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Scrapbook: Sierra Club Teams Up with Americans from Coast to Coast to Honor Those Who Serve

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November 22, 2011

Sierra Club Teams Up with Americans from Coast to Coast to Honor Those Who Serve

GOA on StepsThis September marked the Sierra Club’s second annual Serve Outdoors month, and its purpose was to honor those who have served America by cleaning up and protecting the outdoors. The Sierra Club provides veterans with opportunities to go on outdoor adventures, since it is believed that nature can help reduce the stress that hinders Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) recovery. Serve Outdoors provides opportunities for the families of service members to also enjoy the great outdoors. The Sierra Club’s Mission Outdoors programs (Building Bridges to the Outdoors, Inner City Outings, Local Outings, and Military Families and Veterans Outdoors), Water Sentinels, and the Sierra Student Coalition all hosted Serve Outdoors events throughout the month of September.

Thousands of people across the country organized events in their own hometowns to help preserve the great outdoors for future generations.  Volunteers cleaned up local parks, rivers, and wetlands to show their support for the environment. As part of Great Outdoors America Week, dozens of volunteer activists flew from all across the country to Washington D.C. to participate in briefings and discussions to educate decision makers about the benefits of getting outdoors and how to take action back at home.

The Water Sentinels program engaged people in cleaning up their community’s waterways and parks. Sixteen volunteers tested the water quality at the Verde River in Arizona. They collected samples to determine concentrations of E. coli, arsenic and total nitrogen in the water. For “It’s Our River Day”, in Algonquin, Illinois, 35 volunteers picked up more than 40 pounds of garbage and more than 80 pounds of recyclables along the Fox River and Crystal Creek in Cornish Park. In Missouri, nearly 200 volunteers, about a quarter of which were kids, cleaned up the Niangua River by picking up two tons of trash.

By partnering with local high schools, Chicago Inner City Outings, the Chicago Park District, and Congressman Mike Quigley, 240 volunteers, including 175 kids, went to Montrose Beach in Chicago and removed more than 300 pounds of garbage. The volunteers also mulched the Montrose trails and hosted four nature tours of the endangered dunes habitat on Montrose Beach, and the bird and butterfly sanctuary.

For the first time, Sierra Club’s Mission Outdoors brought a delegation to Washington D.C. to participate in Great Outdoors America Week. One of those delegates was Gwen Miller, a native of Lombard, Illinois, who took her passion for the outdoors even further by coming to Washington D.C. to advocate for the Healthy Kids Outdoors Act. This bill would support state, local, and federal strategies to connect America’s youth with nature, outdoor recreation like camping and hiking, and outdoor service learning programs. “Parents need to allow their kids to run around outside more, and we should also teach more environmental classes in schools. It’s important that people connect with nature, because the greater connection they have to it, the more relevant it will be to conserve our environment,” said Miller.

On September 11th, the Sierra Club's Military Families and Veterans Outdoors program, in partnership with Veterans Expeditions, the American Alpine Club, and Jackson Hole Mountain Guides, pushed up to the summit of the Grand Teton. Standing at 13,775 feet on that day were veterans who had served in our military as far back as 1991. One veteran wrote in a blog post about the event, “Between us, we were missing a leg, a few fingers, had a spinal issue, Post-Traumatic Stress, depression, and all had battled reintegration issues.” The veterans, including a young Air Force Lieutenant and Co-Founder of Veterans Expeditions, Nick Watson, reflected from the top of the mountain where they were when the two planes hit the World Trade Centers in 2001.

The Sierra Student Coalition organized events across the country in partnership with the Sierra Club’s Beyond Coal campaign to rally on university campuses against the coal industry. At the University of North Carolina, students gathered on the steps of the Ackland Art Museum to urge the Board of Trustees to stop using the UNC endowment to invest in coal and instead support clean energy sources. Students at the University of Virginia, Michigan State University, and Purdue University also pressured their administrations to transition away from coal.

The Serve Outdoors initiative this year was a great opportunity for people across the country to commemorate the 10 year anniversary of 9/11 and to give back to their communities. People honored veterans through a range of activities, from mountain climbs to park and beach clean ups.  The thousands of volunteers who participated in these outdoor service events showed us that one of the best ways to make a positive difference is by changing the practices and habits in our own communities. By preserving the outdoors together through service activities, future generations will be able to experience the parks and wildlife that we enjoy today. Through programs like Serve Outdoors, the Sierra Club aims to help service members, their families and all Americans live happier and healthier lives, and we hope the turn out next September for these events will be even greater.

 -- Paige Esterkin, Media Intern

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