Veterans and lawmakers came together at Chimney Rock State Park Friday to discuss the preservation of nature as a means to cope with PTSD, substance abuse issues, and depression after deployments.
"In our country, we're losing 22 veterans a day to suicide," said Byron Harvison, who helped organize the free American Alpine Club event.
Veterans and active service members from Fort Bragg spent the day rock climbing and connecting with state and federal representatives. One representative came from U.S. Senator Thom Tillis' office.
"We're really appreciative to have representatives from our senate and our outdoor recreation industry that has seen our resolve to protect these areas," said U.S. Army Captain Matthew Arevian.
His wife, three year old son, and six year old daughter accompanied him from Fayetteville.
Arevia says nature has helped him build a stronger family and readjust after deployments to Bosnia and Afghanistan.
"[It] has really helped me to let my mind slow down and refocus on the family construct I had before I left. I haven't been able to find that anywhere else.
I don't find that in a clinic or medication or anything other than being on a trail with my family and absorbing nature around me."
That's why he and his wife Rachel are advocating to preserve places like Chimney Rock.
"People, veterans, children, future children will not be able to go out into those areas unless we protect them, unless we actively protect them," said Rachel Arevian.
By protecting them, they hope to also preserve the lives of men and women serving in the U.S. military.
"The closeness that you develop when you spend time in remote places. It's hard to foster that in any other place," said Matthew.
"It recharges us from the busy schedule the military is and is a great bonding experience for us," said Rachel.
Friday's event was the 4th in a series of American Alpine Club hikes, according to an organizer. An American Alpine Club spokesperson writes, “the goal of these events is to facilitate government policy-makers to spend time alongside vets who rock climb as a way to cope with PTSD, substance abuse issues, and depression after deployments. The interactions are fun, meaningful, and designed to help lawmakers connect the dots that public lands mean different things to many different people — but for all of us, they are a sacred shared resource."