoors this Thanksgiving weekend. Unfortunately, many families still lack access to safe and healthy outdoor activities.

That’s why Representative Ron Kind (WI) and Senator Mark Udall (CO) recently introduced the Healthy Kids Outdoors Act (HKOA). The objective of HKOA is to get more children connected to the outdoors and help them develop a healthy lifestyle at an early age. The bill would not only address childhood obesity by giving more kids access to outdoors activities, but this legislation would also allow children to grow a stronger connection with nature.

According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention, childhood obesity has more than tripled in the last thirty years, and more than a third of all children are considered overweight or obese. HKOA would provide state-level incentives to develop 5-year strategies to reconnect children and families with nature. This legislation will help get Americans active outdoors through natural play and outdoor recreation such as camping, hiking, hunting and fishing. The bill would also support public health initiatives, outdoor learning environments, service learning and other initiatives. The Departments of Public Health, Parks and Recreation, and Transportation, would be encouraged to play a role in developing the state initiatives.

“For many years, I have been concerned with the increase in sedentary and nature deficient lifestyles among Americans, especially among our youth,” Rep. Ron Kind wrote in a recent blog post. “Kids today spend less time outdoors than any other generation in history. As a result, more kids are overweight and obese and suffer from stress, anxiety, and depression than ever before.”

“Today, in the wake of the Information Technology Age, we are suffering from associated unhealthy lifestyle behaviors including physical inactivity and poor diet,” states the National Park Service’s Healthy Parks Healthy People Strategic Action Plan, “There is an increasing disconnect between communities and natural environments that is contributing to health problems and chronic disease. Studies are increasingly suggesting unique benefits to getting outside and being active.” The National Park Service has traditionally addressed environmental and conservation issues and have recently started to encourage people to get outdoors to improve their health.

In September, through the Sierra Club’s Great Outdoors America Week, Gwen Miller came to Washington D.C. for the first time to advocate for the Healthy Kids Outdoors Act. Gwen lives in Lombard, Illinois, and is a volunteer with the Club’s Inner City Outings program which allows kids who live in the city of Chicago the opportunity to experience the outdoors. “We would kill two birds with one stone by finding ways to get kids outside more often,” said Gwen in a letter to the editor published in the Daily Herald, “Children would be more active and develop healthier habits, while creating a lifelong bond to the outdoors.” That’s a big reason why Gwen says she’s “thrilled” that Rep. Kind and Sen. Udall introduced the Healthy Kids Outdoors Act and spent her time in DC urging more members of Congress to show that they care about improving kids’ mental and physical health and preserving our green spaces.

“Through our Mission Outdoors programs, we have witnessed shy children grow into leaders from the confidence they gain after hiking up a mountain,” said Michael Brune, Executive Director of the Sierra Club, “We have seen military kids get a much needed break from the daily stress they face when one of their parents deploys by spending a week outdoors at summer camp. But fewer kids are spending time outdoors and many don't have the opportunity to get outdoors. Rep. Kind and Sen. Udall's bill could help reverse this trend, improve our kids' health and open up a new world for them."

Reconnecting children and families with the natural world will benefit our children, our economy and our environment. Kids who spend time outdoors are more likely to be physically fit then their sedentary peers. Healthy kids lead to healthy adults, and a healthier society will reduce healthcare costs in the long run. Children who get outdoors will be able to develop a greater connection to nature, which means they’ll be more inclined to protect the environment when they grow up.

The Healthy Kids Outdoors Act not only promotes a healthy lifestyle, but it will help boost our economy and protect our environment. The Healthy Kids Outdoors Act is supported by OAK (Outdoors Alliance for Kids), a national alliance co-founded by Sierra Club to promote the value of outdoor experiences for children, youth and families.

-- Paige Esterkin, Media Intern

Sierra Club Teams Up with Americans from Coast to Coast to Honor Those Who Serve


GOA on StepsThis September marked the Sierra Club’s second annual Serve Outdoors month, and its purpose was to honor those who have served America by cleaning up and protecting the outdoors. The Sierra Club provides veterans with opportunities to go on outdoor adventures, since it is believed that nature can help reduce the stress that hinders Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) recovery. Serve Outdoors provides opportunities for the families of service members to also enjoy the great outdoors. The Sierra Club’s Mission Outdoors programs (Building Bridges to the Outdoors, Inner City Outings, Local Outings, and Military Families and Veterans Outdoors), Water Sentinels, and the Sierra Student Coalition all hosted Serve Outdoors events throughout the month of September.

