Environment

Natural Medicine: Mending Wounds Through Outdoor Adventure Therapy

Stepping foot onto the Bonneville Shoreline Trail on a sunny Saturday afternoon means running into about as many people as you would at the grocery store on Thanksgiving Eve. But instead of people frantically sprinting between aisles, eyeing their list to check off every item, you’ll see bikers, hikers, and runners with child-like grins, breathing the fresh air of the Wasatch foothills.

Few would deny that nature is good for the soul, especially in a state where outdoor recreation brings in $12 billion in consumer spending and generates 122,000 direct jobs. Utahns love spending time outdoors. But recently, researchers, medical professionals, and therapists are showing that there is more going  on in the body and brain than we might think, and they are beginning to see lasting effects on some patients.

UNPLUG AND REWIND 

David Strayer, a professor of psychology at the University of Utah, began to study the effects of nature on the brain a few years ago, after noticing changes in himself when going outdoors.

“If [you] go on a river trip or a backpacking trip and are away for a while, you start to really think differently. Your senses are recalibrated, you notice things that you didn’t notice before,” he says. Now, he brings his classes away from technology and into the wild every year, measuring electrical activity in the brain with EEG scanners. What did he find? Nature boosts problem solving abilities, creativity, sense of well-being, and decreases stress levels and blood pressure.

When we are outside, away from our smart phones and email and the constant nagging of tasks in the back of our minds, we can rest the part of the brain that controls multi-tasking. The prefrontal cortex, as it is called, is like a muscle. It needs to rest and heal in order to give 100 percent later on. The glucose and glycogen energy stores are restored when you can quiet this part of the brain and go to default mode. It’s not that your brain just slows down though. The brain is actually more active, but in separate areas, like those activated by meditation.

Strayer can prove nature’s healing properties on a screen, but he’s also seen it firsthand. Enrolled students in his “Cognition in Nature” courses are frequently those returning from Afghanistan and Iraq after being on military tours. These students are often quiet and separate from the class, disconnected from the rest. But, as the trip continues, he sees them inch closer to others during group time and participate more and more.

“In one case, we came back to class the day after we got back from the desert and we all thought, ‘Who’s this guy sitting in the class?’ He had shaved off his beard and completely transformed. These are amazing transformations, and it happens on a regular basis.”

HEALING OUTDOORS

Psychologists and therapists are begginning to catch on the trend. At the National Ability Center in Park City, Craig Bryan, executive director for the National Center for Veterans Studies, runs a therapy program for PTSD victims that combines trauma-focused therapy sessions in the morning and recreational activities in the afternoon. While outdoor recreation alone doesn’t often have long-term recovery effects, therapy sessions and the outdoors are the perfect match.

“We use these outdoor activities for people to do things that elevate their mood. We provide opportunities to challenge the core beliefs of our veterans. Many of them ony think ‘I’m a failure. I screw everything up,’” he says. “In therapy we say, ‘Didn’t you just climb to the top of a mountain yesterday? How is it possible to climb a mountain if you can’t do anything right?’”

Since its start last year, the program has seen a 73 percent recovery rate of PTSD by the end of the two-week program. They are continuing to gather data in order to prove to the mental health community at large that there is some kind of healing power of the outdoors.

Wilderness adventure therapy can help those with other mental health issues too, be it trauma survivors, teens with mental disabilities, or addicts.  At some colleges, like Prescott College in Arizona, there are even adventure therapy majors available for students. Utah boasts perhaps the highest quantity of these therapy services.

Aspiro is one of these, taking teens on trips for eight to 12 weeks all over the state. Year-round, groups of six to eight individuals, ranging with problems from autism spectrum disorder, drug abuse, or depression, backpack through the desert or ski tour the Wasatch, says Joe Nagle, Adventure Facilliatation Trainer for Aspiro.

“Doing things that are difficult, especially things that you didn’t know you could do before, translates really easily to whatever you are coping with at home. We found a model that works with a broad range of students,” he says.

