This article originally appeared in the Inside National Park Service newsletter and speaks directly to the great event that happened last weekend in Colorado!
Service Members Treated to Fun, Solace, and New Outdoor Experiences at Black Canyon of the Gunnison NP and Curecanti NRA
Honoring and supporting members of the military was the focus of a unique event held recently at Colorado's Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park and Curecanti National Recreation Area. During the weekend of February 18 and 19, 2012, ten airmen from Peterson and Schriever Air Force Bases and 10 soldiers (including two women) from Fort Carson, Colorado explored the national parks. During this free, adventure-packed weekend, service members enjoyed a sunset ski along the canyon rim, stories and hot chocolate around the campfire, an interpretive snowshoe hike, ice-fishing on the frozen reservoir and stargazing with astronomers and park staff.
All of the service men and women were members of the active duty military and some had served overseas in areas of combat. For many of the participants experiencing the national parks was a very new experience. Some had never been camping, been in snow or skied before.
The Sierra Club, Colorado Wilderness Rides and Guides (CWRAG) along Florissant Fossil Beds National Monument near Colorado Springs, Black Canyon and Curecanti, forged a unique partnership to organize and execute this inaugural event. Motivated by the belief that time in the outdoors eases the transition back to civilian life, these groups joined forces to create an opportunity for soldiers to build community and connect with natural areas.
"I think the soldiers and airmen got a rare opportunity to try new winter activities and gain a better understanding and connection with the lands they work so hard to protect," said Joshua Baruch, Senior Guide and owner of Colorado Wilderness Rides and Guides. "This weekend trip was a very valuable opportunity for all the participants to slow down, get away from technology, and get to know each other and the magic that the outdoors can create in their own lives."
"The Sierra Club is honored to be able to give these service men and women the opportunity to experience new joy on the land we believe they fought to defend," said Stacy Bare, a veteran, outdoor enthusiast and head of the Sierra Club’s Military Families and Veterans Initiatives, a major sponsor of the event.
Jeff Wolin, a park ranger at Florissant Fossil Beds National Monument, and coordinator of the "Post to Parks Program" acted as the liaison between all groups. He noted that "Watching the airmen and soldiers exploring this stunning beauty landscape and enjoying new experiences was inspirational".
All three parks and partners are continuing the effort to reach out to service men and women by planning for future events.
Connie Rudd, Superintendent of Black Canyon of the Gunnison and Curecanti said, "This was a great adventure for our returning soldiers, it was an even greater honor for the National Park Service to host those who have made the world safer for us all. We are already planning a summer event to keep this relationship growing."