Natasha Blakely, email@example.com
NEW YORK CITY – The Outdoor Rx Coalition is a collective of public and private organizations working to coordinate the efforts of veterans service organizations to address the barriers many veterans face when accessing the outdoors. Beginning in 2021, it was an effort led by the Sierra Club’s Military Outdoors (SCMO) campaign in conjunction with the New York State Division of Veterans’ Services. After two years, Military Outdoors is transitioning leadership of the coalition to the Sierra Club’s Atlantic Chapter.
“We, as a society, are increasingly understanding the powerful healing and restorative qualities of being outdoors and spending time in nature. The Outdoor Rx Act, which I developed and sponsored in 2019 as Chair of the New York State Assembly’s Committee on Veterans Affairs and in partnership with the Sierra Club, has been an important tool in breaking down barriers – from transportation to finance to stigma – that have kept too many of our veterans and their families from accessing New York’s public lands and waters as part of their recovery from service-related trauma,” said New York State Assemblymember Didi Barrett. “Across the state, Outdoor Rx programs are helping veterans transition back to civilian life and at the same time encouraging more military families to enjoy our state’s many parks and recreational sites.”
In 2020, New York’s Outdoor Rx Act mandated a statewide study of the barriers service members and veterans face when accessing New York’s parks and public lands. The report found that education, experience, transportation, and cost were all huge barriers in their way and recommended forming a coalition, which became the Outdoor Rx Coalition.
“The Outdoor Rx Coalition is the result of four years of collaborative work from Sierra Club’s Military Outdoors program and our many partners, who all believe the same thing – that the outdoors can offer critical mental and physical health benefits for veterans living with service-related trauma,” said Aaron Leonard, Campaign Manager for SCMO. “The coalition will continue to lead efforts to better understand the many barriers preventing veterans from accessing our state parks and other public lands and waters and work to remove them, through educating policy makers and advocating for legislative changes.”
The coalition has brought together 243 coalition members representing 163 organizations, and 26 individuals, with 47 of New York’s counties represented. The coalition also hosted roundtable discussions with various agencies and New York nonprofits, launched the coalition task forces and website, and has engaged with New York State Parks and Department of Environmental Conservation to raise awareness of outdoor programs available to service members, veterans, and their families.
“We are currently tackling some of the most significant barriers, including a lack of outdoor education supporting marginalized communities and lack of public transportation from urban communities to our state parks,” said Joe Hunt, Director of the NYS Outdoor Rx Coalition. “The Coalition has begun working to dismantle these barriers. These are efforts we’ve already begun, but we still have a long way to go.”
This move to hand over leadership of the coalition to the Sierra Club’s Atlantic Chapter is part of SCMO’s efforts to engage chapters and grow programs at the grassroots level. The Atlantic Chapter covers all of New York State.
“Connecting people with the outdoors is one part of the work we do as the Sierra Club’s Atlantic Chapter,” said Kate Bartholomew, the Chapter Chair. “With the state of New York being home to 838,000 veterans, one of the largest veteran populations in the country, veterans make up an important portion of New York’s residents that we want to reach out to. I’m excited to see the role the Atlantic Chapter will play in continuing the Outdoor Rx Coalition’s work, as we further explore incorporating Military Outdoors programming into our Chapter Campaigns.”
One of the chapter’s 2023 goals is mapping out how public transportation connects to fully ADA accessible public lands in urban and rural environments and better map out what those possibilities are for veterans in those communities.
Find out more on the Outdoor Rx Coalition at the coalition’s website, more on the Atlantic Chapter and its local groups at the chapter’s website, and more on Sierra Club’s Military Outdoors at the campaign’s website.
About the Sierra Club
The Sierra Club is America’s largest and most influential grassroots environmental organization, with millions of members and supporters. In addition to protecting every person's right to get outdoors and access the healing power of nature, the Sierra Club works to promote clean energy, safeguard the health of our communities, protect wildlife, and preserve our remaining wild places through grassroots activism, public education, lobbying, and legal action. For more information, visit www.sierraclub.org.