Thousands of people across the country organized events in their own hometowns to help preserve the great outdoors for future generations.  Volunteers cleaned up local parks, rivers, and wetlands to show their support for the environment. As part of Great Outdoors America Week, dozens of volunteer activists flew from all across the country to Washington D.C. to participate in briefings and discussions to educate decision makers about the benefits of getting outdoors and how to take action back at home.

The Water Sentinels program engaged people in cleaning up their community’s waterways and parks. Sixteen volunteers tested the water quality at the Verde River in Arizona. They collected samples to determine concentrations of E. coli, arsenic and total nitrogen in the water. For “It’s Our River Day”, in Algonquin, Illinois, 35 volunteers picked up more than 40 pounds of garbage and more than 80 pounds of recyclables along the Fox River and Crystal Creek in Cornish Park. In Missouri, nearly 200 volunteers, about a quarter of which were kids, cleaned up the Niangua River by picking up two tons of trash.

By partnering with local high schools, Chicago Inner City Outings, the Chicago Park District, and Congressman Mike Quigley, 240 volunteers, including 175 kids, went to Montrose Beach in Chicago and removed more than 300 pounds of garbage. The volunteers also mulched the Montrose trails and hosted four nature tours of the endangered dunes habitat on Montrose Beach, and the bird and butterfly sanctuary.

For the first time, Sierra Club’s Mission Outdoors brought a delegation to Washington D.C. to participate in Great Outdoors America Week. One of those delegates was Gwen Miller, a native of Lombard, Illinois, who took her passion for the outdoors even further by coming to Washington D.C. to advocate for the Healthy Kids Outdoors Act. This bill would support state, local, and federal strategies to connect America’s youth with nature, outdoor recreation like camping and hiking, and outdoor service learning programs. “Parents need to allow their kids to run around outside more, and we should also teach more environmental classes in schools. It’s important that people connect with nature, because the greater connection they have to it, the more relevant it will be to conserve our environment,” said Miller.

On September 11th, the Sierra Club's Military Families and Veterans Outdoors program, in partnership with Veterans Expeditions, the American Alpine Club, and Jackson Hole Mountain Guides, pushed up to the summit of the Grand Teton. Standing at 13,775 feet on that day were veterans who had served in our military as far back as 1991. One veteran wrote in a blog post about the event, “Between us, we were missing a leg, a few fingers, had a spinal issue, Post-Traumatic Stress, depression, and all had battled reintegration issues.” The veterans, including a young Air Force Lieutenant and Co-Founder of Veterans Expeditions, Nick Watson, reflected from the top of the mountain where they were when the two planes hit the World Trade Centers in 2001.

The Sierra Student Coalition organized events across the country in partnership with the Sierra Club’s Beyond Coal campaign to rally on university campuses against the coal industry. At the University of North Carolina, students gathered on the steps of the Ackland Art Museum to urge the Board of Trustees to stop using the UNC endowment to invest in coal and instead support clean energy sources. Students at the University of Virginia, Michigan State University, and Purdue University also pressured their administrations to transition away from coal.

The Serve Outdoors initiative this year was a great opportunity for people across the country to commemorate the 10 year anniversary of 9/11 and to give back to their communities. People honored veterans through a range of activities, from mountain climbs to park and beach clean ups.  The thousands of volunteers who participated in these outdoor service events showed us that one of the best ways to make a positive difference is by changing the practices and habits in our own communities. By preserving the outdoors together through service activities, future generations will be able to experience the parks and wildlife that we enjoy today. Through programs like Serve Outdoors, the Sierra Club aims to help service members, their families and all Americans live happier and healthier lives, and we hope the turn out next September for these events will be even greater.

