Finding Common Ground, United Outside


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In America, place matters a lot. Our hometown grounds our identity. Our individual neighborhoods and blocks shape our personality, our habits and our deepest connections. As a nation of immigrants and a mobile work force, we start relationships by asking where you’re from.

Washington D.C. has a proud, diverse population with many dimensions. One of the more easily identifiable elements here is a deep love for the outdoors. This is a town recognized as the fittest in the country and one that fights for issues that local communities care deeply about, like access to the outdoors and healthy lifestyles. Given the tension in the country today, it’s hardly surprising that those at the center of decision-making look for ways to disconnect from work.

The more we study the relationship between health and the outdoors, the more we’re convinced that this country needs to stop looking at time outside as optional. It’s evident that the District shares this passion. The outdoors is a place to get fit, refresh and rejuvenate. At REI, we ask ourselves how the outdoors can play part in shaping a “life well-lived.” We are a $646 billion industry. That’s good for the economy, but the human benefits are so much more important.

This summer, we celebrate the nation’s more awe-inspiring places and the chance for them to impact the way we all live. President Teddy Roosevelt, conservationist John Muir and industrialist Stephen Mather led parties into the nation’s backcountry. They worked to assure our country’s most special outdoor places became National Parks. The First Family just helped celebrate the centennial of our National Park Service, visiting Carlsbad Caverns and Yosemite National Parks this weekend.

The Declaration of Independence cites our unalienable right to pursue happiness, and time spent outdoors is a source of happiness and health for many Americans. That our better selves can emerge from nature is more than sentiment and intuition. An expanding body of evidence shows that natural surroundings decrease stress, support emotional health and prompt positive behaviors – greater energy and collaborative and long-term thinking. For all of the things Americans disagree on, particularly in an election season, one thing we can agree on is the transformation that can happen when we put down our laptops, turn off our phones, and head outside.

Perhaps it is for this reason, in the District, that you more regularly see Republicans and Democrats coming together on legislation that promotes access to the outdoors. Yes, partisan outbreaks flare – sometimes intensely – and there are areas of particular concern for REI right now when we look at specific legislation in progress. But there are bright spots as Republicans and Democrats work together on bills to fund wildfire fighting, fix the infrastructure in our National Parks, and tally the economic impact of the outdoor recreation sector. There should be more of these.

As we move into the heat of the political season, it’s encouraging to remember that there are important topics like the outdoors that we can agree on, and there are places we can go – together – to rebuild ourselves and our strained relationships. At its core, I believe Washington D.C. understands this. Nature can calm the mind, heal the soul and bring us together at a basic, human level. It is the common ground – both literally and figuratively – that we need now more than ever, especially in a governing town.

We can be united outside.

Editor’s note: REI launched United Outside to mark the opening of its fifth flagship store, opening this fall in the NoMa neighborhood of Washington D.C.