Since we recently observed Veterans Day I decided to write about a partnership that the Ice Age Trail Alliance is part of and which is designed to support our veterans. It’s a unique program that taps into the healing power of nature and the personal challenge of long-distance hiking. The organization is called Warrior Expeditions and the Ice Age Trail Alliance has partnered with them since 2015.
Warrior Expeditions is a non-profit that helps veterans transition from their wartime experience by participating in a long-distance outdoor challenge. The goal of the program is to give veterans a chance to reflect, recharge and connect with the natural world and other veterans as they transition back to civilian life. Veterans can choose to hike, bike or paddle, with organized options provided within each category. The Ice Age Trail is one of eight options for a long-distance hiking expedition.
Each participating veteran is provided with everything needed to complete their journey, including equipment, clothing and supplies. Participants take part in training and orientation to prepare them for their expedition and someone is assigned to shadow the veterans during the first leg of their journey to answer any questions and troubleshoot any issues. A network of community support is coordinated through the organization and provided by communities along the expedition route; this includes things like transportation, lodging, and food.
According to the Warrior Expeditions website (warriorexpeditions.org) the Department of Veteran Affairs estimates that up to twenty percent of post-9/11 veterans suffer from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. The Warrior Expedition program has identified three impacts that the program has had on participants that can contribute to healing: 1) quiet time in nature to contemplate and sort out their wartime experiences; 2) camaraderie with other participating veterans; and 3) a sense of community as offered by supporters along the route of their expedition, which helps restore the participant’s faith in humanity and builds a network of friends/relationships.
The Ice Age Trail Alliance is proud to be part of this amazing program. To date, 10 veterans have completed through-hikes of the Ice Age Trail through this program, hiking from one end of the Trail to the other in one continuous effort. I congratulate these participants on their accomplishment in completing this 1100-mile trek and wish each of them all the best in the future. I also hope they’ll find their way back to the Ice Age Trail at some point.
I can’t end this post without acknowledging Bill Welch, my husband, who is a veteran of the Vietnam War. Bill and I hiked a local segment of the Ice Age Trail on Veterans Day in honor of all veterans, each of us carrying our own small flag. I hope that all people, veterans and non-veterans, can find a source of healing …..Along the Ice Age Trail.