NEEF Announces Awardees of 2024-2025 Veterans and Nature Grant
April 30, 2024
Michael Pope

The National Environmental Education Foundation (NEEF), in collaboration with the USDA Forest Service (USFS), proudly announces the grantees of the 2024-2025 Veterans and Nature: Enhancing Well-being through Outdoor Experiences. This grant aims to help veterans' communities access the physical and mental health benefits of nature through outdoor activities on USFS sites and other public lands. A total of $100,000 was made available for projects that meet specific criteria, including engaging Black, Indigenous, and veterans of color, as well as gender diverse and veterans with disabilities.  

The following 10 projects were selected to receive up to $10,000 each: 

VITW Wilderness Warriors: Veterans' Path to Nature's Healing (This Is My Quest; Wellsboro, Pennsylvania) 

The Wilderness Warriors project aims to support veterans' transition to civilian life through nature-based therapy and community engagement. Activities will include hiking, fishing, wildlife observation, and guided nature walks, as well as wellness workshops covering topics like outdoor survival skills, environmental education, and the benefits of nature on mental health. 

Connecting Veterans to Outdoor Peer Support Activities to Improve Their Quality of Life (Veterans One-Stop Center of WNY; Buffalo, New York) 

This project will partner with the US Forest Service in nearby Hector, New York, to take local veterans on a weekend retreat filled with guided outdoor activities such as backpacking, rafting/kayaking/boating, horticulture, and fishing. Team- and skill-building activities such as building a fire, open-fire cooking, and nature guides with a USFS field biologist will also be included. Veterans will also have access to the agency’s comprehensive set of services that include health benefit assistance, housing stabilization, mental health and suicide prevention, financial counseling, and employment assistance. 

Military Mobility Resiliency & Stewardship Project (Military Mobility; Cody, Wyoming) 

Military Mobility's Resiliency & Stewardship program will focus on improving the mental health and wellness of veterans by providing inspirational learning opportunities and outdoor challenges in a rugged environment. Through activities like off-road vehicle navigation, teambuilding exercises, and stewardship projects in natural settings, the program will foster resilience, leadership skills, and a sense of purpose among participants, ultimately leading to improved mental health and well-being. Participants will also work with US Forest Service staff on stewardship projects in nearby Bighorn National Forest such as trail condition and wildlife management area assessments, trail maintenance, and improving trail access for people with mobility challenges.  

Outdoor Therapeutic & Recreational Day Program for Veterans with Disabilities at Greenwell State Park (Greenwell Foundation; Hollywood, Maryland) 

This free program aims to recruit veterans from rural Southern Maryland, Prince Georges, Anne Arundel County, and Washington, DC, offering therapeutic recreational activities such as kayaking, fishing, guided hikes, and equine-assisted therapy at the Francis Knott Lodge in Greenwell State Park. Funding will support day-long sessions serving 10 military veterans each, providing opportunities for outdoor engagement and indoor therapy activities to promote well-being and connection. 

Warriors in the Wild: Empowering Veterans to Connect with Nature (Friends of the Front Range Wildlife Refuges; Rocky Mountain Arsenal National Wildlife Refuge, Colorado) 

The Warriors in the Wild project aims to increase access for veterans in the Denver metro area to their closest wildlife refuge to participate in recreation and stewardship which will boost their emotional well-being, give them more freedom and independence, and encourage positive relationships between youth and veterans through the Environmental Learning for Kids (ELK) program, which will teach leadership skills in adaptive fishing. This will be accomplished through 12 fishing and archery clinics, two volunteer stewardship events, and free veteran passes to other public land sites.  

Another Summit (Guardian Revival; Beacon, New York) 

This project will feature 23 day hikes (2-6 hours each) for veterans, their families, and friends at two New York State Parks: Hudson Highlands in Cold Spring, and Fahnestock in Carmel. Park Rangers will provide information about park history, trails, trail markers, and safety. Trained outdoor leaders from Another Summit will teach veterans how to locate and access state parks; make sound decisions regarding trails based on their difficulty rating and the ability of hikers; read maps and understand trail blazes; and honor the seven practices of Leave No Trace. 

Veterans’ Healing Garden Program (Trellis Horticultural Therapy Alliance; Decatur, Georgia) 

The Veteran’s Healing Garden Program connects veterans to recreational gardening and nature as a tool for improving mental wellness through fun and engaging projects focused on horticulture and organic gardening at no cost. The program is in partnership with the Shepherd Center’s SHARE Military Initiative, with its veterans attending monthly at Trellis’s Ability Garden, a fully wheelchair accessible garden and greenhouse. The SHARE program is a short-term residential program serving veterans with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and mild brain injury. 

Operation Anacapa (Mission FISH: Fishing, Interacting, Sharing and Healing; Oxnard, California) 

Operation Anacapa offers a free therapeutic experience for Veterans, Active-Duty Service Members, First Responders, and Gold Star Families. Beginning with a meet and greet dinner, the event will allow participants to develop relationships and build community before they embark on an 8.5-hour sportfishing trip to the Channel Islands Marine Sanctuary, where they will receive specialized instruction, support from experts, and therapeutic interaction with licensed therapists. The event will culminate in a post-trip BBQ for debriefing and relaxed socializing. 

Force of Nature (Mojave Desert Land Trust; Joshua Tree, California) 

The Mojave Desert Land Trust will host a number of activities for veterans throughout the year, including a welcome event where staff will present on land stewardship, the desert’s unique ecology, and an overview of military heritage and places of interest; a birding tour of Big Morongo Canyon Preserve, an internationally recognized birding site with ADA accessible trails; and personalized opportunities for veterans to volunteer on public land stewardship and plant conservation projects, and to attend additional outdoor community activities, based on their interests and feedback. 

Joy in Nature at the US National Arboretum (Friends of the National Arboretum; Washington, DC) 

Funding from this grant will cover a number of activities throughout the year, including free registration for veterans for the Arboretum’s fall and spring 5K races; two 2-hour forest bathing events with a certified nature and forest therapy guide; and two volunteer days at the Washington Youth Garden, a one-acre children’s garden and urban farm on the Arboretum’s grounds, where veterans will help with cultivation and distribution of produce for low-income families.