They grow in identity coherence, or the ability to know themselves and take pride in who they are, as well as gaining effective coping mechanisms. Pushing limits outdoors can be scary, but believing in yourself and then doing it makes you confident in your abilities.

Nagle knows that, like PTSD recovery, these changes are only possible through the combination of nature and therapy, but there’s no denying that nature is a necessary ingredient.

A PRESCRIPTION FOR NATURE

Stories abound about people stepping into nature to find healing. Most revelations recorded in scriptures happened outdoors just think of Moses on Mount Sinai, Jesus Christ in the wilderness, or Muhammad in the Cave of Hira. In ancient literature like The Odyssey, nature is part of the healing, says Stacy Bare, director of Sierra Club Outdoors.

Bare has been working with researchers, mental and public health professionals, and outdoor advocacy groups to bring the conversation back to the outdoors.

“People see, finally, that this is another way for preventative as well as treatable care,” Bare says. “We need to view our public lands as a public health care system. The benefits of getting outside are incredibly real.”

Park prescription programs are starting to emerge, such as the Appalachian Mountain Club’s Outdoors Rx program, which prescribed active outdoor activity for children and adults suffering with obesity and high blood pressure. Bare himself found healing through climbing, hiking, and skiing after serving in the military for five years.

Stacy Bare skiing in Iraq this year. Photo courtesy of Stacy Bare.

Last year, Bare, Strayer, and others met at the White House to propose a plan to get people off drugs and into nature. Yes therapy and medication are important, but there is a natural healing element that happens when you smell a ponderosa pine or touch a trickling mountain stream.

After millennia of proof from poetry to films, the data is catching up. Nature changes us. And if you don’t believe it, take the advice from Henry David Thoreau. You’ll walk away feeling taller than the trees.

c.webber@wasatchmag.com

Photos courtesy of Aspiro Adventures

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Grassroots Outdoor Alliance Pulls Out of Utah

In February of 2017, Outdoor Retailer Show Director Marisa Nicholson announced that Outdoor Retailer, the Outdoor Industry’s largest gear expo, would not be returning to Utah following the expiration of their contract in 2019. This means that the summer 2018 show will be the last OR show in the state that has hosted it for over two decades.

While the loss of such an event is sad for Utah, there was still a glimmer of hope. Grassroots Outdoor Alliance was in the final stages of contract negotiations to move their show to Sandy, Utah. While not as big or flashy as Outdoor Retailer, the new show would still tie the state directly to a part of the outdoor industry.

Grassroots Outdoor Alliance is an organization created to help independent specialty retailers. They began small, just six members sitting around a table helping each other navigate the vast outdoor industry. Since then, they have grown to represent over 60 brands in 130 locations.

“[We’re] all about collaboration and education; to make us better at what we do” said Rich Hill, president of Grassroots Outdoor Alliance. Running a small, independent retail store is no easy task. The staff is small and has limited specialties. Being able to collaborate with other businesses and get advice from people in similar situations is extremely helpful to the members of Grassroots.

Their trade show represents this goal. There is no music played, no alcohol served, and all the booths are closed off into private rooms. “It is a get-work-done kind of atmosphere,” Hill said. Grassroots handles meetings and other logistics so that retailers can focus on closing deals and stocking up their stores for the next few months. Outdoor Retailer is more a place to build relationships and connect with other members of the industry.

