Secretary Jewell moves to increase storm resiliency on Sandy anniversary


Today marks the first anniversary of Hurricane Sandy’s landfall across the Eastern Seaboard. Many communities are still devastated. Many families remain without homes.

On this relatively calm and beautiful autumn morning one year later, my colleague Debbie Sease and I headed to the Dyke Marsh Wildlife Preserve in Virginia, to hear Interior Secretary Sally Jewell announce some solutions to increase our resiliency to future storms.

Secretary Jewell launched a $100 million Hurricane Sandy Coastal Resiliency Competitive Grant Program to restore habitats and increase the resiliency of communities to storms. Joined by Senator Tim Kaine and Congressman Jim Moran of Virginia, the Secretary laid out a process that will begin to answer President Obama’s Climate Action Plan.


“By stabilizing marshes and beaches, restoring wetlands, and improving the resilience of coastal areas, we not only create opportunities for people to connect with nature and support jobs through increased outdoor recreation, but we can also provide an effective buffer that protects local communities from powerful storm surges and devastating floods when a storm like Sandy hits,” said Jewell.  "In cooperation with the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation, this competitive grant program will fund innovative projects by States, local communities, tribes, non-profit organizations and other partners to rebuild, restore, and research these natural areas along the Atlantic Coast.” 

In addition to the newly rolled out $100 million Grant Program, today we joined the Secretary to celebrate $162 million in federal funding for forty-five projects announced last week to “restore wetlands and beaches, rebuild shorelines and research the impacts and modeling mitigation of storm surges.” Dyke Marsh will receive $25 million for wetland restoration to increase resiliency to storms. And they will use some of that money to engage youth and returning veterans in the process – AWESOME!

“Dyke Marsh is the largest remaining freshwater tidal marsh in the Washington metropolitan area, providing rich wildlife habitat, outdoor recreational opportunities, and critical flood protection for the neighboring community,” said Jewell.  “With each major storm, we see more and more destabilization and erosion, which threatens both the local community it helps protect and the outdoor recreation it supports. This funding will allow the National Park Service and its partners to reconstruct the marsh and make it more resilient when big storms roll in.”

Following this morning’s announcement, Secretary Jewell joined a group of students for an outdoor learning opportunity along the dock. Jewell understands as well as anyone that there’s no better way for young people to learn about natural ecosystems and the real world impacts of climate disruption, than by getting outdoors and participating in restoration efforts.

I was honored to be a part of today’s announcement and look forward to supporting the Secretary’s vision to engage young people outdoors – whether for recreation, education or as stewards of our lands and communities.


Toys"R"Us, Come Outside With Us!


Toys"R"Us just put out a video that seemingly pits nature vs. toys. The bus guide even says he likes trees, but that toys are more fun.

I don't think Toys"R"Us was trying to pit nature against toys and consumerism, maybe they were.  A casual viewing of the video would lead someone to think that. And they hardly give nature a chance in the commercial. Showing flash cards of leaves is not exciting. If that versus a toy store were my options, I’d choose the toy store every time at age 8 and now at age 35.

However, if they had given the kids an hour of romping around in the woods and climbing trees, splashing pebbles in streams, and rolling in the dirt, then asked them if they wanted to go inside and wonder around on linoleum under fluorescent lights under adult supervision, I think the kids would choose to stay outdoors. The problem is, we don't give kids today enough opportunity to play outdoors and to use their imagination. Flash cards aren't inspiring, but real leaves and real trees are amazing.

Further, if you were to give a kid the choice of something that would be fun to play with in the outdoors, I think you'd see those kids run into the toy story, grab whatever that toy might be, and run straight back outside. The problem isn't so much Toys"R"Us here, rather it's that we've become a culture where inactivity and sedentary play are the default for most kids, and Toys"R"Us is capitalizing on that trend.

So, yes, Toys"R"Us, take down the advertisement that was made with all the right intentions but with horrible consequences, and instead, let's go take those 200 kids outside together in the woods in whatever town or city the advertisement was shot for a fun day in the woods. Bring your CEO and your creative team and we'll all play together! Just tell me when, or we can even plan the day!

Toys"R"Us Mocks Nature in Holiday Ad

Also appears in the Huffington Post

We haven't even finished carving our Halloween pumpkins, and already major retailers are redirecting our attention toward holiday consumerism. Toys"R"Us just launched its first Christmas shopping ad by driving a wedge between kids and nature.

