Active military personnel in any branch or unit of the United States armed forces and veterans with a service-related disability are now eligible to receive a free year-round vehicle permit, providing unlimited access to all 75 Minnesota state parks and recreation areas. These new benefits were approved by state lawmakers during the 2017 Minnesota Legislative session. Studies done by the Warrior Institute, Outward Bound, Sierra Club and others show that outdoor recreation enhances a person’s emotional, physical and physiological well-being.

Post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is the leading injury for American veterans. An estimated 30 percent of Vietnam War veterans have had PTSD in their lifetime, and 20 percent of the veterans who served in Operation Iraqi Freedom and Operation Enduring Freedom have PTSD in a given year, according to the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs. It is estimated that less than 30 percent of veterans with mental health issues, however, will seek help.

“For whatever reason—the stigma, the expense, or something else—people in general find it difficult to seek treatment for mental health issues,” said Kacie Carlson, northeast region naturalist for the Parks and Trails Division. “They may, however, willingly visit a park or trail, which can help combat stress and improve well-being.”

Carlson recently attended a conference on nature-based resiliency-building for members of the armed forces, veterans and their families. She hopes to see more veterans take advantage of the health benefits available to them in the outdoors. “We as outdoor recreation managers hold the recipe for a very effective prescription for wellness: the outdoors,” she said.