Seven Retired U.S. Military Generals Write Congress on the Importance of America’s Public Lands to National Post-Pandemic Healing

In 1948, having recently finished his military service, Earl Shaffer told a friend he wanted to “walk the war out of his system.” A few months later, he became the first person to thru-hike the Appalachian Trail.

The connection between military veterans and our nation’s public lands is well-documented and in recent years has become much more publicized -- especially in the value of spending time outdoors to heal from traumatic experiences associated with one’s military service. And for good reason. Time spent outdoors is healing. The feeling of the sun on one’s face, the swift current of a river, coming around a bend in the trail and being awe-struck by an incredible vista -- these are unforgettable moments, and for many, therapeutic ones. 

Of course, military veterans aren’t the only Americans exposed to trauma.  In fact, we’re all going through an unprecedented and challenging experience right now due to COVID-19. And that’s the point. We’re writing this letter with the sincere hope that when federal, state, and local officials determine it’s safe and following the shelter-in-place orders in response to COVID-19, individuals from around the country will be able to take a page from our handbook and use the power of public lands and time outdoors to heal and adjust to post COVID-19 life. It works. 

You, no matter where you live, are surrounded by public lands. Whether a national park, a protected forest, a military heritage site like a Civil War battlefield, a community park or walking trail, or something in between. As Americans, we all share access to our public lands and the healing properties that come along with them. 

Our incredible public lands weren’t created by a stroke of luck.  In many cases these public spaces were acquired through programs like the Land and Water Conservation Fund, the principal source of federal dollars for expanding America's parks, wildlife refuges, and other heritage lands.

Since its launch in 1964, the Land and Water Conservation Fund has invested $18.4 billion to preserve battlefields and other historic sites, protect iconic places from Grand Canyon National Park to the Appalachian Trail, and has supported 42,000 state and local projects -- at least one in every county, in every state in the country. It’s also worth noting during this time of economic uncertainty that the Land and Water Conservation Fund also serves as a powerful economic driver, stimulating tourism and generating a U.S. outdoor recreation economy of $887 billion in consumer spending and creating 7.6 million jobs. All without costing the American taxpayer a dime.

It’s for these reasons that the veteran and military family community has been so involved in efforts to see the Land and Water Conservation Fund fully and permanently funded -- through a stand-alone piece of legislation like the Great American Outdoors Act or as part of a COVID-19 infrastructure economic stimulus package.  Investing in our public lands will ensure continued access for all Americans and generate economic activity in communities surrounding these sites.  

We’re going to get through this. Together. It’s going to get better. And when it does, we hope that people from every corner of our beautiful country will turn to our public lands to reflect and heal. We certainly will. 

See you there,

Nolen Bivens, Brigadier General, US Army (Ret.)
Stephen Cheney, Brigadier General, USMC (Ret.)
Paul Eaton, Major General, US Army (Ret.)
Leif Hendrickson, Brigadier General, USMC (Ret.)
Eric Olson, Major General, US Army (Ret.)
Gale Pollock, Major General, US Army (Ret.)
Steve Anderson, Brigadier General, US Army (Ret.)


Open Letter from Seven Retired U.S. Military Generals Write Congress on the Importance of America’s Public Lands to National Post-Pandemic Healing (PDF)