What comes next, after Great Outdoors America Week


Betsy and I are back home in Vermont fresh from our Great Outdoors America Week in Washington, DC.  It was a most productive week promoting efforts that reconnect Americans, especially kids and young adults, with the outdoors.


(1) Meeting with senators, representatives and their staff and sensing their willingness to help move legislative initiatives forward.

(2) Enthusiastic support registered in conversations with Sally Jewell, Secretary of the Interior; Nancy Sutley, Chair of the White House Council on Environmental Quality; Mike Brune, Executive Director of the Sierra Club; Jamie Williams, President of the Wilderness Society.

(3) Welcoming youngsters at the Kids, Youth and the Great Outdoors Festival on the National Mall and feeling the kids energy levels rise with our hands-on displays of canoeing, mountain biking and hiking equipment.

(4) Our own outing along the impressive Great Falls Park trails along the Potomac in nearby Virginia.


We’ll be continuing to support these efforts long after Great Outdoors America Week, and hope you’ll join in our common effort to create meaningful opportunities in the great outdoors for everyone.

Reauthorization bills have been introduced in Congress: "The Public Lands Service Corps Act", H.R. 1352 in the House, S. 360 in the Senate.  This Act would expand service employment opportunities -- like the Conservation Corps -- for young adults on public lands.

We spent many person-hours in DC advocating in favor of these bills.  Join us by emailing, writing or calling your own Representative or Senators urging them to co-sponsor this bill.

--by Denis Rydjeski and Betsy Eldredge, Sierra Club of the Upper Valley, Vermont; Sierra Club Outdoors Delegates for Great Outdoors America Week 2013

Great Outdoors America Week in Pictures


The story of Great Outdoors America Week 2013 is best told through photographs. Sierra Club Outdoors hosted 15 volunteers for a week filled with lobby visits, briefings, receptions and events. We participated in 20 meetings with elected officials where we advocated for increasing opportunities for kids and youth to get outdoors. We hosted a congressional briefing panel on the military community and the outdoors. We were joined by Interior Secretary Sally Jewell for the "Kids, Youth and the Great Outdoors Festival and Walk on the National Mall" put together by the Outdoors Alliance for Kids. We recovered from a long week with a Sierra Club Outing to Great Falls National Park. And those are just the highlights. Here's our first round of photos from GO Week.

Photo Credit: Jennifer Edwards, Sierra Club

Sierra Club Outdoors hosted a congressional briefing panel, "Military Community and the Outdoors," with Major General James A. Kessler, Marine Corps Installation Command; Stacy Bare, Army Veteran and Sierra Club Outdoors Director; Marine Corps Colonel Broughton; Sheri Robey-Lapan, Blue Star Families; Mike Christian, Marine Corps Veteran and Director of Outdoor Research Government Program; and Joshua Brandon, Army Veteran and Military Organizer for Sierra Club Outdoors. 



Photo Credit: Kyle Ash

During GO Week, the Outdoors Alliance for Kids (of which Sierra Club is a co-founder) hosted the "Kids, Youth and the Great Outdoors Festival and Walk on the National Mall" to draw attention to the importance of increasing access and opportunities for kids and youth to get outdoors. This event would not have been possible without the ongoing commitment of 50+ members of OAK. Special thanks to Michael Carroll and Paul Sanford and of The Wilderness Society, Susan Yoder of the American Camp Association and Sarah Danno and Katie Joyce rockstar Sierra Club Outdoors summer interns for all of the hours you put in to making this event (and GO Week) a success.

Additional thank yous to REI, GirlTrek, American Canoe Association, Sierra Club, The Wilderness Society, National Wildlife Federation, National Recreation and Park Association, Outdoor Nation, American Hiking Society, YMCA of the USA, Earth Conservation Corps, AmericaWalks, International Mountain Bicycling Association, American Camp Association, Clif Bar, Outward Bound, and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.


