By Kelly Mieszkalski, Sierra Club Volunteer
I recently trekked up to Washington DC for Great Outdoors America Week (GO Week) June 23-26 to speak with many of our North Carolina representatives about protecting America's public lands and getting kids outdoors and to also participate in various GO week events. As part of the Sierra Club, I lobbied in in support of the Healthy Kids Outdoors Act (H.R. 4706/S. 2367), a bill to connect more Americans with the outdoors via state-level incentives for agencies and partners across sectors to develop comprehensive strategies to connect children, youth and families with the outdoors, in addition to legislation to designate new wilderness areas though out our nation.
Highlights of my trip included:
- Meeting with Congressman David to thank him for his letter to the EPA urging strong coal ash rules, for being a co-sponsor of the Healthy Kids Outdoors Act and for all his work to protect our environment. I also enjoyed meeting with the offices of Representatives Mike McIntyre, Robert Pittenger, Mark Meadows, Renee Ellmers, Patrick McHenry, and Senator Kay Hagan's office.
- Getting to see the posters in Congressman Price’s office that show how his district so radically changed due to the last redistricting in 2011:
- Getting to push my pin at Senator Kay Hagan’s office
- Attending a lively GO Week Welcome Reception with my fellow GO Week participants from all over the country in the Ansel Adams Gallery of the Wilderness Society. I was excited and surprised to bump into Scott Breen, fellow Sierra Club “Train the Trainer” participant!
- Attending the Congressional Issue Briefing on Outdoor Recreation and Conservation among Latino Youth—an engaging conversation about the role of Latino youth in the future of the conservation and outdoor recreation movements, including existing legislative, nonprofit, and federal agency programs. The panel included representatives from the Natural Leaders Network in partnership with The REI Foundation, The Hispanic Access Foundation, The Joint Center for Economic and Political Studies, and the Wilderness Society, and was led by Juan Martinez, Board member of the Sierra Club Foundation. I am so grateful for these organizations for reaching out and trying to bring more Latino youth into the outdoors!
- Attending the sold-out premier screening of “An American Ascent”—the documentary film that captured the expedition of the first African American team attempting to summit Alaska’s Denali, the tallest peak in North America, in June 2013. I was able to meet many of the climbers and felt incredibly inspired by their determination, humility and desire to reach out and inspire youth of color to connect with America’s outdoor wild places. I hope we can bring them all to North Carolina to share their stories with our local youth soon!
- Attending the Outdoors Alliance for Kids (OAK) Youth Outdoors Festival at Bladensburg Waterfront Park on the Anacostia River, featuring Wilderness Inquiry’s Canoemobile and outdoor activity stations hosted by OAK member organizations. Over 300 local youth participated in nature-based activities on the water and on land including canoeing, rock climbing, mountain biking, fishing, and putting up tents! I was surprised by how few kids had been in a tent before, how many were uncomfortable getting on mountain bikes and how many of them didn’t even want to try. I was also super-inspired by the many kids who showed NO FEAR on the climbing wall! It was wonderful to see these kids getting opportunities to try many outdoor activities that were previously foreign to them!
- Attending the Congressional Issue Briefing on The effects of Nature and Healing our Veterans in the Outdoors. Sierra Club, Georgetown University and Outward Bound announced a new effort to add an outdoor therapy component to the Veterans Administration’s (VA) existing PTSD and traumatic brain injury (TBI) based treatment. The project, launching later this year, will develop recommendations for the VA to integrate outdoor therapy into their existing mental health treatment. The initial pilot project will include participants from Sierra Clubs military, ICO, and local outings programs. The research, conducted by University of California at Berkeley through the outdoor laboratory of the Sierra Club, will have far reaching impacts on veterans’ physical and mental practices. You have probably heard many anecdotal stories about the healing effects of nature and now the Sierra Club will help in conducting the research that may actually document this!
- Attending the Congressional Reception to celebrate the legislative work of congressional environmental champions. Those honored with lifetime achievement awards included Representatives George Miller (CA), Rush Holt (NJ), and Jim Moran (VA). Thank you for your years of dedicated service!
I’m looking forward to returning to Washington DC in September for Wilderness Week in celebration of the 50th Anniversary of the Wilderness Act, and to participating in future GO Weeks. I had so much fun getting to know fellow advocates for the outdoors from all over the country and from so many different organizations like the Wilderness Society, REI, NOLS, Wilderness Inquiry, Outward Bounds, Natural Leaders Network, and more!
Thank you to the Sierra Club for providing me with the opportunity to participate and speak up for those of us here in North Carolina who care so deeply about connecting America with the outdoors and protecting our wild places.
Sierra Club Volunteer
North Carolina Chapter Outings Chair