Restoring Our Connection to the Land

Ed. Note: Champions of Change is a weekly initiative to highlight Americans who are making an impact in their communities and helping our country rise to meet the many challenges of the 21st century.

For every American there can be no greater reward for ones's work then to be asked to come to the White House to share your thoughts. To be included with outstanding representatives from across the country as "Champions of Change" on behalf of rural Americans was truly an honor and a extraordinary example of our system of government at its finest, as well as exemplifying the sincere interest by the Administration to hear from "real people" outside the proverbial "Beltway."

As I looked around the room at the farmers and ranchers who literally had to leave their chores for the day to be in DC, I thought how fortunate we are to still be able to honor the way of life that helped make this country what it is today, and importantly how we can learn from them how to instill those characteristics in future generations of rural Americans.

My work for the last 30 plus years has been of a different, but closely related nature. Connecting Americans and our visitors to the land through tourism and outdoor recreation has been my passion. First as an international tour guide leading camping tours across the country, then serving as President of the American Hiking Society and Co-executive Director of the Continental Divide Trail Alliance with my wife, Paula and then founder of Choose Outdoors, a national nonprofit that seeks to connect all Americans to the land through Outdoor Recreation.

As Horace Axtell, a tribal elder cautioned many years ago. "Many of the problems of today's society are directly related to our lack of connection to the land. We must do all we can to find ways to bring future generations back to appreciating the natural environment." He truly understood "Nature Deficit Disorder" long before the term was used.

The meeting with the President, Secretary of Agriculture, Champions of Change and other high level members of the Administration was, for me, an exhilarating and rewarding opportunity to be a part of an effort that will help our country out-educate and out-innovate the rest of the world and help us carry on the legacy our forefathers envisioned.

Bruce Ward is the founder and senior adviser to Choose Outdoors and is a consultant to the private sector on initiatives related to outdoor recreation across the country.

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