Sc kayak station
Photo Credit: Javier Sierra, Sierra Club

Sierra Club's Baltimore and Harrisburg Inner City Outings groups hosted a kayak demo station at the "Kids, Youth and the Great Outdoors Festival" on the National Mall. Thanks Molly Gallant, Nicole Veltre, Pat and Tony Reilly for lending your expertise (and your boats).


Photo Credit: Jennifer Edwards, Sierra Club

Festival go-ers explain why they get outdoors. Best Interns Daniel and Izzy (top left) were on site shooting video - stay tuned.



Photo Credit: Javier Sierra, Sierra Club

Interior Secretary Sally Jewell arrives at the Kids, Youth and the Great Outdoors Festival and heads straight for the kids. Here she is meeting a group of youth from the YMCA.


Photo Credit: Javier Sierra, Sierra Club

Secretary Jewell joins our friends at Outdoor Nation. ON Youth Ambassadors represent!



Photo Credit: Javier Sierra, Sierra Club

Secretary Jewell joins the Outdoors Alliance for Kids for a press conference on the importance of connecting kids, youth and families with the natural world. Thanks Sierra Club Angel Martinez for holding up our sign!



Photo Credit: Javier Sierra, Sierra Club

From left to right, Chair Nancy Sutley, White House Council on Environmental Quality; Jo-Ellen Darcy, Assistant Secretary of the Army for Civil Works; Michael Brune, Sierra Club Executive Director; Secretary Sally Jewell, US Department of the Interior; Arturo Cervantes, Outdoor Nation Youth Ambassador; Jackie Ostfeld, Chair, Outdoors Alliance for Kids and Policy Manager, Sierra Club Outdoors; and Jamie Williams, President, The Wilderness Society. Thanks to all of our press conference speakers for their ongoing commitment to connecting kids and youth with our natural heritage.


GOAW group shot2

Photo Credit: Javier Sierra, Sierra Club

We have arrived at the Capitol. Sierra Club joins Interior Secretary Jewell and the Outdoors Alliance for Kids for a walk on the National Mall following the "Kids, Youth and the Great Outdoors Festival." Big thanks to Vanessa Garisson and Morgan Dixon of GirlTrek for leading the walk. It was a hot day and the enthusiam of our GirlTrek friends kept us going.


Senator Nelson, Mark Walters

Photo Credit: Eugenie Bostrom, Southwest Conservation Corps

During the GO Week Congressional Awards Celebration, Senator Bill Nelson of Florida receives an award for his work to protect America's great outdoors and to connect veterans with our public lands. Sierra Club Outdoors uber-volunteer Mark Walters (in the middle) is there to present the award.


GOAW great falls

Photo Credit: Jackie Ostfeld, Sierra Club

Sierra Club Outdoors GO Week Delegates unwind with an outing to Great Falls National Park after a long week advocating for connecting America with the outdoors. Thanks to Sierra Club Potomac Regional Outings Leader Mike Darzi for leading the hike. From left to right, meet our delegation (or most of it): Eric Uram, Denis Rydjeski, Jackie Ostfeld, Lydia Leos, Maggie Davenport, Monica Augustine, Sarah Danno, Kelly Mieszkalski, Tony Reilly, Katie Joyce, Pat Reilly, Mike Darzi, Mark Walters and Betsy Edlredge.



Betsy and Denis Go To Washington


Betsy and I care deeply about the great outdoors, and want all to be able to enjoy these special places for generations to come. That’s why we are going to Washington, DC on June 24 for Great Outdoors America Week

We’re joining delegates from around the country to remind our elected representatives to support efforts that reconnect Americans, especially kids and young adults, with the outdoors. It’s well-documented that we don’t spend much time outdoors anymore - 80% of Americans live in urban areas with little access to green spaces and young people spend an average of 7.5 hours a day connected to electronic media, and less time getting outside in nature. 

Betsy denis
Betsy Eldredge and Denis Rydjeski - Sierra Club Outdoors Delegates for Great Outdoors America Week 2013

Coincidentally, we are also planning events to celebrate 50th anniversary of the Wilderness Act -- a conservation and public policy milestone. The 1964 Act established the National Wilderness Preservation System (NWPS). It designated the first 54 wildernesses: 9.1 million acres in 13 states. There are now 757 wildernesses totaling more than 109 million acres in 44 states and Puerto Rico.

