Wilderness supporters rally in D.C. for Great Outdoors America Week

Youth at the festival on the National Mall told us why they love the Great Outdoors. 

Emily Diamond-Falk

Great Outdoors America Week was a time to celebrate the outdoors!

Last week, Americans who care about protecting the great outdoors joined The Wilderness Society and other conservation groups in Washington, D.C. to celebrate the great outdoors, advocate for wildlands conservation and address the growing need for Americans to reconnect with nature. 

As part of Great Outdoors America Week, we made it possible for youth groups to get involved with outdoor festivities on the National Mall and let Congress, President Obama and his administration know that protecting America’s great outdoors is an American priority.

Citizens traveled from across the states

In addition to meeting with elected officials, participants attended events celebrating our wild places, including The Kids Youth and the Great Outdoors Festival and Walk on the National Mall on Wednesday, June 26.  

Video: Youth from various youth organizations enjoyed testing out their outdoor skills on the National Mall. 

Individuals from a great diversity of backgrounds traveled from across the states to be part of this special week. They included recreationists, sportsmen, veterans, Native Americans, local elected officials and conservationists. Our love for our great outdoors bonds us together, and last week was an opportunity to celebrate that connection and advocate for its future protection.

Other events at GO Week 2013 focused on “Conservation and the Outdoor Economy.” Our great outdoors are one of the nation’s most robust economic segments. Outdoor recreation alone generates $646 billion in consumer spending and creates 6.1 million jobs!

How can I participate now that GO Week is over? 

Go Week 2013 followed our “Go Outside and Play!” campaign launched this spring to get more American outdoors. You can still be part of the festivities by going to our campaign page and pledging to get yourself into the great outdoors--and to take someone with you!

Part of Go Week addressed the growing need for Americans to get reconnected to nature. Photo: Oregon Museum of Science and Industry

Follow us on Twitter with #GOAmericaWeek and @wilderness to revisit the exciting events!

Read these updates from GO America Week!

June 27, Day 3, A Congressional Conclusion!

GO America Week culminated on Capitol Hill with a celebration of this year’s congressional champions. The 11 Senators and Representatives came from different states all across the country but with one goal: to protect and reconnect people to America’s great outdoors. Each champion was given an award with a scenic view of a natural area in his or her state, be it a wilderness area, national monument or park.

Senator Martin Heinrich (D-NM) is one of the strongest voices for conservation and the outdoors, first in the House and now the Senate.

Here are the awardees:

Senator Barbara Boxer (D-CA)
From the North Coast to the Eastern Sierra Nevada range, Sen. Boxer has worked with diverse stakeholders to preserve more than 1 million acres of wilderness and the communities it supports.

Senator Max Baucus (D-MT)
The Senator’s incredible leadership on the Land and Water Conservation Fund (LWCF) through the Montana Legacy Project has led to the protection of over 310,000 acres in the Crown of the Continent – a wonderful conservation legacy.

Senator Richard Burr (R-NC)
Senator Richard Burr works to restore revenues from offshore oil and gas development to the Land and Water Conservation Fund, rather than allowing their continued diversion for other purposes.

Representative Ron Kind (D-WI)
Rep. Kind introduced the Healthy Kids Outdoors Act, which encourages states to get kids active, healthy and outdoors.

Representative Mike Fitzpatrick (R-PA)
Rep. Fitzpatrick has been a champion for wildlife, outdoor recreation, clean water, wild places, and connecting kids with nature. When accepting the award, he said, “Conservation isn't a democratic issue or republican issue; it's a moral issue.”

Representative Raul Grijalva (D-AZ)
When trying to protect the Grand Canyon from uranium mining, he says, “It’s the Grand Canyon, stupid!” Representative Grijalva introduced the Arizona Sonoran Desert Heritage Act (H.R. 1799).

Senator Bill Nelson (D-FL)
Sen. Nelson has been an advocate in protecting the Everglades. “I became more than an environmentalist when I went into space…What I saw made me want to become a better steward of the planet,” Sen. Nelson said when accepting the award.

