When I look back on my own journey in the outdoors there were a handful of state parks where my dreams and visions of big expeditions, towering mountains, and wild rivers were first born. It was next to well-manicured campsites that I first got comfortable in a tent and learned to wander off in the woods and pretend to be days into the backcountry, miles from any road or civilization. In a way, you could say it was state parks that gave birth to my dreams of adventure.
It was with great excitement then, that two weekends ago Mission Outdoors Military Family and Veterans Initiative was able to partner alongside The North Face and Maryland State Parks on a magnificent weekend at Patapsco State Park in Maryland along with nine military families of all different ages and about 75 other volunteers and non-military families.
The event served as the annual kick off for the North Face’s Explore Your Parks program. This initiative, in many states, makes it easier for families and military families, individuals and single service members to take full advantage of their state park resources. Additionally, The North Face has donated equipment to state parks that families and individuals can rent out to ensure a positive camping experience and lower the barrier of entry into the outdoors.
Before several outdoor living classes through the Camping 101 program and all the fun of just being outside on a beautiful Maryland day, our team partnered with a great group of volunteers from the American Hiking Society and REI for a trail clean up as part of National Trails Day. Everyone got in on the action from toddlers just barely able to pull invasive species out to parents and service members who were able to get down and dirty in the mud. Weed pulling and trail maintenance are universal sports.
A big thanks also goes out to all of the amazing team at the Maryland Park Service. These fine men and women have done some amazing work in reaching out to their state’s communities, from the mountains to the sea, rural to suburban to urban, they are connecting people with the great outdoors. They have also started to develop a model in veteran and family outreach, spear headed by Christina Holden, an avid hunter, fisher, and outdoorswoman herself, that could be replicated by other states.
Rather than creating new programming specifically for veterans and military families, Maryland State Parks are simply working to make sure service members and their families are included in many of the existing programs they already have. On a sunny day in Maryland, it was apparent that the combined work of The North Face, Maryland State Parks, and Mission Outdoors was successful. You could hear the laughter through the trees and see the joy on the faces of families, some who were setting up tents for the first time, and some who were setting up tents from the 100th time, working together to enjoy the land.
Our state parks are a fantastic resource and a great introduction to the vast public land resources we have as our privilege and right to use. As I left the weekend, I could not help but think about which first time or young camper on Maryland that day, would be the future mountain climber or Appalachian Trail through hiker in a few years.
~Stacy Bare, OIF Veteran
Military Families and Veteran Representative to the Sierra Club
"Helping America's Military and Veteran Community experience the freedom of the land they defend"