In the words of the act: “A wilderness, in contrast to those areas where man and his works dominate the landscape, is hereby recognized as an area where the earth and its community of life are untrammeled by man, where man himself is a visitor who does not remain.

Doesn’t that inspire you to get outside even a bit more yourself?

--by Denis Rydjeski and Betsy Eldredge, Sierra Club of the Upper Valley, Vermont; Sierra Club Outdoors Delegates for Great Outdoors America Week 2013


U.S. Department of the Interior hosts “Healthy Parks Healthy People” event to celebrate the launch of the National Park Service’s Healthy and Sustainable Food Program


Yesterday, the US Department of the Interior launched the National Park Service’s “Healthy Parks Healthy People” initiative. Due to an increase in national demand for healthy food options as well as the National Park Service’s promotion of healthier choices, parks will now offer healthier, more sustainable food options.

My fellow Mission Outdoors intern, Katie Joyce, and I were lucky enough to attend this event held at the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, D.C. The event spotlighted Secretary of the Interior Sally Jewell, National Park Service Director Jonathan Jarvis, and White House Senior Policy Advisor on Nutrition and past White House chef, Sam Kass. Each of these individuals spoke about the importance of introducing healthy food options to National Park concessions. Director Jarvis emphasized that introducing healthier options in parks will give those 23 million people who use the concessions a wider variety of menu choices. Including healthy options at National Parks will help to promote healthy living and activity in National Parks.

Jonathan Jarvis, Director, National Park Service

The event included a delicious reception featuring healthy locally grown foods. The foods were prepared by four different concessioners who collaborated on behalf of the National Park Service’s healthy and sustainable food program. The concessioners, Xanterra, Delaware North Companies, Aramark, and Guest Services, each had a station featuring a healthy and delicious food option. Some of these tasty options included vegan black bean burgers, crab cakes, Chesapeake Bay seafood tacos, fresh berries, turkey sloppy Joes, fruit spritzers, and gluten free almond crested chicken tenders. While we sampled a little piece of everything, our favorite item of the day was the delicious Low fat vanilla yogurt with fresh blackberries, local honey and an oven baked crisp.  

After tasting the healthy food options, I am excited for the National Parks to implement the new food program! The program is a great way to utilize locally grown foods, boost regional economies, and reduce environmental impact. Furthermore, park visitors will have an enhanced park experience. Enjoying the outdoors at the nations National Parks will now be a healthier experience than ever before. I encourage everyone to visit a National Park this summer and enjoy one of the new healthy food options -- and get outdoors, too! 


Veteran Story Tellers team up with the Outside Adventure Film School



Team on dunes
Traversing the Great Sand Dunes

“You defendedyour country once, now your country needs you again” was the idea we left with our military and veteran filmmakers as we celebrated the debut of the Sierra Club’s first veteran films at the Dairy Center of the Arts in Boulder, CO. For a week in May, Sierra Club Military Outdoors partnered with the Outside Adventure Film School and Veteran’s Expeditions to train aspiring active servicemembers and veterans in the art of outdoor filmmaking in the mountains and deserts of Colorado. In some of the most beautiful terrain our country has to offer, our team experienced a week of raw emotions, tested their physical and mental limits, and made powerful friendships, all while learning their craft under the watchful eye of Michael Brown and Serac Adventure Films, one of the top outside filmmakers in the industry.

 Our veteran film makers were a diverse a group as any I have worked with in the military. These men and women represented every branch of the service and came from all over the world, from Long Island to Washington and Russia to new Mexico. Their stories were all different, but they all shared one thing in common, the desire to learn to tell their stories through the medium of film in the outdoors.

