Florida is home to more than 1.5 million veterans and 21 military bases, and we are one of the most veteran-friendly states in the nation. Recent terrorist attacks around the world serve as a poignant reminder of just how much our military servicemen and women sacrifice for our safety and freedom.
I recently opened a first-of-its-kind camp dedicated to providing disabled veterans with outdoor experiences at no cost. The camp is part of “Operation Outdoor Freedom,” a program we launched in 2011 to provide wounded veterans with hunting, fishing and canoeing activities. To date, more than 1,400 veterans have participated. These experiences are enriched by volunteers and supporters from around the state.
Camp Prairie consists of a fully equipped campground with sleeping quarters, a screened kitchen, pavilion, dining area and restroom facility. The serene camp is located in Lake Wales Ridge State Forest under a canopy of oaks draped with Spanish moss and overlooking the southern shore of Lake Kissimmee. The remote location offers peace and solitude.
What started as a way to say thank you has become a form of therapy for our veterans.
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While the veterans enjoy Florida’s beautiful outdoors with their brothers and sisters in arms, they experience much more than just hunting or fishing. They share their common experiences, frustrations, and share tips on ways they've dealt with challenges in their recovery and rehabilitation. The therapeutic value of these hunting and fishing trips takes place at the top of a tree stand, on the bow of a boat and sitting around a campfire at the end of the day.
This is a special way of connecting our natural resources that we're blessed to have in our state with the men and women who are willing to put their lives on the line for the rest of us.
Adam H. Putnam, state commissioner of Agriculture, Tallahassee