Chapman: New wilderness would be welcombed by veterans (column)
Every day I wake up grateful to live in Colorado. We are blessed with vibrant communities, clean water, spectacular scenery and amazing access to some of the most treasured public lands and rivers in the country. Most folks know that these lands draw visitors from around the world to Colorado and they provide the backbone of our robust and sustainable resort and tourism economy. But what is likely less recognized is the solace these lands and waters bring to those who have served in our country’s armed forces.
I am a co-founder of the Patriot Anglers, which takes military service members, veterans and their families into Colorado’s wild places to fish and reconnect with one another and nature. I have seen first-hand the value of spending time immersed in nature. The abundance and proximity of protected lands in Colorado is crucial to our organization’s mission and ability to help veterans overcome post services issues.
That’s why we’re excited to support the effort to protect new wilderness and recreation areas in Summit and Eagle counties through the Continental Divide Wilderness and Recreation Act, which would preserve nearly 60,000 acres of land near the communities of Breckenridge and Vail. The areas proposed for protection are a mix of spectacular wildlife habitat and cherished recreation lands. While skiers, mountain bikers and hikers can all find stuff to like in this proposal, for Patriot Anglers, it’s about the great fishing streams and lakes in the proposed wilderness area that deserve protection.
Places in the bill like Spraddle Creek and the Tenmile Range provide iconic backdrops to ski areas and mountain communities. But they do more than that as well. In an era of non-stop communication and news, the chance to spend a few days or even hours moving and thinking at a slower pace can be life changing. For many, military service — in addition to being a very rewarding experience — can also bring challenges as we integrate back into civilian life. It can be challenging for veterans to find peace, maintain relationships with loved ones, and become successful members of civilian society. Spending time in wilderness is one of the most effective ways for veterans to reconnect with family and friends.
As a young man serving my country and going to war I was full of pride to serve, protect and to help make history. Coming home from Iraq in early 2004 after participating in the invasion of Iraq I was changed. I was angry, aggressive and on the edge of not being a good citizen. Placed on top of my emotional problems I still felt the weight of a loss early in my military service. I lost a mentor and a battle buddy to suicide. I did everything I knew at the time to save him to no avail. His death, a failing marriage and my father’s later passing in the years after returning home should have been enough to break me. In these hard times I did the only thing that felt right, I returned to nature. Following all my cherished memories of my childhood on the water fishing with my dad, I spent every weekend on the water fishing. After my father’s passing one by one I started to take my friends and fellow veterans to those few precious fishing holes. They found the same thing I did in nature, which is a place of peace as well as a place to find balance in the chaos. Once we realized nature was on our side and helping us it only took a month to stand up the Patriot Anglers. Since the founding in late 2012 hundreds of veterans have benefited from nature via a rod and reel in Colorado’s public lands and parks.
The Patriot Anglers is hopeful that Congress will quickly consider and pass the Continental Divide Wilderness and Recreation Act. Additional wilderness increases the places Patriot Anglers can take veterans and their families to reconnect and find peace following the challenges of military service.
Veterans are some of the most dedicated Americans, constantly giving in support of our country. Advocating for protection of some of Colorado’s most treasured landscapes continues that goal of service. It only takes watching the joy on a child’s face as they catch their first fish or seeing a family reconnect as they wade into a fast rushing stream deep in Colorado’s High Country to know why protecting wilderness should be a top priority.
Louis Chapman is the CEO and co-founder of Patriot Anglers. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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