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I am a veteran and an outdoor enthusiast who has spent the last 10 years working in the outdoor industry. Without a doubt, our industry is the first in which I experienced the same level of camaraderie and commitment to purpose as I did during my 22 years in the Navy on active and reserve duty.
This shared ethos is not surprising. Today’s outdoor industry and the $787 billion recreation economy it supports have roots that began over 70 years ago with the returning veterans of World War II. According to a Forest Service report published in 1989, the desire for outdoor recreation grew as millions of servicemen returned to civilian life.
At the same time, an outdoor recreation economy was born to support this growing demand. During the war, Pulitzer Prize-winning American journalist Ernie Pyle keenly observed that the Coleman GI pocket stove was one of the “most important pieces of noncombat equipment ever developed.” Coleman, along with companies like Stanley and Eddie Bauer, supplied the Army with essential gear. Today, of course, these items—portable cooking stoves, insulated bottles, down jackets and sleeping bags—are key tools for outdoor recreation. After the war, the commercialization of noncombat military supplies provided returning service members with the same equipment they used in combat. This familiar gear, coupled with increased mobility and post-war prosperity, empowered these war veterans and their progeny to pioneer new outdoor recreation and fuel its growth in the second half of the 20th century.
Many returning veterans looked to the outdoors as a place for healing. The first and perhaps best example of seeking solace in nature was the story of World War II veteran Earl Schaffer, who said after a thru-hike of the Appalachian Trail, “I walked the war out of my system.” History shows that many returning combat veterans ventured into the wilderness to heal. They found comfort while hiking or running on trails, identified new purpose climbing challenging crags, and reestablished connection with society casting flies into rivers.
Like many other Americans, these returning men and women rely on our public lands to provide a place to recreate and recover. Unfortunately, President Trump has removed protections on many of the public lands we cherish, like Bears Ears National Monument and Superior National Forest. As the Center for American Progress reports, “President Trump is the only president in U.S. history to have removed more public lands than he protected.” Veteran advocates, conservation groups, and outdoor enthusiasts all agree this is appalling.
Despite this shared appreciation for outdoor recreation and public lands, I am perplexed by voter apathy among outdoor enthusiasts. A Conservation Alliance survey indicates that close to 25 million outdoor community members may not vote in the upcoming election. As a veteran and an outdoorsman, I find this unacceptable. Many of the issues on the ballot, like climate action, impact both the outdoor recreation industry and our national security. I, along with many other veterans, strongly support both of these goals: protecting public lands and safeguarding our nation’s security.
Our collective voices can influence the outcome of this year’s election, but it requires everyone to vote. If you’re not planning to vote in November, please reconsider and make a plan. If you need guidance on our industry’s issues, the Outdoor Industry Association’s #VoteTheOutdoors page is a great place to start.