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The Great American Outdoors

June 29, 2011

Editor’s Note: This column appeared in The Greater Ashland Beacon on Wednesday, June 29, 2011 and is being republished here with permission.

By Carrie Stambaugh

ASHLAND There is a lot to celebrate and be proud of as a nation as we approach the 235th anniversary of our Independence Day.

While the list of freedoms all Americans enjoy as citizens is too lengthy for this limited space – I often find myself giving thanks for one particular freedom.

This freedom is a gift that is essential to my own pursuit of happiness and is one of many sources of my patriotic pride.

It is the freedom to enjoy the abundance and diversity of our magnificent, awe-inspiring landscapes that stretch across the nation from sea to shining sea and beyond.

I particularly relish the freedom I have to explore and discover these lands, many of which have been preserved and carefully managed for generations.

These natural riches not only ignited the imagination of our earliest forefathers they fueled our early growth and expansion. They continue to be an important and intrinsic part of who we are today.

No other nation in the world has as many national treasures as we do and millions of international travelers flock to our waters and forests each year to experience them firsthand.

Photo by Carl Stambaugh. The author, Carrie "Mudfoot" Stambaugh stands atop Stony Man Overlook in the Shenandoah National Park. This photo was taken in June 2010 while Stambaugh was hiking the Appalachian Trail.

I consider myself truly blessed to live where I do – on the edges of the oldest mountain range in the world in a nation that values individual freedoms and liberty above all else. These beliefs were born from the lives of our rugged pioneer founders who struggled to gain every foothold in this wild, new world.

I believe it is my patriotic duty to spend as much time enjoying what remains of those untamed outdoor splendors and encourage others to as well.

The opportunities are truly limitless and these spaces can serve as settings to improve individual health – both physical and mental – but also as places to strengthen our bonds with family and friends.

It was my parents that first introduced me to the mountains and forests of America. They instilled in me not only the curiosity to explore each one but the responsibility to protect them and see that they are carefully passed on to the next generation to enjoy.

And they started early.

At four months-old, my father packed me to the top of my first mountain during a visit to the Great Smoky Mountains National Park – much to the dismay of my maternal grandmother.  As a growing child, they filled my summer months with camping excursions that took me to the lakes and forests of Ohio, Indiana, Kentucky, and Tennessee.

It was on these trips that they so carefully planted the seeds that would grow into a perennial love of summer walks in solitary woods and refreshing swims in cool lake waters.

I believe it was no accident that I chose to live here in this little corner of Appalachia, nestled between the hills of east Kentucky and the banks of the mighty Ohio River.

Our region is particularly endowed with easily accessible public lands, many within minutes of downtown Ashland.

By my count, there are at least a dozen distinct recreation destinations in nearby Ohio, Kentucky and West Virginia including lakes, national and state forests, hunting areas and rivers, streams and creeks.

Get out and enjoy them! Nothing is more American.

Carrie Stambaugh is the managing editor of Kentucky Angling News.   She can be reached at carriestambaugh@gmail.com

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