The Fourth of July is about celebrating freedom.

This year, I experienced a level few enjoy in these modern times. Over the course of three days and two nights, my cousin, Derek Butler, and I completed a 35-mile journey on the Current River. We slept on gravel bars and worried about little more than what we would grill for our next meal and if we were using the right lure to tempt a might brown trout from behind a boulder. The river washed away the stress of society. 

Derek and I grew up hunting and fishing together. From the time we could walk, we were engrossed in the outdoors. Now with children of our own, we are trying to pass on a love of wilderness, while still finding to make memories together. We spent the first half of the week with our wives and children swimming, fishing, grilling, snorkeling, and making s’mores at my cabin, but once our families headed back home, Derek and I set out on an adventure. We went searching for the sort of freedom we once knew in abundance, but do not experience nearly often enough today. We found it on the Current River.

This trip wasn’t in some far off remote land. It took place in southern Missouri in our state’s crown jewel of outdoor opportunity - the Ozark National Scenic Riverways. This national park is far different from what most people think about when considering a visit to a government-operated park. There is no entrance fee. Out in the wilderness, there is no camping fee. We were able to simply pull our canoes over on the riverbank wherever we wanted and set up a camp. 

It’s an incredible sense of freedom to simply become part of the flow of the river. When you feel like taking break, you stop and do so. There is no designated area. It’s public land that belongs to you and me and every other American. It’s another amazing birth right granted to those of us lucky enough to be born in the greatest country in the world. 

We started our trip in the evening and floated only a few miles before stopping to set up camp. Our goal was to be far enough downstream to begin the next day a good ways ahead of any busload of canoes coming from a livery. The plan worked to perfection. For the first half of our trip, we never saw another person on the river. It’s hard to believe, that on a river as beautiful and accessible as the Current, you can escape all others. 

I set my tent mere feet from the water’s edge. Lying there, on the night of the Fourth of July, falling asleep to the gurgling of a small riffle, I deeply contemplated this incredible gift of American freedom. I thought about all the places in the world where an opportunity such as this is beyond imagination. Where others are simply trying to survive, while I as an American am afforded such luxuries as public lands, clean water and healthy fish and wildlife populations. I gave thanks for my good fortune and renewed my personal commitment to doing all I can to protect this right from those who wish to infringe upon it. 

We are so blessed as Americans, that I am afraid we often overlook our good fortune. Complaining about what one does not have too often clouds the gratefulness we should feel for the blessing we share. Sadly, want and greed divide our society. This wilderness trip Derek and I experienced is in the minds of some a waste of our resources. There is a segment of our society who would gladly strip away our rights to these wild lands in the name of “progress.” There are politicians holding office today who hope to see these lands privatized. Sold to the highest bidder. Thus stealing from you and every generation who comes after you the opportunity to experience wilderness and wildlife. 

When I vote, I research and pay attention to how those I cast my ballot for treat our wild lands and wildlife. I’ll likely never own 1,000 acres. Chances are you won’t either. So if you, like tens-of-millions of other Americans, rely on public lands to maintain your freedom to roam the wild, to float a river and set up a camp on a gravel bar, then pay attention. Ask your elected officials and candidates where they stand on public land, and then hold them accountable to their answers. 

Missouri’s Ozark Mountains offer an unbelievable amount of outdoor recreation. There’s hiking, camping, hunting, fishing, horseback riding, wildlife watching and so much more. It can be hard for the urban Missourian to fathom just how much public land we have at our disposal in the Ozarks. Take a trip and see what you own. 

I am so thankful for all who fought and sacrificed for these United States, so all of us can enjoy the freedom found in wilderness.

See you down the trail…