“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.”
When Air Force veteran Tristan Persico was a boy, his dad taught him to explore the natural beauty of Montana, where they lived. While serving in Afghanistan (where Persico’s best friend was killed in an enemy attack), Persico pined for his home state. “While I was there, I constantly longed for the peace and beauty of Montana’s wilderness,” he writes in the Wild Montana blog.
After Persico’s honorable discharge in 2011, he followed the call of that longing and enrolled in the University of Montana’s Parks, Tourism, and Recreational Management program. But he also wanted to help other veterans ease the transition back home through encounters with nature, so he teamed up with Zach Porter, the Program Director of NEXGen Wilderness, to form the Montana Wilderness Association’s Veterans Outreach Program.
Through the program, Persico leads groups of veterans and their families on wilderness expeditions. This summer he’s planned a weekend of camping along the Rocky Mountain Front, a hike through the Great Burn area that’s been proposed for a wilderness designation, a “stewardship weekend” during which veterans will repair and clear trails along the Continental Divide, and more. “Wilderness is the perfect place for veterans to get together, tell stories around the campfire, and be around peers who understand what they have been through,” he writes.
Back in March, President Obama honored Persico with the Champions of Change award for Americans who advocate wilderness preservation and instill a love of nature in others.
Persico told Josh Meny of KPAX news, “Wilderness is naturally decompressing from society, so it lifts a lot of barriers that veterans feel they have in society to talk about these kinds of things and veterans are most comfortable around other veterans.”
Clearly for Tristan Persico, it’s a case of like father, like son.