Andersen: A note to District Ranger Karen Schroyer
Your column Jan. 21 on AspenTimes.com struck a chord. Your gratitude for the White River National Forest and its citizen guardians is deeply shared. The Huts for Vets program my team and I run in the wilderness for trauma-stricken veterans has you to thank for our permit.
Consider a recent Facebook post from an Iraq War veteran from Texas: “Huts for Vets is one of the most helpful, insightful and caring programs I have ever been a part of. They touch real vets with real issues and challenges. They provide a tangible escape from the ordinary and mundane existence we call our post-military lives. They provide a way to release some pent-up feelings stemming from post-traumatic stress disorder and other trauma by connecting vets to nature and a group of individuals with the tools to actually help. Their work is invaluable and their processes successful … if only in the life of this vet. I cannot possibly put into words the profound work they are doing in saving lives and sanity, one veteran at a time. They are what every outreach program should desire to be.”
Huts for Vets couldn’t do what we do without support and cooperation from the Forest Service. Good forest management safeguards the health and longevity of our national forest, which surrounds and buffers us from the rising impacts of urbanization in the industrialized world. More and more Americans need the forest for mental health.
The positive and protective feelings you described coming from local residents show that most residents truly care for our forest. Most of our ascribed benefits come from intangibles. Rather than producing board feet of lumber or mining mineral ores in a resource-based forest, our recreation-based forest provides beneficial experiences.
Peace, quiet, tranquility, beauty, solitude, purity, physical challenge, adventure and a spiritual relationship with nature are among the values we attribute to the natural world. These intangibles are what reward us and enrich our appreciation for the 2 million acres you strive to manage.
These values are priceless and must be protected as a legacy far into the future. The veterans I take into the mountains, and many others whom I guide on hiking trails with the Aspen Institute, would be hard-pressed to describe exactly how they benefit. I think it comes down to experiencing something greater than ourselves in places of great beauty and immense scale.
A current National Geographic article, “This Is Your Brain on Nature,” provides science-based metrics on how our brains and bodies benefit from exposure to natural environments.
“A 15-minute walk in the woods provides a 16 percent decrease in the stress hormone cortisol, a 2 percent drop in blood pressure and a 4 percent drop in heart rate,” according to the article.
The article states: “Motivated by large-scale public-health problems such as obesity, depression and pervasive nearsightedness — all clearly associated with time spent indoors — scientists are looking with renewed interest at how nature affects our brains and bodies.”
Add anxiety, hypervigilance, depression and post-traumatic stress, and you have an idea of what our veteran population is struggling with. The veteran quoted above is one of many who found solace, comfort and security in our wilderness. He hasn’t forgotten it and probably never will. That’s why veterans support wilderness.
“The outdoor areas are part of the American identity we fought to protect in the military,” wrote Garett Reppenhagen two weeks ago in the Glenwood Springs Post Independent. Garett is a Huts for Vets alum. As a former American sniper, he is now fighting for conservation of wild lands through Vet Voice Foundation. “Being able to retreat to the outdoors to heal from our war experience is critical to our survival.”
Karen, you and your staff help perpetuate such opportunities for people of many walks of life. We as a community owe you a note of gratitude — a message of appreciation — for being a caring, committed district ranger in a forest where our values align.
Thank you for the job you’re doing. And thanks to your staff for persevering with the demands of their jobs. You probably don’t hear that very often, but it should be said again and again.
Paul Andersen’s column appears on Mondays. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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