WILMINGTON, Ill. (AUGUST 4, 2016) – US military veterans are recording data about trails at Midewin National Tallgrass Prairie in Wilmington this week. The project is in partnership with the non-profit group Veterans Trek and the US Forest Service.
The veterans have recorded information such as locations of bridges, culverts, interpretive signs and gates. They also took photos of the trails. When the project is complete, the public will be able to access the photos and information to tailor their experience using an interactive visitor map of the trails at Midewin.
Midewin (mih-DAY-win) is a Potawatomi word that means healing society, and Veterans Trek leadership saw the trails project here this week as healing in many ways.
“There is great healing potential in nature, and in being outside and not isolating yourself,” said Veterans Trek Co-founder Anthony Anderson. “It’s helpful just being outside and being in the sun, hearing birds, and seeing colors. For me in my own recovery, getting out and forcing myself back into the world woke me back up.”
Anderson and Veterans Trek Co-founder Tom Voss are featured in Almost Sunrise, which is an independent film about their 2,700-mile walk in 2014 from Milwaukee, where they both live, to Santa Monica, Calif. The film has screened at festivals throughout the US, and will screen at the 2016 Milwaukee Film Festival, which will run from Sept. 22 through Oct. 6.
Anderson said involvement with Veterans Trek is also a way for military veterans to stay connected with other veterans while continuing to serve the public. He would like to see projects conducted more regularly like the work that took place at Midewin this week.
“Being of service is always valuable, but doing the things that bring you back is what you need to do,” Anderson said. “Serving our country doesn’t have to be over.”
The veterans are working with Electronic Trail Assessment and Condition Survey (e-TRACS) to record the information about the trails. The US Forest Service introduced e-TRACS last year as a means of streamlining the process for recording and keeping data updated. e-TRACS is being implemented through agreements with Michigan Technological Institute and Veterans Trek. The work this week at Midewin was the first time Veterans Trek has used e-TRACS and the first time the system has been applied at Midewin.
“I believe this could be a start of a great partnership between Veterans Trek and the Forest Service.” said Acting Prairie Supervisor Kurt Steele. “With our ability to provide an opportunity to help some of our veterans in a meaningful way while at the same time providing Midewin National Tallgrass Prairie with needed work that will help improve the experience of our visitors, is truly a win, win situation.”