The ad features a bunch of kids on a "Meet the Trees Foundation" bus getting ready to take a field trip to the forest, when their leader calls psych! He tells the kids they are actually going to Toys"R"Us -– you know, where they can have some real fun. Of course, the kids scream in delight knowing that they are going to get to take home any toy of their choosing. Where's the Toys"R"Us mascot, Geoffrey, at a time like this? The giraffe could surely shed some light on the value of trees and spending time outdoors.

We're already seeing a growing divide between kids and nature -– and it's not because young people don't enjoy getting outdoors. Eighty percent of Americans live in urban areas with limited access to green space. Only 20 percent of kids can safely walk to a park or a playground. For many students, field trips are getting fewer and further between because of school budget cuts. And all of this time spent indoors is contributing to our nation's childhood obesity epidemic.

Now more than ever, we need companies that really care about children to stand up and encourage kids and families to get outdoors -- not to mock nature. There's a ton of research to show that kids who play outdoors are happier and healthier than kids who don't.

And if you want to help reverse the trend that is boxing an entire generation indoors, consider spending some quality family time in nature this holiday season. Need some advice on where to go? Find a Sierra Club Outdoors program near you and get your nature on. 

In the meantime, tell Toys"R"Us to take down its irresponsible ad encouraging kids to reject the outdoors.




Climbing to Olympus


Climbing-to-OlympusDan, Derek, and Joshua on the summit of Mt. Olympus.

By Joshua Brandon, Sierra Club Military Outdoors Organizer

We climb for many reasons. We climb to challenge ourselves and we climb for spiritual fulfillment. We climb to mark the anniversaries of our victories as well as our tragedies. Last week, our team of veterans climbed for their own personal reasons in remembrance of the events of September 11, 2001.

Climbing-to-OlympusDan after his first alpine lead.

Many in our community lost friends and family in the events of that day, but far more of us mark that day as the turning point when our lives were forever changed in the conflict of the following 12 years. Regardless of various motivations, our team marks the event by challenging ourselves in the wilderness.

Climbing-to-OlympusCrossing the gap.

From September 7th to the 12th, I joined veteran climbers Dan Wiwczar and Derek Quintanilla in a traverse of Mount Olympus and the Ridge of the Gods in the wilderness of Washington State for the annual 9/11 climb.

Climbing-to-OlympusSupper below the Blue Glacier.

Over the course of five and a half days, we walked and climbed 48 miles with 11,000 feet of elevation change on five peaks and two glaciers. We traveled through one of the largest temperate rainforests on the planet, steep subalpine hills, and glaciated alpine vistas that encompass some of the most beautiful landscapes in our country.

Climbing-to-OlympusRidge of the Gods, with objectives Athena and Athens Owl to the right.

I was proud of my team as they faced every challenge the mountain threw at us. Long distances, dangerous crevasse travel, fluctuating temperatures, and exposed climbs on rotten rock only seemed to make them stronger as the trip ground on.

Climbing-to-OlympusParting shot of Mt. Olympus rising above the Blue Glacier.

Dan was given no quarter on his first major glacier climb, and both he and Derek rose to the challenge in completing their first alpine-rock lead climbs. The tougher the conditions, the bigger their smiles; the more dangerous the route, the louder they laughed. I've always been lucky to have veterans like these at my side in the wilderness.

Climbing-to-OlympusJoshua picking a line.

Over the course of the climb I was left with the following thought: Each of us turned to the mountains to find our way when we left the ranks, and each of us continues to lead his fellow veterans to help them find their way after the war. Like the generations of veterans who came before us, we have returned to the lands we once defended to heal.

Climbing-to-OlympusOn the approach.

While the lands we fought for will forever be intertwined with our lives, their importance to us is far greater than our individual purposes. These lands symbolize the very heart and soul of our nation, and our warriors are once more needed to defend them.

Climbing-to-OlympusDavid Brower High Camp below Olympus.

Our wildest places define America itself, and it is in these wildest places that we will define our legacy for generations to come. We spilled our blood on foreign soil to preserve them, and now we must once again lead our countrymen in fighting to protect them. Go into wilderness to find your way, fall in love with the lands you defended, and lead our country in defending them a second time.

Climbing-to-OlympusDerek and Dan on Athena's Owl.

I'd like to personally thank Dan Wiwczar and Derek Quintanilla, above, for an amazing climb. I can't say enough about your great display of character in tough situations. I'd also like to thank Sierra Club Outdoors, Veterans Expeditions, and Suunto for their generous sponsorship of this climb.

Climbing-to-OlympusJoshua on lead.