Our Team

In my experience as a mountaineer, I find that the journey rather than the summit is oftentimes the most rewarding part of any expedition. This trip was no different. Our team quickly realized that they were committed to a greuling fifteen mile mountain traverse from the start as we slogged through the snow and mud in the Zapata Pass area up to the ridge line. Our tough approach was rewarded with stunning views and an alpine sunrise as me made the ridge. For the next 9 miles, we traversed on a ridge in the Sangre De Cristo range, and were greeted with a stunning view of the the surrounding mountains and dunes as we paused on the summit of Carbonate Mountain. We then raced against imposing thunderclouds down to Mosca Pass, where we made the final leg of our journey into the Great Sand Dunes National Park. For the next two days, our team continued to develop their skills as filmmakers as we explored the rolling dunes and the starry nights of the park.

Traversing the ridgline

While we were hesitant to leave the dunes, our vets soon got to work in our team house in Sunshine Canyon outside of Boulder. They benefitted from mentorship of the Serac Films crew as they edited their films and crafted their stories for the next two days. On the final day, our team debuted their films to their peers and guests at the Dairy Center for the Arts in Boulder. Not only did they demonstrate a talent for storytelling through film, they honored all of us with a very personal look at their lives and the challenges they face through the stories they told.

Film 2
Michael mentoring Kevin prior to a shot

The Outside Adventure Film School provided our vets with the tools they need to tell their own stories in the outdoors. These same tools will allow them to continue to tell not just their own stories, but those of their fellow veterans, and those of the wild places we go to heal. Much like David Brower and Ansel Adams initiated massive change  in bringing our wildest places to America after World War 2 through the medium of film, this new generation of veteran film makers will do the same for our  warriors and the wild places they defended. 

Michael, Scott, and Dan review a shot

A special thanks to the Sierra Club, The Outside Adventure Film School, Veterans Expeditions, and most importantly, our team of veterans in making this an extraordinary trip.

Please view the films here at the following links:

Scott  - West of Weightless

Dan - Power of the Outdoors

Bella - My First Crappy Film 

Mike  - Challenge



Sierra Club ICO Volunteers win President's Council on Fitness, Sports & Nutrition Award


Congratulations to Sierra Club Inner City Outings volunteer leaders!! They just won the 2013 President's Council on Fitness, Sports & Nutrition Community Leadership Award. Sierra Club's ICO volunteer leaders are connecting kids and communities with the natural world.


From the President's Council: 

"Inactivity and poor nutrition are nationwide problems that affect people of all ages and abilities. We recognize the importance of organizations like yours that are motivated and willing to help others experience the mental and physical benefits that physical activity, sports and proper nutrition provide. Congratulations on receiving this honor. We wish your organization continued success in future health and fitness endeavors."

Congratulations, ICO!! Keep up the great work.
Learn more about our 52 ICO groups and do us a favor, take a kid outdoors!

On the Boy Scouts Decision: Diversity and Inclusion Are Necessary in the Outdoors


Last week, the Boy Scouts of America announced a bit of a confusing decision to change their policy to allow gay Boy Scouts, but not gay Scout leaders or Eagle Scouts.
Here at the Sierra Club, we welcome people of every culture, race, ethnicity, and sexual orientation to walk, paddle, climb, and lead with us. We believe that bringing diversity to outdoor recreation is essential to preserving our natural heritage for future generations.
The freedom to explore, enjoy, and protect the planet appeals to communities of all backgrounds, and it is our responsibility as outdoor leaders to make our outdoor spaces and wild lands accessible, available, and inviting to all.
The Sierra Club's Mission Outdoors program is combating the growing divide between America and the outdoors by increasing opportunities for everyone to improve their well-being through exploring and enjoying the natural world.
The Sierra Club's 2.1 million members and supporters include people of every sexual orientation, and they are all as entitled to live their lives open and proud as they are to the clean air, water, and beautiful landscapes they fight to protect.

-- Stacy Bare, Sierra Club Mission Outdoors Director

How the Outdoors Helps Our Nation's Heroes


When Paul Wilson took a job in the early 1970s in the Grand Tetons, Wyoming, shortly after returning home from Vietnam, he didn’t anticipate the contrast between living in the outdoors and serving abroad.

"To go backpacking and fishing, it just really had a calming, introspective influence on me. It was something that probably saved my sanity on more than one occasion," says the former Marine. "That quote by John Muir about going into the mountains and getting their good tidings is pretty apropos."