Senator Patty Murray (D-WA)
Sen. Murray introduced the  Alpine Lakes Wilderness Additions and Pratt and Middle Fork Snoqualmie Rivers Protection Act (S. 112). The bill would protect an additional 22,000 acres of wilderness adjoining the existing Alpine Lakes Wilderness Area and would add 10 miles of the Pratt River and nearly 30 miles of the Middle Fork of the Snoqualmie River to the National Wild and Scenic River System. The bill passed the Senate just days before GO America Week!

Senator Martin Heinrich (D-NM)
Senator Heinrich is one of the strongest voices for conservation and the outdoors, first in the House and now the Senate.  He, along with Sen. Tom Udall, urged President Obama to protect Rio Grande del Norte National Monument. He is also working to protect the Organ Mountains-Desert Peaks in southern New Mexico.

Senator Tom Udall (D-NM)
Sen. Udall was a champion for the Rio Grande del Norte National Monument.   He also works to protect precious water resources in the state, and to restore river habitat.

Senator Mark Udall (D-CO)
Senator Mark Udall has been a life-long champion of wilderness. He is working on the San Juan Mountains Wilderness Act, which just recently passed out of committee. He is also seeking local input to protect Browns Canyon as a national monument and wilderness. In accepting the award, Sen. Udall said, “You can’t schmooze your way up a mountain.”

Thanks to the combined efforts of these Great Outdoors America Week congressional champions, Americans can continue to enjoy our wild places and green spaces for years to come.


June 26, Day 2 - We’re Walking on Sunshine! Great Outdoors Festival and Walk to the Capitol

“When I say ‘Great’ you say ‘Outdoors!’ ‘Great!’ ‘Outdoors!’”

Braving the heat, youth organizations gathered at the National Mall for the Great Outdoors Festival and Walk to the Capitol!

Whether it was mountain biking up and down ramps, paddling in a kayak or learning how to tie a sturdy knot, kids spent time outside appreciating everything the great outdoors has to offer.

And what is there to appreciate about the great outdoors and wilderness? Youth wrote on white boards and chalkboards why the outdoors is so special to them. “I love the great outdoors because they are free!” “I love the great outdoors because no child is left behind!” “I love the wilderness because I can watch the sun set and eat smores!”

After a few hours of fun in the sun, Interior Secretary Sally Jewell as well as representatives from the Obama administration and other organizations spoke on the importance of outdoor play. Spending nearly 7.5 hours on electric devices a day, the speakers encouraged everyone to take a step outside, take a breath of fresh air, and play!

The day concluded with a walk  to the Capitol and a group photo.

Interior Secretary Sally Jewell and others from the Obama Administration attended the event to talk about the importance of getting kids connected to the outdoors. 


June 26, Day 2 - Military families say nature helps 

A panel of military families, veterans and active duty service members held a briefing to discuss the benefits of nature for veterans returning from combat. The message? The great outdoors helps combat veterans with through the mental and spiritual benefits provided through time in nature. 

Simply put, nature helps military members and their families reintegrate, said Sherri Robey-Lapan from Blue Star Families, an organization that supports military families. 


June 26, Day 2 - Interior Secretary and Richard Louv urge more outdoor play for Americans

More recess?! After a discussion about outdoor recreation and its positive impact on the economy, advocates headed to the Center For America Progress to listen to Secretary of the Interior Sally Jewell and author of The Nature Principle: Human Restoration and the End of Nature-Deficit Disorder Richard Louv urge Americans to board the boat for outdoor play.

As of 2008, more people live in cities than anywhere else. In this technology-ridden age, kids are turning their heads away from the rivers and to their iPhones and iPads. “As kids get out and recognize these parks and playgrounds, people are beginning to turn their faces back to the river,” said Secretary of Interior Jewell.

A step outside a day, keeps the doctor away! “Health reform is not going to happen only within the health industry,” Mr. Louv said. Secretary of Interior Jewell and Mr. Louv remind us that outdoor spaces can be just as healing as a doctor’s office.

