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Veterans In the Parks: Recreation Initiatives for Veterans’ Health

By County of Berks

Apr 21, 2022

Taking care of your physical and mental health is always important, but even more so during times of heightened stress. Studies have found that our military veterans are at a higher risk of suffering mental and physical health challenges than civilians, with more than 20 percent of Iraq and Afghanistan veterans suffering from depression or post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Older veterans who served in earlier tours, such as Vietnam, also suffer at a similar rate. And those with physical limitations and health issues are at an even greater risk of suffering from mental health issues.

While services for veterans’ physical and mental health are readily available, taking the first step toward good health can often be challenging. Fortunately, just a simple one-hour walk outside can be the catalyst for starting that journey. The Veterans In the Parks (VIP) program hopes to promote physical and mental wellbeing for all by bringing our veterans’ community together to participate in recreational activities. Getting outside and experiencing nature can increase energy, mood and overall confidence. The Berks County Parks Department has partnered with the IM Able Foundation and the Berks County Veterans Affairs Office to offer recreational activities for veterans. We hope these events will create a gathering place for veterans that allows for opportunities for healing and connection to the natural works and fellow veterans.

On Saturday, May 14, parks staff will host an all-abilities, guided walk for veterans on the Union Canal Trail, starting at 9 a.m. The easy two-hour walk will cover about two to three miles on the trail with interesting natural and historical focal points along the way. Local veterans’ groups are invited to attend to enjoy the hike and meet with veterans in our community to connect them with other services. The ability level of those walking will set the pace, and there is no pressure to complete a specific distance since the goal is to get outside and connect with other veterans. This is a FREE event, but pre-registration is recommended. Those looking to participate should wear sturdy walking shoes and bring a water bottle. To register or for more information, contact Lisa Gauker, Recreation Supervisor, at 610-374-2944 ext. 2611, or email [email protected].

After the walk, veterans and other guests are invited to enjoy more time in the park and check out the various activities offered at the Heritage Center. The Heritage Center museums participate in the Blue Star Museum program, which offers free admission to active military members and veterans. Tours of the Gruber Wagon Works run hourly, starting at 10 a.m. on Saturdays, and the C. Howard Hiester Canal Museum offers a self-guided experience. More information can be found at

These programs are presented by the Berks County Parks and Recreation Department in partnership with the Berks County Office of Veterans Affairs and the IM Able Foundation. For more information, call 610- 374-2944, visit or find us on Facebook or Instagram under Berks County Parks and Recreation. The Berks County Heritage Center is located at 1102 Red Bridge Rd., Reading, PA 19605.

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