Although the shows are drastically different, the people attending them are not. Grassroots decided it was time to co-locate their show with Outdoor Retailer so their clients could easily attend both expos. Since, at the time, Outdoor Retailer was planning on staying in Salt Lake City, Grassroots planned to move their show from Albuquerque, NM,  and Knoxville, TN, to Sandy. This plan dropped as soon as Outdoor Retailer said they would not be considering Salt Lake City as a future host site, and Grassroots announced their decision earlier this month. Their main goal is to co-locate their show with Outdoor Retailer, something that would not be possible if they signed a long-term contract inside of Utah. The business for Sandy hotels and restaurants won’t be brought by the outdoor industry.

n.halberg@wasatchmag.com

Photo courtesy of Grassroots Outdoor Alliance

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Clean the Air- 6 Ways to Reduce Your Carbon Footprint

There’s a reason Utah’s slogan is “The Greatest Snow On Earth.” The legendary winters that define the state aren’t only about world-class light, fluffy powder, though. Winter means looking outside each morning unsure whether you’ll see a sparkling winter wonderland or a thick, concrete-colored wall of inverted pollution. Winter means 4.457 million skier days during the 2015-2016 ski season, but also the most “F” grades for the poorest air quality of any state in the 2016 annual State of the Air report from the American Lung Association. Just as there are thousands of ways to enjoy Utah’s winter, there are thousands of ways to advocate for change in Utah’s air quality. Some of us might be ready for radical change to clean our air, but others are looking for more conservative baby steps. There’s a range of activism, but anyone can make a difference.

Political Activism

As a registered voter and Utah resident, active involvement with Utah legislation regarding air pollution is the first key step to address winter inversion. Call your local government officials and state representatives, telling them your concerns regarding air quality. Inform yourself about legislation’s views on pollution. Visit https://www.breatheutah.org/legislation to easily learn about which items of legislation you should support and oppose to support clean air.

In the 2016 election, Alta ski patroller Bill Barron ran as an independent, single-issue candidate to bring awareness to climate change and specifically to the perils of Utah’s pollution issues. His goal, although not attained, was to receive 10 percent of all votes. His proposed Carbon Fee and Dividend would implement federal fees on fossil fuels. Barron’s campaign was in conjunction with the efforts of the grassroots Citizens’ Climate Lobby, which provides local and national outlets for climate-conscious members to participate in correspondence with elected officials, the media, and their local communities. To join, visit https://citizensclimatelobby.org/join-citizens-climate-lobby/ .

Utah is home to several grassroots organizations and professional-local partnership organizations all advocating toward a common goal to improve Utah’s air quality. In January, the Bright Skies Utah Clean Air Contest awarded $45,000 in prize money to local entrepreneurs to launch their designs for air improvement, sponsored by UCAIR (Utah Clean Air Partnership), Chevron, and Zions Bank. If you think you have the next biggest innovation in clean air, enter the contest this September. Visit http://www.growutah.com/c2c/bs16 to learn more about the 2016 contest and winners.

Tech-Savvy Transportation

Forty-seven percent of Utah’s air pollution is due to car emissions. Carpooling, using public transportation, and making fewer trips by car (especially on red and orange air quality days) can drastically reduce the negative effects of the winter inversion. ShareLift is a Utah-created ridesharing app designed specifically to coordinate skier and snowboarder carpools to and from local resorts. Like Uber, ShareLift has built-in payment, driver ranking, and pickup locator functions. Join ShareLift online here: http://shareliftapp.com .

According to Utah Clean Energy, if every Utah home reduced its energy usage by 10 percent, the state would save over 7,000 million cubic feet of natural gas annually. Lower your thermostat to 70-72 degrees Fahrenheit in the winter and unplug electronics when not in use. Or, you can invest in ENERGY STAR certified energy-efficient appliances and buy efficient CFL or LED light bulbs. More information on electricity-friendly measures can be found at http://utahcleanenergy.org/how-to/energy-efficiency .

Idle Free Heat is a Utah company that designed a mechanism to drastically improve heat retention in vehicles without a need to keep engines running. This is for those wanting to reduce idling while still staying warm on bitter cold winter days. Visit https://www.idlefreeheat.com to learn more about the Idle Free Heat product and to contact the company regarding installations.

c.simon@wasatchmag.com

Photo by Chris Ayers

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This Land Was Made For You and Me

Last fall, I went on a road trip up the California and Oregon Coast. For a large portion of our drive, thick, burly redwood trees created an enveloping tunnel that kept me spellbound. I realized these 500 to 2,000 year-old trees claimed this land before anyone else, and I felt privileged to share it with them.