Now a 25-year Sierra Club member living in West Virginia, Paul volunteers through Trout Unlimited by teaching fly-fishing to returning soldiers. Tying a fly, he says, provides cognitive therapy for those recovering from combat.

"This is a way to get away from everything and rejuvenate," says Paul. "What I do isn't really about catching fish. It’s about slowing down and learning to relax and reconnect."

Memorial Day is a day to honor those who have died and a reminder of how important it is to reach service members and their families. That’s why the Sierra Club partners with several organizations, such as the National Military Family Association, Armed Services YMCA, and Higher Ground, that provide outdoor experiences to service members and let them enjoy the freedoms of the land they helped defend.


This includes reaching children of military families through the Military Child Outdoors campaign and other programs -- many kids of service members move multiple times during their adolescence -- which helps reduce stress, promote fitness, and provide a sense of community for kids with one or more parents deployed.

These organizations let all of us give back to our country's heroes and show appreciation.

Watch our new short documentary, Mission Outdoors: Glacier National Park, about service members and the outdoors, and click here to learn more about the Sierra Club’s history with the armed forces, which dates back to World War I. 

A Jewell of a Morning


 This post originally appeared in Sierra Club's Lay of the Land Blog

It was a beautiful sunny spring morning yesterday at the 15,000 acre Prince William Forest Park. Debbie Sease and I, along with a diverse array of over 50 outdoors and conservation leaders, joined Secretary of the Interior  Sally Jewell and National Parks Superintendent Jon Jarvis to discuss how to connect American families with nature and our special places.

Secretary Jewell clearly and passionately understands that connecting kids and families outdoors is absolutely critical for the future of our communities, public lands and wildlife.  She spoke eloquently of the power of private and public sector partnerships, and her great optimism that working smartly together we can collectively make a big difference.

Debbie and I highlighted the Sierra Club's growing outdoors programs  that get over 250,000 kids and adults outdoors--from inner city kids to military families-- as well as our own Jackie Ostfeld's leadership in the Outdoors Alliance for Kids  where she pushes for policies and funding to get kids outdoors.  We got some great kudos from Sheri, with Blue Star Families, about a recent Sierra Club grant to help them get their military families to an outing in the Park.

Secretary Jewell ended her comments by highlighting the need to consolidate all the mapping data out there to better identify lands of high value for wildlife and recreation, cultural and historical values, as well as those of high energy development value.  She urged all of us to be active and smart as we work together to create a healthy future for our children and our public lands.  We're looking forward to what is in store.

--Dan Chu, Sr. Campaign Director, Our Wild America

Secretary Sally Jewell Wants to Connect More Children to Nature


In case you missed it, yesterday Interior Secretary Sally Jewell hosted her first live web chat. We already knew she was a champion for connecting kids with the great outdoors when she was the CEO of REI, but we were wondering how she would tackle the growing divide between children and nature in her new role.

During the chat, we posed the following question: "How will you as Secretary of the Interior ensure that more kids have access and opportunities to explore and enjoy America’s Great Outdoors?"

And here’s how she responded.

“The next generation of leaders, in this country, are the children that are being born today, and playing in our playgrounds today. There is a growing disconnect between children and nature across our country for a variety of reasons. We think about screen time and how much time kids spend in front of a screen, but also homework, organized youth sports, things that create time for adults to be telling children what to do. I think that it is critically important that children have time to explore on their own terms, to exercise their curiosity. It is very important in an urbanizing world, and particularly in our country, that kids in urban areas have an opportunity to connect with a park or an open space and explore that to satisfy their own curiosity, to make up their own rules and not just have an adult telling them what to do all the time. I think America’s Great Outdoors provides a great place to do that, whether it is the great outdoors close to home in an urban area or whether it’s the vast lands of the BLM or our National Parks. I look forward to finding opportunities to work across agencies and states and local areas to connect more children to nature overall.”

Watch the recording of the full Earth Day web chat and let us know some of your ideas for connecting kids with nature.



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