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Military Veterans Embrace the Outdoors

A local veteran is featured in a Sierra Club documentary about the importance of getting veterans to experience nature.

When Stacy Bare returned home after serving in the Army, he was lost.

“The last thing I wanted to be was a veteran,” he said.

The South Dakota native, who now lives in Salt Lake City, felt that life after the Army lacked a sense of purpose. He remembered all of the people he had grown close to who had died serving their country, while he still lived on. He struggled with drug and alcohol addiction and thoughts of suicide.

Then one day, a friend talked him into going rock climbing in Boulder, Colo.

“I spent the whole day and I hadn’t thought about war,” he said. “There was something bigger and more powerful than me in those rocks. I realized I needed to get other veterans outdoors.”

Bare began to organize informal hikes with groups of veterans. It wasn’t long before the Sierra Club reached out and asked if they could bring Bare’s model to the club.

Last August, Bare, now the director of Mission Outdoors for the club, joined a small group of veterans on a five-day hike through Glacier National Park in Montana. The Sierra Club-sponsored hike was filmed and turned into a short documentary. Bare was on hand to present the film to a small audience at the Adventure 16 store in Oceanside.

The goal of the project, according to James Balog, director of the Extreme Ice Survey, was to show the veterans how the landscape has been changing in the country they’ve been serving while they’ve been fighting overseas. Particularly, the glaciers in the park have been melting at a rapid rate.

Bare said projects like these are much bigger than often-divisive political environmentalism.

“I was never really an environmentalist,” he said. “That term still doesn’t sit well with me. But if I don’t have a place to climb or hike anymore, how am I going to get better?

Other veterans featured in the film said getting outdoors had a major impact on their post-war mindsets.

“Vets who are coming back have this yearning for something, and they don’t necessarily know what it is,” said Staff Sargent Genevieve Chase in the film. “There’s something so simple and meditative about putting one foot in front of the other on the trail.”

Also presenting the film was Oceanside resident Cathleen Ephgrave, of the Marine Corps, who also participated in the hike.

Ephgrave moved to Oceanside from Chicago a year and a half ago “solely because of the weather,” she said.

While she said the hike was an “amazing” experience for her, she did suffer from pneumonia for almost the entire trip.

“I had Nyquil, so no worries,” she said.

Bare encouraged veterans and anyone interested in the Sierra Club to get involved with the organization, from funding to volunteering to trip participation. The next veteran’s hike will be in Alaska’s Arctic Circle in August.

“We get a lot of people who want to get involved in some way,” Bare said. “Who doesn’t want to go hiking with veterans?”

For more information on upcoming trips and other programs, visit sierraclub.org/military or sierraclub.typepad.com/missionoutdoors/.

Follow Stacy Bare's adventure on a Huffington Post blog. 

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