 -- Paige Esterkin, Media Intern

A Sense of Understanding


On 11/11/11, in Taos, New Mexico, veterans and citizens came together to observe a special Veterans Day. Hundreds of people attended the ceremony, which consisted of several speeches by political representatives, the Taos Mayor, Darren Cordova, and several veterans. The ceremony was touching and truly reached out to people’s hearts. I was very happy to have been invited to speak as a representative of the Sierra Club’s Mission Outdoors program. As Marine Corps veteran it was great to see Marine veterans at the event - it helped remind me of why I joined in the first place.

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Mark Lemke speaking at 11/11/11 Ceremony in Taos, New Mexico


I was able to speak about my experiences in the outdoors and how it helped me. Below is an excerpt of my speech:


“It wasn’t until I came to the Sierra Club that I learned about the dismal situation of veterans coming back from war. Most people don’t know that nearly 20 veterans commit suicide every day. There were 30,000 suicides last year in the US and 20 percent of them were veterans. It’s estimated that 15 percent of veterans returning from combat have Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) and almost 20 percent have been diagnosed with Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI). That’s more than double the national average for non-veterans. In addition, many veterans also suffer from depression and substance abuse.         

Helping veterans assimilate back into civilian life is not just about doing the right thing.    It’s more a question of “Do you care about your community?”

Chances are you know a veteran. Veterans are coming home mentally and physically injured. Many of the suicides can be connected to PTSD and TBI, which severely affect the mental well-being of veterans. Let’s connect the dots here.

Growing up in Indiana, only 30 minutes from Chicago, I didn’t have much green space in my life. When I was 19 I was stationed at MCAS Cherry Point in North Carolina with the Marines. Almost halfway through my time at base I started taking trips out to Asheville, NC, to see my girlfriend at the time. I remember driving winding roads up I-40, where I never had seen mountains like that before in my life. When I left to return to base I felt something I hadn’t felt in awhile ­- peace. When life and work seemed overbearing, I knew the mountains were waiting.

There is one particular moment that resonates with me to this day. It just might be the defining moment when I fell in love with the outdoors. I was traveling up the Blue Ridge Parkway with a friend while relaxing in the passenger seat. We parked the car on the side of a scenic pull-off and I dozed off. When I woke up a short time later I saw clouds crawling over the mountain and dripping off the side like heated wax. I’d never seen anything like it before.”


My purpose was to let folks know that even with all the grim statistics, there is hope, and that hope is in their backyard, literally.

After the ceremony many stayed to help beautify the Plaza. Rocky Mountain Youth Corpsmembers and Sierra Club volunteers painted benches, curbs and the gazebo. Corpsmembers broke ground on a memorial tree which will go up in the spring.

 Rocky Mountain Youth Corpsmembers breaking ground for the Memorial Tree


I am grateful that I spent this Veterans Day outdoors serving the community in a beautiful mountain town surrounded by committed veterans and civilians.

 --Mark Lemke, Sierra Club Apprentice

Healthy Kids Outdoors Act Supports Strategies to Connect Kids with Nature


Congressman Ron Kind (WI) and Senator Mark Udall (CO) Introduce Legislation to Bolster Outdoor Recreation, Address Childhood Obesity and Strengthen the Economy

WASHINGTON, DC (November 3, 2011) — Congressman Ron Kind (WI) and Senator Mark Udall (CO) introduced the Healthy Kids Outdoors Act today to support state, local and federal strategies to connect youth and families with the natural world, improve children’s health and support future economic growth and conservation efforts.

This legislation will help get Americans active outdoors through natural play; outdoor recreation such as camping, hiking, hunting and fishing; public health initiatives; outdoor learning environments; service learning and other initiatives. 

“Children today are spending less time outdoors than any other generation in history,” said Rep. Kind. “To tackle alarming childhood obesity rates and encourage healthy lifestyles, we must encourage our kids to get active, especially outdoors. I am committed to providing access and opportunities for our families to get active in nature and will continue to treasure every chance I get to take advantage of Wisconsin's abundant natural resources with my two young boys.”

“I introduced the Healthy Kids Outdoors Act, along with my House colleague Rep. Ron Kind, to help Americans, especially kids, connect with healthy, active, outdoor activities,” said Sen. Udall, the chairman of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee's National Parks Subcommittee and co-chairman of the bipartisan Senate Outdoor Recreation Caucus.  “Connecting with the outdoors is an excellent way to promote good physical and mental health and bolster America’s conservation legacy.  It also supports our vibrant outdoor economy, which is especially important in Colorado and to our rural mountain communities.”