People have cried for land conservation and public land designation for decades, and the National Park Service celebrated its monumental 100th birthday just last year. However, some have forgotten just how defining these lands are to our national identity. “This Land Is Your Land” sings about the “sparkling sands of her diamond deserts,” which may refer to the White Sands National Monument in New Mexico, or maybe the “golden valleys” speaks of Shenandoah National Park in Virginia. From the Redwood Forest National Park to the Gulf Stream waters found in Biscayne National Park, this land was made for us to enjoy.

Many have felt a rising threat against these lands, and the outdoor industry is leading a cause to protect them (see more on this story on page 10). We at Wasatch Magazine love public lands because of the life-changing, inspiring experiences we’ve had exploring them. The granite slabs we climb and the rocky trails we mountain bike along the Wasatch reside within U.S. Forest Service land. This past year, I backpacked and hiked around six national parks, and am grateful for the lands we collectively own.

This Land is Your Land. This Land is My Land.  Whether you prefer mountains, desert, sea, or sky, recreationists of all types have used the millions of acres in national parks, state parks, and Bureau of Land Management and U.S. Forest Service land. I fell in love with the outdoors trail running along the Bonneville Shoreline — where was it for you? As always, our advice is to get outside, but it’s also to protect and preserve that land we love. After all, this land was made for you and me.

c.webber@wasatchmag.com

Wasatch Editor

Photo courtesy of Mckenzie Wadsworth

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Most Polluted Snow on Earth

Anybody visiting Utah in winter has seen it, smelled it, and maybe even tasted it. Our polluted air, which brought us into first place for the worst air quality in the U.S. last week, defines the state.  Even non-skiers pray for snow days to clear out the brownish-yellow haze that looms above us. Storms mean clear skies and fresh air, for all is well again, right? Maybe things aren’t as pristine as they seem.

David Whitman, a research professor of atmospheric sciences at the University of Utah, explains that a snowstorm followed by a few days of clear skies sets up a “cold-air pool”. Whitman says that these cold fronts and snow storms cause cold temperatures near the ground. As air temperatures in the afternoon become warmer, pollutants mix and are carried over the mountains away from the Wasatch Front. This causes temporary “clean air”. But, when one of these cold-air pools sets up, there is less vertical mixing and pollutants become trapped within the valley. Snowstorms are simply a cover up, not a solution for Utah’s pollution problem.

Additionally, pollutants and temperature could be changing the snowfall more than we thought.

It’s widely known that dust and pollutants cause the snow to melt faster, but the U’s Atmospheric Science Department conducts research and experiments to see just how pollutants such as dust, aerosols and carbon gas emissions affect snowfall and snowflake formation. The studies, led by Professor John Horel, David Whitman, Tim Garrett and others, show that crystal structures are dependent on chemical influence and temperature. A change in these variables changes the structure. According to the studies, not only do pollutants make snow melt faster, but these added environmental variables make it more difficult to form in the first place.

Our Wasatch Front is famous for its signature fluffy, powdery snow. Utah’s desert climate and dry weather conditions give us the claim to fame of “The Greatest Snow on Earth,” but our world famous powder has to form under the correct conditions. A snowflake’s water content determines its shape and heaviness. More pollution means warmer weather, and warmer weather means more moisture in the air, which leads to heavier snow.

What does this mean for the future of snow in Utah? It could mean more artificial snow needed each year to keep resorts running. With rising temperatures, this also could mean less world famous powder and shorter seasons. While snow can be produced in a lab, a changing climate might forever change our renowned powder.

a.winter@wasatchmag.com

Photo by Carolyn Webber

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Patagonia withdraws from Outdoor Retailer

Patagonia, Inc., who threatened last month to leave Outdoor Retailer, pulled the cord. In a press release issued today, the outdoor clothing and gear company announced that it will not be attending the retail show in Utah anymore.