All photos are by and with permission of Dan Wiwczar (Sierra Club Mission Outdoors Outside Adventure Film School graduate).

Originally Posted by Tom Valtin at 01:09:00 PM in Our Wild AmericaOutings

Sierra Club Military Outdoors Dog Days of Summer


It has been a fast paced summer for Sierra Club Military Outdoors. From the nations captiol, to the mountains of Texas, and on to the Outdoor Retailer Show in Salt Lake, we have had an extraordinary time in working for our military community. 

After having enjoyed a great week in Washington DC during the Great Outdoors America Week, Sarah Hodgdon, the Director of Conservation for the Sierra Club, featured our work and the critical issues facing both the military and the military community in her article Bridging the Green Khaki Divide on treehugger. 

Leaving the nation's capitol, SCMO headed off to the great state of Texas for our inaugural Outdoor Military Resiliency Leader Training with our partners Project Rebirth and Outward Bound. We spent seven days in the mountains of west Texas, forging ten Non Commissioned Officers from 4-27th Field Artillery Battalion as future Resiliency Outings Leaders in a rigorous array of outdoor leadership and technical skills. After completing a second training outing in Colorado in September with Outward Bound, these leaders will return to their unit and begin to lead their soldiers, peers, and families on outdoor outings as apart of their larger official resiliency mission within their unit. These outings will directly impact the mental, physical, and spiritual health of the soldiers in their unit as well as the larger community, resulting in their empowerment to overcome the challenges associated with life in the active duty military. The Outdoor Resiliency Leadership Program is the flagship program for SCMO, and we are looking forward with great excitement to future leadership training in Texas and the Pacific Northwest. 

Group Photo (low res) (1)
Class 01-13

Right on the heels of our training in Texas, SCMO headed back to the nation's capitol to join BLM Acting Deputy Director Steve Ellis,  BLM Assistant Director Carl Roundtree, and Sierra Club Our Wild America Campaign Director Dan Chu for the signing of a  Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) that will enable both organizations to work more effectively together on programs, training, and recreational activities for veterans and military families. Both organizations recognize that outings and activities on our public lands are a key tool in helping those who serve and have served continue to not only heal, but to empower them to continue to lead their nation and fellow citizens. Official Press Release 

Group sm
Joshua Brandon, Dan Chu, Steve Ellis, and Carl Roundtree

 Immediately following the historic BLM signing, SCMO jetted off to Salt Lake City to join the Sierra Club Outdoors and the team from the Sierra Magazine for the Outdoor Retailer Summer Show. Here we engaged in a  whirl wind schedule in meeting with old friends and partners such as the American Alpine Club, and the North Face, as well as meeting with a host of outdoor companies and organizations in order to forge partnerships for the future in supporting our work with the military community. The highlight of the week was our first Veteran's Documentary Film Screening and Mixer. We were joined by SCMO friends and mentors Conrad Anker and Michael Brown for the viewing of the veteran climbing film High Ground, our very own Mission Outdoors Glacier National Park documentary, and a screening of one of our short films from our first Veteran Filmmaker Outing in collaboration with the Outside Adventure Film School. The film had a powerful and visible impact on the diverse mix of veterans, outdoor industry professionals, conservationists, and athletes at the event. A special thank you to Sierra Magazine, the North Face, Outdoor Research, Terramar, the Adventure Travel Association, Conrad Anker, and Michael Brown for making this event possible. We would also like to offer our appreciation for Danner Boots in hosting a nightly cocktail hour in support of SCMO. 

The next few weeks are full of amazing events for us. Our Sierra Club Outdoors Director Stacy Bare is leading a team of veterans on our second climate recon expedition in the Artic Circle. In September we will be leading a team of veterans in partnership with Veterans Expeditions on our annual 911 climb in the Olympics Range of Washington State, followed by our first veteran mentor climb in partnership with the American Alpine Club.  



Military, Leadership, and the Outdoors -- My Week as an Honor Code Camp Counselor


Recently, I performed as a camp counselor for Honor Code! United States Service Academy Preparatory and Leadership Camps. This military summer camp helps aspiring high school students plan, prepare, and apply to our nation's five U.S. Service Academies -- USMA at West Point, USNA at Annapolis, USAFA in Colorado Springs, USCGA in New London, and USMMA in Kings Point.

I have previously performed in this role, as well as been an instructor for their classroom sessions. However, because of my summer commitment as a Sierra Club intern, I was unsure whether I would be able to serve the camps. Fortunately, because Sierra Club Outdoors is committed to getting military families and veterans outdoors, I was able to participate in the camp held at the United States Naval Academy.

