by David Mills, Founder
Several events would ultimately lead to the birthing of the idea for the Outdoors for Everyone Project.
I grew up traveling through the American west. By the time I was eight my father had labored at the same manufacturing plant long enough to accumulate substantial vacation time. As a result, I spent most summers with my mom and dad trekking from metro-Detroit to parts of the west I had only seen in John Wayne movies. By the time I was thirteen I had been in every National Park west of the Mississippi, and loved every minute of it. I have a lifetime of memories from these adventures and it’s these experiences that, at an early age, ingrained in me a love for the out-of-doors.
As our path meanders through life we are taken on many different adventures. For me it was marriage, raising a family, and business owner. The extent of mine and my family’s travels during this period were relegated to our cottage in northern Michigan. These were wonderful family times chock-full of memories, but still . . . it wasn’t Yellowstone, Yosemite, or The Grand Canyon.
In 2010 I found myself confronted with one of those watershed moments in life, my oldest son was about to get married. I then realized that I may not have another opportunity to introduce my entire family at once to what I had experienced with my parents as a child. So, that fall I took the family on an epic vacation into the West. The trip was a grand introduction into what it’s like to be on the road, tenting, hiking, and soaking in the sights. We had one glorious adventure after another and in the end I had the entire family hooked on the beauty and grandeur of the American West. I felt pretty proud about it too. This trip also served to be the catalyst to reignite my boyhood lust for the out-of-doors.
It was while on “the epic family vacation” and during our time spent in Yellowstone that my oldest son and I had one of our most memorable moments in a National Park (Read the story here). Unfortunately, at the time I was ill prepared to capture the event for posterity. I possessed neither the equipment nor the skills necessary to create any sort of lasting photographic memories of the adventure. I vowed after the Yellowstone experience that this would change, and thus began my delving into photography. This single event proved to play a significant role in setting me on the path of creating the Outdoors for Everyone Project.
Years prior to “the epic family vacation” there was a rather small but noteworthy event that would also later prove to impact my thinking regarding the Outdoors for Everyone Project.
I have owned two non-traditional real estate companies in metro-Detroit for almost 25 years; also being active within the industry owning an appraisal firm and as a builder. It was not an uncommon practice in my real estate business to preview homes for clients that were not local. In this scenario I visit a home alone and based on my knowledge of what the client is looking for, determine if it’s worth the client’s time to visit the home for themselves.
On one particular occasion I was alone inside a very large, high-end home where the sellers were partially moved out and they themselves were out of town. Still left behind were three pictures on what were very large walls. One of the pictures was of the Grand Canyon, one was of Zion National Park, and I couldn’t place the third. Two things struck me about these photos. One was how big they were. All three were approximately five feet tall by eight feet wide. What also made an impression, particularly given the size of the photos, was how detailed they were. I had never seen a photo that large, and at the same time that clear. The detail was astonishing. Standing in front of them made me feel as if I was there. This incident planted the seed that would later inspire me to create similar photos.
Throughout the years I’ve been involved in various forms of youth activities, with my own kids being a large part of that involvement. When not directly in charge or helping out I could be found attending my own child’s sporting event of one sort or another. I also found myself serving in the community where I reside as Parks and Recreation Board Chairperson, among other positions of civic duty. And, I shouldn’t neglect mentioning my own participation as a kid with Cub Scouts and various other sports and youth activities. It is this involvement with youth and community that would additionally prove as motivation for the Outdoors for Everyone Project.
My father passed away in 1987 and my mother 10 years later. Unlike my father, my mother spent the end of her life in assisted living and senior facilities. I saw both my parents in their old age fondly reminisce about their travels and long again to be in the out-of-doors. The desire was there, but the ability was not. This has impacted me deeply and become a further motivating factor for the creation of the Outdoors for Everyone Project.
My wife spent 18 years working in one of the largest hospitals in metro-Detroit. My “experience by association” with this atmosphere would also impact the direction of the Outdoors for Everyone Project.
The Birth Of An Idea
The preceding is the general foundation and background for the formation of the idea for the Outdoors for Everyone Project. It has everything to do with my grand outdoor adventures as a kid, my experiences over the years with youth, the elderly, and the hospitalized, in addition to my involvement in community service. And to cap it off, my interest in the impressive landscape photography of others.
But, it is actually the big awesome adventures that I now find myself experiencing within our National Parks that has proven to be the final catalyst for the Project. Since 2010 and the “epic family vacation” I’ve had the privilege to have visited 25 National Parks and counting. During this time I’ve honed my photography skills and learned the necessities of backcountry backpacking.
Whenever I return home to the Midwest I find myself regaling colorful accounts of my adventures and sharing the respective photos with those I come in contact with. I’m always somewhat surprised at the great enthusiasm, wonder, and joy that these times of sharing produce. The reaction of others to the stories and the photos is always one of excitement. In addition, and what I have found most interesting, is that the reactions to the photos come from nothing more than simply sharing them on a smartphone. I couldn't help imagine the impact if the photos were larger, the presentation more elaborate!
Just a couple years back I was recounting stories and sharing photos with some individuals that I knew would never have the opportunity to actually travel and experience the beauty and grandeur of a National Park. Seeing the joy and excitement on their faces was inspirational. It was then that I thought how great it would be if somehow the experience could be brought to them, and others in similar circumstances, on a scale larger than just a smartphone. What if, through big awesome as-if-you-were-there photos, accompanied by a photo slide presentation with robust storytelling, one could bring the beauty and grandeur of the outdoors and the National Parks to these individuals? And the idea of the Outdoors for Everyone Project was born - To bring the therapeutic, inspirational, and educational properties of America’s National Parks to those that lack the ability or opportunity to experience them, and to spark an interest in the National Parks amongst those not familiar with their big awesomeness.
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2018 Outdoors for Everyone Project