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Veterans, Active Duty Service-members and Families: Show and Tell Us Your Favorite Place Outdoors

In honor of Veterans Day and the veterans and active duty service members who serve this country, Sierra Club Mission Outdoors has a special announcement: we are partnering with the Bureau of Land Management for our first Veterans Day Essay and Photo Contest. This contest, centered on the theme “What My Public Lands Mean to Me,” encourages veterans, active-duty military, and their families to submit photos, essays and video about their experiences and memories of time spent outside on America’s public lands.

The BLM and Sierra Club will accept entries through Thursday, December 6 at http://mypubliclands.challenge.gov.  Beginning December 7 (Pearl Harbor Day) and through December 14, members of the public will be able to vote for their favorite entries through the same website.  The three most popular entries will be featured on the BLM and Sierra Club websites and social media platforms, and receive an outdoor support kit from the Sierra Club. 

We’re kicking off this contest by including a blog post by John Turner about a recent trip to Glacier National Park on 9/11. We hope that you find his story as inspirational as we do.


Being a good steward of our resources is not a partisan issue, it is an obligation

By John Turner

I have been following the efforts of the Sierra Club’s Mission Outdoors for the last few years, particularly those related to the Military Families and Veterans Initiative. As a veteran of several combat tours I really respect what the Club is doing with vets and their families—but it wasn’t until this trip that I realized I was one of the vets that needed to get back outside. I am and will remain forever grateful to Mission Outdoors for arranging this once in a lifetime trip and for getting to be a part of it.

Photo 2 – Remains of Jackson Glacier

The principle purpose of the trip was to get military veterans, together with a team of seasoned climbers, out to Glacier National Park in order to witness how the glacial landscape is changing and what effects glacial recession and climate change might have in our lifetimes. I didn’t really have a very firm opinion about climate change, whether it is or isn’t happening, or who or what is primarily to blame for it, before embarking on this adventure. Now, having camped at the foot of Blackfoot and Jackson glaciers and having climbed Blackfoot glacier and summited the mountain that towers above it, I have gained some perspective, above and beyond the importance of keeping the ice axe in your uphill hand.

We can’t know for sure what the end of this story will ultimately be, which scientists’ predictions and data sets will prevail; we only know what has already happened. Glacial retreat is tangible and quantitative, a measurement that can be recorded without knowledge of its cause. If current trends continue, the glaciers of Glacier National Park will be gone in my lifetime. How and why is climate change such a partisan issue when one’s ability and desire to enjoy the outdoors is decidedly non-partisan? I can’t help but wonder how many of the politicians on either side of the debate have actually had a chance to stand (or camp) at the base of a glacier and really contemplate the significance of its disappearance. With the glaciers go the landscape, and with the changing landscape goes the biodiversity—and, perhaps most importantly, with the glaciers go critical sources of fresh water.

Photo 4 (1)

The saying ‘to whom much is given, much is expected’ came to mind when I sat down to write about my experience with Mission Outdoors. Being a good steward of our resources is not a partisan issue, it is an obligation. Over the years, I have been thanked for my service to our nation; on this trip, in the solitude of the wilderness and the company of fellow veterans and civilians from various walks of life, my service took on a different meaning. I serve out of a sense of duty and because I love my country and the way of life I am so fortunate to lead—and this includes the freedom to get outside and enjoy nature.  This trip wasn’t about how to fix climate change or even to reverse it – it was all about discovery.  As a part of that discovery, I am committed to telling others what I saw.  It is easy to disregard, dispute, and ignore climate change from a desk in a building, but not so easy after witnessing the changes firsthand. I am grateful to the Sierra Club for providing me the opportunity to reconnect with the outdoors in such an amazing place.


The Veterans Day Essay and Photo Contest starts today and runs through December 7th. We’re eager to hear and share your stories, so don’t delay.


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