My recent experience with the Sierra Club's Outdoors Program opened my eyes to the similarities of the two programs, especially in the areas of leadership development, military family issues, childhood health, fitness, and the development of outdoor skills.


Sierra Club Outdoors works to ensure military families and veterans are able to enjoy the land they fight to preserve. As part of this effort, Sierra Club Outdoors also has a leadership-training component to further develop outdoor programs for military veterans and families.  Sierra Club Outdoors takes the position that many military families face challenges that may be mitigated or even eliminated through service-personnel access and enjoyment of the great outdoors, parks, forests, and a variety of public and private lands –- including wilderness.

Honor Code! students who are interested in attending a United States Service Academy participate in leadership training that stresses strong foundational precepts such as "service before self," "serving your people," and "shared hardship builds great teams." In addition, students participate in a variety of skill development and outdoor activities such as orienteering, boat trips, skydiving, and kayaking.

Furthermore, Honor Code! students are instructed on the importance of physical activity and maintaining their health by participating in outdoor activities, with a focus on "leave no trace" and "tread lightly" outdoor ethics. Similarly, Sierra Club Outdoors maintains a focus on encouraging adults and children to go outside to explore and enjoy nature. And, of course, the Sierra Club develops community leaders dedicated to serving their country through environmental education, land stewardship, and the preservation of biodiversity.


These many program similarities were apparent on many levels throughout the week. These groups are equally patriotic: committed to developing ethical leaders and preserving the values, resources and special places that define our country. I feel very honored to be a part of two amazing organizations!



Hanna Boys float the Klamath River


In my 19 years of rafting with the Sierra Club's community outreach program, Inner City Outings (ICO), I have seen many a river. On occasion, I'm asked if I ever get tired of the river or the other rafters; the answer is uncategorically no. River people know that rivers are never the same, and people (even river rats) always change after running one. I found such transformations abundant on a recent ICO trip on the Lower Klamath River in Northern California with eight teenage boys and their two adult chaperones from Hanna Boys Center. 


My volunteer river guide friends and I arrived at the Curley Jack campground around 5 pm on an unusually warm and humid day. I grabbed a spray bottle of water from my truck as a way to beat the heat. It also proved to be a fantastic conduit to breaking the ice between the teens and me. As I introduced myself to the fellas, I offered a squirt of refreshing cool water. It brought smiles to their heat-red faces and relief to their burning skin.

We enjoyed three days and two nights on the Lower Klamath floating, paddling, swimming, talking, playing, and ogling the world around us. With each hour, our laughter grew louder, our conversations grew deeper and our game playing (horseshoes, catch, Twiddle, elbow tag, and more) grew more competitive, as the politeness of strangers turned into the familiarity of friendship.


On day two, we hiked Ukanom Creek up to a waterfall with a 30-foot drop into a beautiful pool. One of the snapshots in my mind of that trip is of watching each of those young men shed their tough skin as they jumped (with giggles and smiles) from a ledge screaming "YOLO" into the pool and emerge from the water as carefree happy boys.

One 16-year-old boy who lingered on the periphery of the group most of the time, could not control his desire to jump over and over again. After moving from Southeast Asia, he has spent the past several years alone, fending for himself in a new and unfamiliar environment. And here he was jumping into the great wide open with friends to support his leaps of faith.

After another teenage participant took a few jumps, he climbed up next to me onto the log where I was sitting in the sun. I told him that he looked like he belonged there –- he answered with a vigorous head nod and the words, "Oh ya I do, I plan to become a river guide with you next year." As he watched, his smile grew wider as he took in the scene. Hard to believe that just a year earlier, he was sitting in a principal's office being expelled from school.

By the third day on river, we had all grown so comfortable with one another that we started switching boats. This was great for those of us rowing boats, because we had spent the previous two days rowing our rigs alone. About mid-day, a 12-year-old, asked if he could come aboard. He timidly accepted my offer to put him in charge and row the boat. I spent some time explaining the basics of reading water and boat handling. As he looked downstream into a sizable a rapid, he asked, "Mel, can I handle this?" After checking it out, I said, "Yup, you got this." We came out of that rock-jammed bend dry-side up with big smiles on our faces and cheers from the other rafts.

A little while later, we were joined by another Hanna boy, and a similar scenario took place. But instead of me training him on the oars, the first boy talked the other one through reading water and boat maneuvering. After I saw that they were both comfortable, I asked permission to float in the river while they took over my boat. I trusted them with the boat and to watch over me as I floated through some shallow rapids on a float toy.