Today’s children are spending less time in nature than their parents or grandparents. At the same time, one in three American kids is overweight or obese; more than half of all children in the United States are deficient in Vitamin D; instances of attention deficit disorders are on the rise; and stress, anxiety and depression rates among youth are increasing. 

The Healthy Kids Outdoors Act would provide incentives to states to develop cross-cutting, five-year strategies to get children and families active in the great outdoors. It would also direct the president to involve federal agencies and national partners to create a similar plan at the national level and support research further documenting the health, conservation and other benefits of active time spent outdoors in the natural world.

“The nature of childhood has changed, and there isn’t much nature in it,” said Larry Schweiger, National Wildlife Federation’s president and CEO. “National Wildlife Federation commends Congressman Ron Kind and Senator Mark Udall for introducing legislation that will strengthen the economy by getting Americans moving through recreation and active outdoor play.”

The Healthy Kids Outdoors Act has the support of the Outdoors Alliance for Kids (OAK), a national strategic partnership of non-profit organizations and corporations from the conservation, health and outdoor recreation sectors with a common interest in expanding opportunities for children, youth and families to connect with nature.

“Providing access to the outdoors is at the heart of our business. We believe in the virtuous cycle--the simple concept based on the idea that if you get people outdoors, they will love that experience. The more they come back, the more they grow to care about protecting our natural playgrounds and living healthy active lives,” said Todd Spaletto, president of The North Face. "We’re excited about our partnership with OAK and support policy solutions like the Health Kids Outdoors Act as it means more opportunities to get people outdoors.”

“At a time when more than one in three children in the US are overweight, we applaud Congressman Ron Kind and Senator Mark Udall for successfully introducing the Healthy Kids Outdoors Act,” said Dave Alberga, CEO at Active Network. “We look forward to continuing our support in getting kids active and participating in outdoor activities.”

"Through our Mission Outdoors programs, we have witnessed shy children grow into leaders from the confidence they gain after hiking up a mountain. We have seen military kids get a much needed break from the daily stress they face when one of their parents deploys by spending a week outdoors at summer camp," said Michael Brune, Executive Director of the Sierra Club. "But, fewer kids are spending time outdoors and many don't have the opportunity to get outdoors. Rep. Kind and Sen. Udall's bill could help reverse this trend, improve our kids' health and open up a new world for them."

Americans are paying a steep price for less time spent outdoors. Obesity not only decreases the quality of life for many Americans – it is straining our nation’s economy through steep increases in healthcare costs. In addition, local and state economies have suffered as the drop in outdoor recreation has translated into less revenue for outdoor retailers, local tourist destinations or “gateway communities,” and state fish and wildlife agencies.

The conditions are right for making lasting changes in the ways youth and families relate to nature. The Healthy Kids Outdoors Act will support the goals of the President’s America’s Great Outdoors initiative and the First Lady’s effort to address childhood obesity through Let’s Move!


About the Outdoors Alliance for Kids: OAK is a national strategic partnership of organizations from diverse sectors with the common interest in expanding the number and quality of opportunities for children, youth and families to connect with the outdoors. The alliance was launched by Sierra Club, YMCA of the USA, REI, National Wildlife Federation, Izaak Walton League of America, Outdoor Foundation, Children & Nature Network and the National Recreation and Park Association in June 2010. Since then, OAK’s steering committee has grown to include the National Association of State Park Directors, The North Face and Active Network. OAK’s membership continues to expand and now includes 35 nonprofit organizations and corporations. Learn more at


Public Lands Service Corps Supports Young Veterans and Youth


At a congressional briefing yesterday on the Public Lands Service Corps, Congressman Raúl Grijalva declared his support for youth, jobs and public lands.

The Public Lands Service Corps Act of 2011 would expand opportunities for young people between the ages of 16 and 25 to do much-needed conservation work on our public lands and waterways. The bill would provide job training for long-term careers in public lands stewardship while addressing a backlog of maintenance work on our lands.