The action came from a resolution Utah Governor Gary Herbert signed last Friday, urging the Trump administration to rescind the Bears Ears National Monument. A statement signed by Rose Marcario, President and CEO of Patagonia, says, “Because of the hostile environment [elected officials] have created and their blatant disregard for Bears Ears National Monument and other public lands, the backbone of our business, Patagonia will no longer attend the Outdoor Retailer show in Utah and we are confident other outdoor manufacturers and retailers will join us in moving our investment to a state that values our industry and promotes public lands conservation.”

Founder and former CEO of the company Yvon Choiunard released a statement last month threatening to leave if Gov. Herbert continued to sell public lands off to the “highest bidder.” While no other companies have officially stated that they will be leaving, it’s likely that more companies will follow suit.

c.webber@wasatchmag.com

Photo courtesy of Patagonia

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#AltPoliticalActivism, Outdoor Industry Joins the Political Fight for Public Lands

The border between Zion National Park and Springdale, UT, separates more than just federal and private sectors. It draws the line between the outdoors and the outdoor industry. All along the main road in Springdale companies sit, drawing their business from the millions of visitors who flock to Zion every month. Here you can buy food, there you can rent gear, and over here you can get a tour guide.

Even away from national parks, companies produce and sell huge amounts of gear and apparel to meet the demands of an increasingly outdoorsy population. The outdoor industry is a massive entity driving around $646 billion in consumer spending, employing more Americans than the finance and insurance industry (6.1 million compared to 5.8 million) and growing five percent a year on average. However, it doesn’t matter if that company is located in New Jersey or New Mexico, both rely on a central asset: the outdoors.

When this comes under attack, so does the livelihood of every outdoor company. Instead of sitting idly by, many companies have taken action against environmentally destructive policies and campaigned for legislation to protect natural areas. Lately, this political activism is on the rise. More and more companies are feeling the urge to speak up, and still more are acting on that urge.

Just a few weeks ago, more than 100 of the industry’s biggest names committed to fighting for public lands together, signing a “Protect Our Public Lands” petition. The North Face, Patagonia, REI, and the Outdoor Industry created and signed it, and many others issued statements calling for governments (both state and federal) to recognize the cultural and economic significance of wild areas and favor legislation supporting them.

In the past, companies in the industry did not directly unite like this. In establishing Bears Ears National Monument, for example, Patagonia worked separately from other companies to run their campaign. Environmental director Rob Hunter explains how they “used all [their] modes of communication to reach [their] customers” and inform them about the need to conserve Bears Ears. They also shot a movie, “Defined by the Line”, starring climber and conservationist Josh Ewing with the aim of “combining our sport interest, in this case climbing, with our conservation interest, in this case public land protection.” No doubt, both these efforts helped push Bears Ears into the eyes of a much larger audience, securing its protection as a national monument.

Now, companies are combining forces and ramping up their political engagement. Those who signed the “Protect Our Public Lands” petition called for the Utah state government to stop their efforts to privatize Bears Ears. Utah leadership is preparing to sue the federal government to remove the designation — which they call a gross abuse of power-, and place the land under the state control.

The “Protect Our Public Lands” petition best sums up worries of many outdoor companies when it says that if public lands are given to states they “might sell them to the highest bidder.” It again summarizes the general consensus of the industry with the words “public lands should remain in public hands.” The Utah have government has not heard these worries, despite the use of previously successful tactics like petitions and social campaigns, which were both used to establish Bears Ears as a national monument. A more aggressive form of activism is needed, and a few companies are answering the call.

Founder and former Black Diamond CEO Peter Metcalf issued an op-ed in The Salt Lake Tribune calling for Outdoor Retailer (OR), the biannual outdoor industry trade show to “leave the state in disgust” if changes are not made. Shortly after, Yvon Chouinard, founder of Patagonia, echoed Metcalf’s statements and threatened that, “Patagonia’s choice to return for future shows will depend on the Governor’s actions.” Patagonia’s current CEO, Rose Marcario, stands with the founder’s words.

