Lack of Snow Doesn’t Stop The Highground’s Annual Winter Veterans Retreat

What happens when a Winter Retreat is scheduled, and Winter forgets to show up? With the help of many community members and volunteers, and a few adaptations to the itinerary, The Highground Winter Retreat, held Feb 2-4, was still a wonderful success. 

As many people can experience increased struggles with mental health issues, isolation, and lack of physical activity during the winter months, the Winter Retreat is an especially welcome event.  This event, for male and female Veterans of any age and service experience, combines outdoor and indoor activities that are selected to introduce and encourage outdoor winter activities and to offer post-traumatic stress (PTS) management techniques for those seeking this information. Veterans enjoyed exploring The Highground, hiking the trails (snowshoeing was originally planned!) and getting to know each other and the retreat staff throughout the weekend. 

The retreat began on Friday afternoon, February 2 with orientation and a woodworking workshop led by Chris Pettis. Supper followed which was prepared by Bonnie Henchen, a longtime volunteer at The Highground. Bonnie prepared most of the meals at The Highground during this retreat. 

Veterans show off some of their catches during the Winter Veterans Retreat in February 2024

The retreat’s main event was a morning of ice fishing on Lake Arbutus. The lake is approximately 13 miles from The Highground. When planning the retreat months earlier, Highground employee, Theresa Hebert reached out to the Lake Arbutus Association via their Facebook page for assistance in putting together a Veterans ice fishing workshop. As a result of conversations with the Association, Theresa very quickly received offers of help from fishermen Mike Prindle and Paul Borsheim. A meeting was planned and Eugene Bertrang and Josh Olson, two more avid fishermen, joined the ice fishing guide group. Soon the workshop was pulled together. On the day of the event, Veterans were also helped by fishing guides Matthew Borsheim, Tim Helgerson, Joe Schwartz, Eric Kramer and Randy Hauge. “There is no way we could have organized and offered such a big activity to our retreat Veterans without the help of all the guides and Melissa (Paul’s wife),” said Theresa. “They guided the entire planning process, created the equipment list and did all the behind the scenes work of setting up the event. Going into the last two weeks, we weren’t sure if we would be able to get out on the ice due to the warm temperatures. These guys were giving us constant updates so we could plan accordingly and keep our Veterans informed. On the day of the ice fishing event, Paul and Melissa Borsheim opened their beautiful home to our group and served us a big breakfast and lunch. The ice fishing experience and the delicious meals were made possible by Borton Construction’s sponsorship.  The Veterans had a great time, remarking on how the guides helped them every step of the way with lots of laughs as well as catching several fish. The Highground and the Veterans who attended this retreat are hoping to work with this great group on future fishing events.”

Due to a complete lack of snow, the snowshoeing event became an “at will” hiking event along The Highground’s 4.5 miles of wooded trails. The Veterans were able to take home a set of hiking poles that are convertible for use on several different types of terrain. The retreat staff is hopeful they will continue exploring trails in their home areas. 

The Veterans had a busy day on Saturday. After returning from Lake Arbutus, woodcarver Henry Smith gave a presentation on hand-carved wood walking sticks. Veterans were introduced to Neurographic Art, a unique freeform art, which helps the “artist” stay mindful and “in the present” while helping to release stressful emotions easily and with items that are generally on hand. PTS management conversations were an important part of the Winter Veterans Retreat. A workshop on this subject, led by Mary Haupt of the Vet Center, was a powerful introspective part of the retreat and concluded that day. 

Scott Schultz of The Heartbeat Center for Writing, Literacy and the Arts led a journaling workshop on Sunday morning about the ability of journaling to help heal, finding ways to think about things from a different perspective and working through problems. 

The opportunity for Veterans to gather and learn new skills and creative hobbies is important at any time of year. It is especially helpful to be active in the winter, both socially and physically, as struggles with mental health issues can become more intense due to lack of sunlight and seclusion. This retreat’s intent was to offer a socially interactive event for Veterans with instruction and experience that they can continue after the retreat. Veterans left the retreat with several items to help them continue with these new activities, including ice fishing gear, PTS management books for Veterans and families, a case of art supplies, a set of convertible hiking poles, journals and new friendships. Veterans are encouraged to stay in contact with each other and with The Highground. The Highground hopes to see these familiar faces at more of the 2024 Veterans events and personal visits at any time. 

The success of any of The Highground Veterans Retreats relies on the support of organizations and individuals. The Highground was awarded a grant through the Wisconsin Department of Veterans Affairs (WDVA) which funded this Winter Veterans Retreat and future 2024 Veterans retreats. Generous donors supporting The Highground’s Veterans Retreat program include Borton Construction, The National Society of the Dames of the Court of Honor, the Kokosz family, Michele Benson, Julie Diesing, Patricia and Michael Tatro, Linda Czaplinski, The Roper Trust, Beth Murray and Karen Kensel. A very special “thank you” goes out to the Moraine Motel for helping our Veterans feel welcome and comfortable during the retreat. 

The Highground is already planning the 4th Annual Winter Retreat, scheduled for January 31-February 2, 2025. Businesses that specialize in winter outdoor activities that would like to be a part of the 2025 event and supporters who would like to donate in support of the Veterans Retreats are invited to call Theresa at 715-743-4224 or send an email to 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.