I was honored to participate on yesterday’s briefing panel to discuss the need for more opportunities for military families and veterans to get outdoors. Since 2007, Sierra Club has supported experiences for nearly 50,000 military children, families and veterans to connect with nature. This past April, Sierra Club was honored to be part of First Lady Michelle Obama and Dr. Jill Biden’s launch of “Joining Forces” for our commitment to send 5,000 military kids to summer camp in partnership with the National Military Family Association and the YMCA of the USA. We continue to look for opportunities to support the military community and I believe the Public Lands Service Corps is one way to do so.

The Corps experience supports veterans in three key ways. First, the outdoors heals. About 20% of our returning troops from Iraq and Afghanistan have been diagnosed with Post Traumatic Stress or major depression. Research is demonstrating that time in nature can reduce stress.

Second, one in five of veterans under the age of 24 is unemployed. A recent report from the Center for American Progress, estimates that public land conservation provides over 600,000 jobs in America. The Corps provides training for long-term careers in public lands stewardship.

And third, veterans are already leaders with a deep sense of service to our country. A report called “All Volunteer Force: From Military to Civilian Service” found that 90% of Iraq and Afghanistan veterans believe service is a basic responsibility of every American. Among veterans wanting to serve their community, 86% want to serve at-risk youth and more than two-thirds say they want to help protect the environment.

Colorado nln - 9-11-09
Not only is the Public Lands Service Corps good for returning veterans, but it is also good for youth, our public lands and our economy. Young people are increasingly disconnected from the natural world, and a Corps experience provides them opportunities to spend time in the great outdoors while gaining valuable job skills. Sierra Club has worked with groups like the Rocky Mountain Youth Corps, the Wellness Coalition and the Earth Conservation Corps to increase opportunities for underserved youth to participate in conservation work and skills training.

Distinguished panelists from yesterday’s briefing included Sade Demery, an alumnus of the Student Conservation Association; Craig Mackey from the Outdoor Industry Association; Harry Bruell from the Public Lands Service Coalition; and Mary Ellen Ardouny from The Corps Network. The panel was moderated by Destry Jarvis and featured the Honorable Raúl Grijalva, Congressman from Arizona. The briefing addressed how a long-standing bipartisan approach to completing critical work on federal public land, leveraging private resources, and promoting stewardship can help create jobs for our youth, while also providing reintegration opportunities for our young veterans.

--Jacqueline Ostfeld, Sierra Club's National Youth Representative

Mr. Lemke Goes to Washington


Great Outdoors America week by far has had the biggest impact on my post-college life. When I was in the Marines I never envisioned myself in Washington, DC, advocating for something I believe in. Last week I participated in Great Outdoors America Week, which marked a milestone for me. Recently I joined the Sierra Club through their apprentice program. The program helps new college graduates get a foothold in the environmental non-profit sector. The experienced gained this past week was priceless and was a window into how democracy works in America. While in college certain topics, such as the wolf delisting, made me upset and I felt powerless to do anything about it. Now I know there is a way to ensure that decision-makers can hear my voice.

Sitting on an airplane on my way to Seattle a few days later, I finally found some time to reflect on the last four days. One thought kept circling around in my jetlagged mind: how the veterans I met were so different from me, but still shared my values about the outdoors. My colleague, Stacy Bare, of the Military Families Outdoors program brought a few vets from the Marine Corps to DC to also participate in Great Outdoors America week to talk about the importance of connecting children, veterans and families with nature.

Mark, Stacy, Martin
(Mark Lemke is third from left) 

 Scott Ostrom and Chris Fesmire had different experiences than me while we were in the Marines. We found the outdoors in different ways, but we found that the outdoors is a necessary part of our lives. Being a former Marine and an environmental activist, I have been doubted and questioned by people who do not understand how I could make the transition from soldier to conservationist. I didn’t feel alone during Great Outdoors America week and the illusion in my mind that I was the only former Marine trying to protect the outdoors vanished. I discovered that others like Scott and Chris care as much as I do.

-- Mark Lemke, a former Marine, is a Sierra Club Apprentice with the Mission Outdoors Program





Sierra Club and C&NN: a joint commitment to service


Service is a way to demonstrate our commitment to an issue, idea or place.  When we serve, we give our time and effort to make things a little better in our corner of the world.

