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Opinion | As a veteran, Michigan’s outdoors helps me heal. Let’s help others

I am a veteran who has found solace in the great outdoors here in Michigan. 

From the majestic shores of the Great Lakes to the tranquil forests found throughout our state, to the mountains in the Upper Peninsula, I understand the profound impact nature has on improving mental health. My journey to health through the outdoors, and the journeys of other veterans I have witnessed or supported outdoors, compels me to urge Congress to pass the bipartisan Expanding Public Lands Outdoor Recreation Experiences (EXPLORE Act), a crucial piece of legislation that recognizes the therapeutic benefits of outdoor recreation for military veterans like me.

Stacy Bare headshot

Stacy Bare is a biker, paddler, sometimes surfer who served a tour of duty in Iraq as a civil affairs team leader. He is executive director of Friends of Grand Rapids Parks and lives in Grand Rapids.

After graduating from ROTC at the University of Mississippi in 2000, I served our nation in the Army working in intelligence and civil affairs, with deployments to Bosnia and Baghdad. I earned a Bronze Star for merit, a combat action badge, and letters of accommodation from the U.S. Ambassador to Bosnia and the MNF-I commander in Iraq. 

My transition from military to civilian life was no cakewalk. It was when I embraced the natural world where I began to feel positive changes in my physical and mental health. I owe my recovery from mental health challenges related to PTSD and readjustment to time climbing, skiing, biking, boating and mountaineering. 

These profound experiences inspired me to co-found the Great Outdoors Lab, to focus on the scientific validation of outdoor activities as a tool for mental health recovery in veterans and others who have experienced significant trauma or challenge.    

Give veterans the opportunity to find peace and purpose in the natural beauty of the very land we fought to defend.

Now I stand as an advocate for the EXPLORE Act, a bill that has no cost to American taxpayers but will provide priceless benefits and transformative experiences for my fellow veterans — whether they are just now readjusting to civilian life or have been out of military service for decades. This legislation includes several key initiatives: 

Promotion of Outdoor Recreation: It calls for a collaboration between various departments to inform veterans about outdoor recreation opportunities. This includes information on free recreation passes, adaptive trails, and the benefits of outdoor activities for physical and mental health. 

Military Veterans Outdoor Recreation Liaisons: These positions will ensure the effective implementation of the act’s provisions, bridging the gap between veterans and the healing power of nature. 

Partnerships for Recreation: The act fosters partnerships with organizations to host outdoor events for veterans, providing necessary support and resources.   

National Strategy for Recreation: This strategy focuses on increasing veterans' access to federal lands, setting clear targets for engagement and participation. 

Recreation Resource Advisory Committees: Including veterans’ organizations in these committees ensures that our needs are heard and met. 

Career and Volunteer Opportunities: This section opens doors for veterans in recreation-related roles, aligning their skills and experiences with conservation and resource management. 

For Michigan, a state whose plentiful outdoor amenities have been a personal sanctuary for my family, me, and many other veterans, the passage of the EXPLORE Act is more than policy—it's a pathway to healing. 

It's an acknowledgment of the sacrifices we've made and the support we need upon our return. I urge Republicans and Democrats in Congress to pass this vital legislation to give veterans the opportunity to find peace and purpose in the natural beauty of the very land we fought to defend. Let's make the healing power of nature accessible to all who have served. 

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