The last night of the trip, one of the group chaperones shared a great gift with Bart Sr., one of our ICO leaders. Most of these boys did not know their fathers or had bad experiences with theirs. Moreover, most of the counselors at Hanna Boys Center are women, so it is rare for them to interact, play and engage with a positive "father figure." Bart and his son were TOTAL HITS with the Hanna Boys, who got to see a positive father/son relationship, while they got some positive male attention too.

The closing circle the last day was bittersweet. None of us really wanted to leave, but we all knew that we had to move on. As we drove away, my friends and I were silent as we thought about the trip and the people we were leaving -- each of us digesting the changes we had seen in the boys over those few days.

The experience of the river had a profound impact on the boys -- and on me. I may not be able to put my finger on how this river trip changed me, but I can feel it. I feel a little more alive, a little more grounded, and a lot more inspired.

-- Mel MacInnis, Mission Outdoors

Inner City Outings in Pictures



An Inner City Outings scrapbook would look something like this: pictures of young people smiling, playing, and admiring what the outdoors has to offer. For ICO backpacking leaders Tim Kline and Linda De Young, these moments are what make ICO so rewarding.

Pt reyes sleeping bags

"Most students live in school and are so regimented. My trip leading style is mostly to just get youth outside and let them play," says Tim. "It's been great seeing some of the more reserved students have an unabashed good time just being wild, splashing around in the sand, playing soccer, and yelling. I love it."


Continue reading "Inner City Outings in Pictures" »

Environmental Education Bridges the Partisan Divide in Congress


first published in the Huffington Post

Huffpost Stem Teachers

In a welcome break from partisan gridlock, congressional leaders from both sides of the aisle have come together to advance environmental education and outdoor learning opportunities for students across America. Earlier this week, Congressmen John Sarbanes (D-MD) and Michael Fitzpatrick (R-PA) and Senators Jack Reed (D-RI) and Mark Kirk (R-IL) reintroduced the No Child Left Inside Act of 2013. If passed, the bill would encourage states to implement environmental literacy plans for K-12 students.

As a former environmental educator myself, I know first-hand the value of learning in and about the environment. I have seen the look of surprise on kids' faces when they come to understand that water does not starts its journey at the kitchen sink, or when they do something as simple as pull a carrot out of the ground for the first time. I have witnessed classroom teachers marvel at the transformation of some of their most challenging students, who after an outdoor class on forest ecology, suddenly show an aptitude for learning.

Schools and educators are increasingly seeing the value of environmental education which has been shown to improve motivation to learn, self-esteem, critical thinking and academic performance across subject areasResearch has even found that just a few days of outdoor environmental instruction may improve science test scores by as much as 27 percent. Getting outdoors also encourages physical fitness, reduces stress and lessens the symptomsof attention-deficit disorders which, in turn, improve the ability of our students to learn.

"Environmental education must be a national priority," said Congressman Sarbanes. "Hands-on, outdoor interaction with the environment enhances student achievement -- not only in science, but also in reading, math, and social studies. By investing in education that will grow the next generation of innovators, scientists and environmental stewards, we will prepare our workforce of the future to meet the many economic, environmental, and energy-related challenges our country is facing."

Safeguarding our communities and protecting our air, water and lands from environmental threats will require a sustained effort and a well-educated generation (or two) to respond to challenges with innovative and smart solutions. Today's youth will have to help tackle future environmental threats as adults, yet our students are not being provided with the basic environmental education foundation needed to address these challenges.

"This bill reflects a larger, overall responsibility to promote environmental stewardship in future generations," said Fitzpatrick. "Incorporating environmental learning is a down payment on our progress -- one that will spur both future scientists and healthier, more conscious citizens."

Unfortunately, schools are pressed for resources to implement environmental education programming. The No Child Left Inside Act would begin to address this challenge by encouraging states to develop and implement environmental education plans for their K-12 students.

Sierra Club is committed to ensuring that kids and youth have opportunities to explore and enjoy the natural world. Through a vast network of volunteers, Sierra Club's Inner City Outings program is working hard to give tens of thousands of young people, who wouldn't otherwise have the opportunity, meaningful outdoor experiences each year. Sierra Club is proud to support the No Child Left Inside Act to ensure that students across America have similar opportunities to learn in and about the environment.

The No Child Left Inside Act is also supported by the No Child Left Inside coalition and theOutdoors Alliance for Kids.



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

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