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MWA Veteran Outreach Coordinator Tristan Persico (on right) pauses during a young veterans backpacking trip along the Continental Divide in the West Big Hole area of the Beaverhead-Deerlodge National Forest. August 2013.

At an early age, my father started bringing me to wild places to learn and explore. Dad instilled in me a sense of adventure; I always wanted to know what was around that next bend in the trail or what was over that next ridge. This is where my lifelong love of the outdoors began.

The approach to Trapper Peak. Photo by David Wise

What is wilderness? Is it a parcel of land with tangible boundaries and management principles prescribed by a forest manager or legislator’s pen? Or could it be a state of mind? Is wilderness the place we go within ourselves to remember who we are and where we came from? A place where the chains of responsibilities are unshackled from our ankles and we are allowed to refocus our attention on the gentle flow of forward motion. Forward. Along the trail. Up the mountain. Towards a greater sense of self.

MSU and UM students are all smiles despite cold weather on the Crown Mountain trail in the heart of hunting season.

Every fall, college students in Montana are generally divided into colors: you are either blue and gold or burgundy and silver. In late mid-November, with the Cat-Griz game close at hand, the tension between students at the University of Montana (UM) and Montana State University (MSU) was at an all-time high.

MWA Veteran Outreach Coordinator Tristan Persico (second from right), and NexGen Wilderness Leaders Program Director Zack Porter (right), led a backpacking trip for veterans into the West Big Hole in August 2013.

While many Montanans were enjoying the first days of fall weather and others were heading into the wilderness for the opening hours of archery season, a small group of veterans were hiking into Rock Island Lake in the Beaverhead Mountains.

MWA Outdoor Explorer Mentoring program participants examine specimens at the "bugs" station on a recent outing near Bozeman. MWA photo

The Outdoor Explorers kicked off Bozemans warm weather season with a trip to the Cherry River fishing access located just a mere five minutes out of town. The beautiful area features both stillwater ponds and moving streams which means it houses two types of insects and fish adapted to those separate environments. The picnic benches and grassy trails provided perfect areas for us to set up our four stations for the day: fly tying, fly casting, safety and etiquette, and stream ecology.

A boardwalk stretches over sensitive vegetation on the highly traveled Tongariro Crossing in Tongariro National Park on New ZealandÂ’s North Island. Photo by Emily Downing

A recent car trip from Hokitika to Nelson on the South Island of New Zealand saw me boring the driver, a girl from Boston, Mass., with incessant remarks about how easilly we could be driving through the Bitterroot Valley. The highway we drove on followed a wide, poplar-lined river through ranch land with views of the surrounding snow-capped mountain ranges, allowing me to wax poetic about the glories of the West.