Why do you serve?

How we answer that question tells us a little something about who we are and what we care about.  That’s why the Sierra Club and our partner the Children & Nature Network (C&NN) are so committed to engaging communities in outdoor service events.  It is by giving of ourselves that we not only honor those who serve our country every day, but we actually help build a foundation for a better future.

Throughout the month of September, Sierra Club’s Serve Outdoors and C&NN’s Serve Outside September (S.O.S.) initiatives are working together to engage people across the nation in service.  From coastal cleanups to youth-led outings to events that honor our service members, such as the Summit for Heroes in the Grand Tetons, participants in both initiatives are demonstrating their commitment to their country, communities, and outdoor spaces. 

Random photos 386_crop “Outdoor Service provides the opportunity for people to connect to their own roots and to each other, to create one family,” says Juan Martinez of the Children & Nature Network.  He also emphasizes the valuable role our outdoor spaces play during these tough economic times.  “The river will not check your FICO score before quenching your thirst. Out there, every day is filled with a chance to make a difference.”

And it is this nation’s youth who are leading the charge to serve our country by cleaning up and preserving the great outdoors for future generations.  The Sierra Club’s Tiffany Saleh feels that “their commitment to their communities, our nation’s heroes, and the environment is inspiring.  It energizes the Sierra Club and strengthens our country.”

So join us this month!  Get outdoors, roll up your sleeves, pull on those work boots and get ready to serve.  Find an event near you or get one going by visiting Sierra Club’s Serve Outdoors or C&NN’s Serve Outside September (S.O.S.).  Together, we will honor those who have served by protecting our wild places for service members, their families, and all Americans to enjoy for years to come. 


Sierra Club’s Serve Outdoors is supported by its youth and outings programs: Building Bridges to the Outdoors, Inner City Outings, Local Outings, Military Families and Veterans Outdoors, Sierra Student Coalition, and Water Sentinels.

C&NN’s Serve Outside September (S.O.S) initiative is supported by their Natural Service, Natural Families, and Natural Leaders Networks in partnership with USFWS, REI, The North Face and the Sierra Club.


Making a Difference in DC


 My first day in Washington D.C.  was a little hectic.  Upon arriving we went to see a great movie about the outdoors.  I watched videos of people doing extreme sports (like slacklining over a 200 foot drop without any safety ropes), but what really made it amazing was that it showcased their passion for what they do.  Even when a group of friends were sleeping in -40 F temperature, one of them still was trying to joke around.

Then, the next day we got an overview of what this week was about.  Somoene told us an anecdote that really summarized our goals:  he narrated about a person tossing starfish from the beach back into the ocean to save them from drying up.  He was making only a small difference (there were thousands of starfish), but he said that it definitely made a difference to the ones he did help.  We are only staying here in the city for a couple of days, but the small difference we can make does matter.

Paco washington
(Paco Holguin, Karen Nolasco and Arn Menconi of SOS Outreach)

Consequently, I learned more the growing problem of children not only not getting enough exercise, but also that children on average are only getting seven minutes of unstructured play a day (versus 5-7 hours spent with electronics).  Because of this, kids are less and less acquainted with the natural environment.  As they grow older, they also are less likely to want to protect and conserve the land.  In addition, obesity rates have shot up.  In an office, I saw a chart that showed Colorado being the state with the least obesity (19%), yet a staff member explained a decade or so ago, that would have made Colorado have the highest rate.  This problem is especially true of urban areas.  But it is a problem here in the mountains also.  I myself never really paid interest in the surrounding mountains until I was introduced to it through SOS Outreach.

In three days I saw and heard so many stories from people from all over the country who came to make sure that the outdoors remains usable and accessible for everyone.  Our group walked around (a few times running around) Capitol Hill meeting with House Representatives and three Senators. I caught a glimpse of how the government works.  For example, a couple of times, we met not with the actual representative, but a staff member who took notes and gathered information to later present it to the appropriate person.  There were other groups of people including veterans, other youth, and other organizations who came also to advocate for the outdoors. 

Paco Holguin is a graduate of SOS Outreach and lives in Vail, Colorado. He participated in Great Outdoors America Week as a Sierra Club Delegate.

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