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Michael Brune Headshot

Hit the Dirt

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When I came to the Sierra Club a little more than a year ago, I had to be realistic about how much I could accomplish right away. But I knew for sure that I wanted to take my family on a Sierra Club outing. OK, probably not a three-week trek along the John Muir Trail, but something the kids could enjoy as a natural progression from our family camping trips. I wanted us all to experience what has always been a core belief for the Sierra Club: being outdoors deepens our understanding of why we must fight to protect our remaining wild places.

Then the BP oil disaster happened, and I found myself surveying the devastation from a small boat in the Gulf of Mexico instead of hiking in a national park.

Of course, after that, the year only got busier. Here I was, working for the organization that invented eco-travel, and pretty much all I had to show for it was... a lot of work. Exciting, important work on issues and campaigns I care deeply about, but work nonetheless.

Last month, though, I came close to achieving my goal. Although we still haven't been on an official Sierra Club outing, our family went on a short vacation to Puerto Rico, which is home to the Sierra Club's newest chapter. Its passionate volunteers were galvanized by the need to protect some of the island's last unspoiled coastland from being developed for condos, luxury resorts and golf courses. It's called the Northeast Ecological Corridor, and its beaches include important nesting sites for endangered leatherback sea turtles.

With help from our friends in the local Sierra Club chapter, we visited a moonlit beach in hope of seeing a female leatherback make her nest. Now my wife and I both grew up by the beach, and we've spent a lot of time in and around the ocean, but that night was truly magical. We did indeed see a giant five-and-a-half foot leatherback sea turtle emerge under a full moon to dig a nest for her eggs. But how much longer will she and her sisters be able to use the beach? That comes down to whether the Sierra Club volunteers in Puerto Rico and the Sierra Club advocates all over the nation can stop those developers. But if everyone could experience what we did, I know it would be a slam dunk for the turtles.

That's a big reason why America's largest environmental organization still has an Outings Program. In the early days, it was often a pack-mule-pack to the High Sierra. Today, the adventure could occur anywhere from Hawaii to Maine -- and even beyond. Or, as happens hundreds of times every week, it might be a local day hike. Regardless of the destination, though, you can count on two things: the trip will be led by a trained volunteer and every person will have the chance to learn about conservation, natural history and wildlife. That, I think, can make an environmentalist -- or a better environmentalist -- out of anyone.

I'm proud of our Outings Department and especially grateful to the hundreds of dedicated volunteer leaders who make the Sierra Club's outings possible. If you aren't on the Outings mailing list, sign up for their newsletter or browse online through their trip listings for hiking, biking, kayaking and more. Or if you just want to get out and stretch your legs this weekend, check here to see what day hikes are listed by your local Sierra Club chapter or group.

In the meantime, I'm still looking for the right trip for my own family -- it's going to tough to top that night on the beach in Puerto Rico. Any suggestions for a family of four, with two little ones? Please let me know!

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