While the current Black Diamond CEO is not planning on leaving, Patagonia is inspiring others to follow their lead. Twenty years ago, Metcalf organized the effort to relocate OR and, with one of the largest outdoor companies backing him, the odds are good it’ll happen. The economic ramifications for Utah will not be light. Each year, OR brings in about $20 million in direct consumer spending. More importantly, it marks Salt Lake City as the outdoor industry’s home base. Losing this could seriously deteriorate the $12 billion outdoor industry residing in Utah. Essentially, OR provides a lot of leverage for the industry’s fight.

This kind of ramped up action is indicative of the way companies are getting involved politically today, and Twitter has become their soap boxes. Any political developments contrary to the pro-environment beliefs of these corporations is sure to provoke a few negative tweets. The North Face, for example, tweeted about the protection of public lands using “#ProtectOurPublicLands” with a link to their statement. They even took a stance on the Women’s Marches, tweeting “We stand with the incredible women on our team and all over the world marching for equality today.” Chris Steinkamp, executive director of Protect our Winters (POW), views Twitter as another means of political activism. His initiative, as stated on the organization’s website, is aimed at “mobilizing the outdoor sports community against climate change.” His biggest target as of late? President Trump, who himself denies the existence of climate change. Frustrated that traditional petitioning methods weren’t working, Steinkamp decided to “go after him on Twitter.” POW’s “Twitter Blizzard” inspired over 5,000 tweets at the then president elect to urge him to maintain the Paris Climate Agreement. A quick scroll through POW’s feed today will show similar attempts at smaller politicians to address climate change in their decisions.

POW is also launching a CEO Alliance this year, which will connect CEOs from companies who want to do more to make a difference but aren’t sure how. “Businesses are now understanding that it is their responsibility to speak out,” Steinkamp says. “It’s one thing to get a company to sign a petition, but getting a CEO to stand up, it personalizes it and there is more commitment.”

Photo courtesy of Ben Duke

The group doing perhaps the most work politically is the Outdoor Industry Association (OIA). Unlike most members of the industry, OIA is not a traditional company. They don’t sell goods or market experiences, rather they advocate for the betterment of the industry as a whole. They are the closest thing to an industry-wide lobbyist group the outdoors have.

Amy Roberts, Executive Director of the OIA, says their main job is to, “[bring] together the collective voice of the industry so we can achieve more as a unified industry and have a larger voice than if individual companies chart their own course.” Their very existence is a testament to the increased political activism within the industry. They have an office and permanent staff in our nation’s capital and hold an annual Capitol Summit event with leaders of the industry in D.C.

“We have seen threats to public lands in the last few years, and we’ve definitely seen efforts by some leadership in Congress to suggest that we should sell them off,” she says. As the threat increases, more and more companies are willing to stand up.

Even smaller, local companies are finding ways to get involved. While most cannot run major campaigns they can make significant differences in their communities. Snowbird Ski Resort, for example, recently hired an environmental director, who helped the resort launch a carpool incentive program called RIDE. By rewarding those who carpool or take public transportation, they are taking a stance to fight against the chronic winter inversion. The flame under these companies is partly what’s going on in Washington, but also because of their customers’ reactions to it.

Photo courtesy of Chris Segel

“People are understanding millennials and understanding what makes them tick,” Steinkamp says. “We are speaking to 35-year-old skiers and snowboarders, and those guys care. They want the brands they spend their money on to care, too.”

Mass social campaigns, films, petitions, and a unique utilization of social media- all organized by ski bum, tree hugger, and dirt bag-founded companies — have given power back to these people. They are fighting, harder than ever, to protect the places that define themselves and the nation as a whole. With an industry almost twice the size of the oil and gas industry backing them, it’s fair to say they’ve got a fighting chance.

n.halberg@wasatchmag.com

c.webber@wasatchmag.com

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