So how are we going to plant these seeds of natural appreciation? Education and youth involvement is one answer. “What I think is going to change this planet for the better is kids feeling connected to the outdoors and bringing their voice to bear,” said Secretary of Interior Jewell.

Let’s get outside and play! Jewell planned to be at the National Mall today at 1 p.m. to walk to the Capitol as part of the Kids Youth and the Great Outdoors Festival and Walk on the National Mall. 


June 25, Day 1 Great Outdoors America Week - Outdoor industry leaders praise wildlands as economic boosters

As if a mini-pep rally for GO America Week was not enough, some advocates headed to Capitol Hill to attend a briefing on conservation and the outdoor economy.

The speakers included leaders from the outdoor industry, including John Sterling (The Conservation Alliance), Gareth Martins (Osprey Packs), Brendan McGuire (Vail Resorts), Ashley Korenblat (Western Spirit Adventure Cycling), and Kirk Bailey (Outdoor Industry Association).

With such a bunch whose livelihoods depend on protecting the great outdoors, they sure had a lot to say about balancing a healthy environment with a healthy recreational economy.

“As the recreational economy has grown, so too has it grown up,” Ashley Korenblat of the Western Spirit Adventure Cycling said. Today, the outdoor industry generates $646 billion annually, providing 6 million jobs to local and national communities alike.

For every 10,000 acres of protected lands, $436 extra dollars are added annually to everyone’s bank account. Gareth Martins of Osprey Packs, a company that sells hiking and backpack equipment, is a great example. He spoke of his company’s economic prosperity in relation to public lands.

How does outdoor recreation fit into the protection of public lands? With 20 percent of recreational visits occurring on public lands, said Brendan McGuire of Vail Resorts, their protection forms a gateway for advocacy of our national parks.

“The recreation system within our wilderness is as vital as our highways within our transportation system and should be treated as such,” said Kirk Bailey of the Outdoor Industry Association.

John Sterling from The Conservation Alliance closed with a look to the future: “A transformation is happening in the West. Outdoor recreation could be the new nexus; the new long term sustainable economic driver.”


June 25, Day 1 Great Outdoors America Week - Breakfast with champions

June 25 - On the first full day of GO America Week, advocates from across the country met with Wilderness Society president Jamie Williams, and conservation champion Sen.  Martin Heinrich (D-NM). The goal of breakfast was simple: get participants fired up and ready to go!
Mission accomplished.

Sen. Martin Heinrich is a conservation champion who does not need an introduction. But as Jamie stated to an audience with standing-room only, he has been a champion for the outdoors his entire life, both through his work in outdoor education and as an advocate for wilderness. Jamie highlighted Sen. Heinrich’s tireless fight to introduce legislation to protect special places across New Mexico -- including Columbine Hondo.  He also joined Senator Udall and Congressman Luján in a successful push to create our nation’s newest national monument -- Rio Grande del Norte.

Sen. Heinrich took the podium to roaring applause. (And this was coming from many people from the West Coast, on East Coast time!) 
He reiterated his passion for protecting America’s great outdoors, and why it is a win for our economy and our communities, especially over other industries. For example, outdoor recreation contributes 6.1 million jobs to our workforce, which is roughly three-times the number of people who are employed by the oil and gas industry.
In short, he reminded us that people’s jobs literally depend on places being protected.

He closed his speech with a reference to the Worst Congress ever for Wilderness, where the 112th Congress was the first since 1966 to not designate a single new acre of wilderness. 

Sen. Heinrich said, “But at the end of every drought, there is a rainstorm…there comes a time when everything aligns and the good work you do… comes together. It does pay off. It will happen.”

And already we are seeing a sprinkle; the U.S. Senate recently passed three wilderness bills and the U.S. House Committee on Natural Resources’ Subcommittee on Public Lands and Environmental Regulation held a hearing on its first wilderness bill this Congress.

“Keep working till that day comes; it will come,” Sen. Heinrich said to applause and a packed room spilled out into the hallways, ready to make Congress and the Obama administration know that protecting America’s great outdoors is a top priority!