The Grandest Canyon Of All: What Are We Fighting For?

Ten years ago, I served as an Army officer in Baghdad right before and at the start of the massive surge of troops into the country. Before that, I worked clearing landmines in Angola, Abkhazia, and in Bosnia. War creates sacred moments, both good and bad, that we hold onto the rest of our lives.

When I came home, the outdoors gave me my life back. Nature is still the place that reminds me that the coolest, biggest, most awesome thing I've ever done can be in front of me, in front of us. It gives me a reason to live.

I have the great fortune of making it my life's work to introduce people to the wilderness. My journey to get here was not so peaceful, but perhaps that's why I am so aware of the invaluable benefits that our public lands and waters provide. I started with climbing but quickly found myself on skis and on foot exploring our great outdoors every chance I could get. Recently, I've found myself on rivers, and I've found that the healing power of rivers is, for me anyway, unique. The stress of the daily grind fades away after a couple of river miles from launch and it's replaced by the splash of oars, the gurgle of whitewater and deep conversations with those in your boat. On the river and in nature, I'm at peace.

Nowhere has that been more up close and personal than in the Grand Canyon. The value of the Grand Canyon is simply that it exists -- and that we have access to such a wonder. It is a landscape unlike any other, the grandest canyon on earth, and the crown jewel of our National Park system. This is America. This is what I fought for -- and the fight isn't over. At present, we face the greatest fight of all.

Late Grand Canyon river-running legend George Wendt said, "Conservation is a fight that is never over." And he's right. Our Grand Canyon faces threats from all sides and staring down the barrel of a Trump administration, those threats will only escalate. George made it his life's mission to deliver people into the wilderness, launching O.A.R.S., the first human-powered rafting company in the heart of the Grand Canyon. Since then this family company has worked with partners like me and the Sierra Club to extend that reach to veterans and our nation's youth -- making remote and wild rivers accessible to those who may have never dipped a paddle in a current or slept under the stars. George was supposed to accompany me down my first venture on the Grand, but instead I took his memory and his spirit.

Throughout history, when warriors return, they find sanctuary in the wilderness to heal and to find their way fully home. We fought for our country. Now we have a role to help our compatriots through their trauma. As veterans and as Americans, we have a responsibility to each other and to our country to continue to fight for these public lands and waters that provide invaluable benefits simply by being there and because our forefathers had the vision to set them aside for the enjoyment of all. I do the work I do because I felt it was my duty to step up.

Now I feel an even bigger responsibility as a father. These lands belong to my daughter just as they belong to all of us. I'm dedicated to ensuring she still has access to the public lands and rivers that we have today -- now more than ever. I dream of the day when I can take my daughter down her first river trip, and the Grand Canyon is a trip of a lifetime. I don't want to tell my daughter that we didn't fight to protect it when we had the chance.

We have a historic opportunity right now in the last weeks of Obama's presidency to permanently protect the public lands surrounding Grand Canyon National Park as the Greater Grand Canyon Heritage National Monument, safeguarding this national treasure now and forever.

This is the Grand Canyon. What we allow to happen here, will determine what happens across the west. If we are not willing to protect the Grand Canyon, then what will we? Now, more than ever, it's time to step up and fight to protect what is ours--and let us start with the Grand Canyon.