Female Veterans Enjoy a Four-Day Outdoor Skills Retreat Hosted by The Highground

Nature-based activities are proven to boost mental health, lessen anxiety and add to our physical and spiritual well-being. To harness these benefits, The Highground led a four-day female veterans retreat (May 30-June 2) near Holcombe, Wisconsin. This was the second annual Ice Age Trail hiking retreat offered by The Highground with kayaking instruction added this year at the beautiful Brunet Island State Park.

Female veterans sometimes find it hard to locate and join groups of women who share a military background. Often isolated, many of these veterans also are managing post-traumatic stress (PTS) and/or are survivors of military sexual trauma. The intent of this retreat was to encourage camaraderie and education within a nature-based atmosphere of trust, safety and fun.

Kayaking workshop at Brunet Island State Park during this year’s Ice Age Trail Female Veterans Retreat.

The female veterans experienced several confidence-building skills workshops including how to set up and use their individual backpacking tents, stoves, outdoor cooking techniques, and how to kayak. Post-traumatic stress (PTS) management skills with meditation and mindfulness activities were integrated into each day. These activities along with trail hiking were enjoyed within the company and camaraderie of female veterans and retreat volunteers.

Planning for the retreat was closely collaborated with Vicki Christianson of the Ice Age Trail Alliance, Veteran Pete Kitzhaber who has several years of experience leading backcountry group hiking and camping expeditions, Veteran Pete Kern, operations manager at The Highground who led the mindfulness workshops, and Zachary Thon of the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources / Brunet Island State Park. Kaylee Gransee, Linda Tomsevices, Kathi Kramasz and Erin Stauffenecker of the Wausau Whitewater and Team River Runner Milwaukee Chapter coordinated and led kayak instruction and a morning group paddling excursion around Brunet Island State Park. The kayak rental was donated to the retreat by the Friends of Brunet Island State Park.

The Birch Creek Town Hall and township members helped make the retreat a comfortable and enjoyable experience for all by graciously allowing the town hall and surrounding area to be a base of operations. The group set up their individual campsites in the wooded area around the Birch Creek Town Hall and used the town hall to wash up, hold some workshops and activities, and eat some of their meals. Nightly bonfires provided a great setting for conversation, laughter and s’mores.

Retreat veterans were given supplies to take home that will help them to continue backpacking and to experience PTS growth. Among the items that they received were PTS / MST management books and resources, backpacking daypacks, tent lanterns, compasses, hiking poles, water bottles, and more. All veterans were also given the choice to take home one of the following: a backpacking two-person tent, a sleeping bag and sleeping pad, or a backpacking stove, fuel and mess kit.

A multiple-day veterans’ event such as this requires a lot of support. In addition to the individuals and groups mentioned above, there were several sponsors that helped create this successful female veterans retreat. These sponsors include: a grant from the Wisconsin Department of Veterans Affairs and additional funding from The National Society of the Dames of the Court of Honor, Maureen Hornung, Carol Shea, Harold Schmitt, Dreier-Bushee-Vanderboom American Legion Post 156, Dorothy and Dean Evensen, Pam Graham, the American Legion Eau Claire County Counsel, and donations made in the memory of Deb Klabon.

To sponsor or support The Highground’s Veterans Programs, please call 715-743-4224 or email Theresa Hebert, retreat coordinator at The Highground, at museum@thehighground.org.

For upcoming events and more, visit The Highground’s website at thehighground.us or follow them on Facebook at Facebook.com/TheHighgroundVeteransMemorial.

The Highground is located at W7031 Ridge Rd, Neillsville WI 54456. thehighground.us.