By Fred Kuepper, Founder, Oswego County Project Healing Waters Project
PULASKI – On the 3rd weekend in May of 2011, the Tug Hill/Black River Chapter of Trout Unlimited hosted an event for wounded soldiers from NY State Programs of Project Healing Waters Fly Fishing. These soldiers experienced a wonderful two days of fly-fishing in a serene setting on the Douglaston Salmon Run in Pulaski, NY.
Fran Verdoliva, the DEC’s Salmon River Liaison, has assisted me for the last four years in organizing Project Healing Waters programs on the Salmon River. It’s our way of giving back to these incredible soldiers who sacrificed all, for our country and for the world. The event creates a recreational, rehabilitative opportunity for these soldiers to get away for a short time and be with their fellow soldiers as well as with caring community citizens who donate their time and efforts to show appreciation.
Also enlisted to help out were a group of mentor/guides who have been involved with the TU/PHW program since its start. Each veteran was paired up with a mentor/guide for one-on-one assistance and safety, and also to provide all the gear necessary for the participants to be successful in catching fish. These volunteers give up their weekend to help our soldiers out.
I just can’t say enough for those who have always been there in our efforts to show these vets a good time. I would like to thank the following mentors for their help: Jim Kelso; Dr. Bob Rock, who donated his expertise on fly tying and autographed copies of his new book; Dave and Lindsay Agness; Dave Kohr; Bob and Rob Adamski, owner-operators of Whitaker’s Sports Store; Charlie Blaas; Scott Eno; Peter Bojileski; Patrick Ross of Angler’s Lodge (who also included a generous monetary donation); and John Wickman – President of the TH/BR TU Chapter.
Also in need of tremendous thanks are our assistant event staff members, Ellen Boyle of St. James Episcopal Church in Pulaski, Jean Densmore, and Todd Alberry for their help with catering and many other duties.
We receive great community support in the way of donations, whether it be in the form of money, fly fishing materials and meals for the event. Paul Moore of Pulaski has donated hundreds of assorted flies he takes the time to tie for the past two year’s events. Chuck Booker donated fly boxes. We had lunches prepared and donated by Commander Russ Marsden, Rick Busky and AMVETS, and the Ladies Auxiliary of the Edick-Hamlink Mexico VFW Post 369, Commander Omar Davis and Carolyn Davis of The Ladies Auxiliary of the Pulaski American Legion Post 358, Mrs. Harolyn Boyle for desserts, and Margaret Weigel and members of Park United Methodist Church in Pulaski for snack and fruit baskets. We very rarely have to buy meals, but we did get some nice discounts and assistance from local establishments such as Stefano’s Pizza of Pulaski and Dunkin’ Donuts of Mexico and BBQ by Cassidy’s Pork.
In addition to all the above, the soldiers were given a generous donation in the form of hospitality in the way of lodging and special access to the Douglaston Salmon Run, compliments of Doug and Sara Barclay, Riverkeeper Jason Edwards along with his assistants Rocky and Phil.
This unique opportunity gave all participants a chance to relax and enjoy the serenity of our fishery, in the hope that they could put aside the aches and pains of previous wounds and take on a few new aches from sore hands and arms from battling fish.
Last but not least, thanks go to Jessica Burt and Janet Clerkin from Oswego County Tourism for pictures and media assistance, and Lisa Tatro and Stephanie Anne Graf of Cornell EDU for providing educational handout materials based on trout information.
When soldiers, volunteers and surrounding communities get together to do something so wonderful, it’s a win-win for everyone. That is what we strive for with events like this. Once again, we accomplished it. The smiles on the soldiers’ faces throughout the weekend were proof enough.
(Two weeks after our event, we were deeply shocked and saddened by the unexpected passing of our friend and volunteer, Ellen Boyle. Ellen’s passion for helping our veterans was just a small part of the giving ways she showed to anyone, and anything she was involved with. She will be dearly missed. We are dedicating this past event, as well as any other events we have this year, to Ellen’s memory.)
Fred Kuepper is an expert fly angler and is founder of the Oswego County Project Healing Waters Project. He owns Outdoor Adventure Guide Service and is a member of the Tug Hill/Black River chapter of Trout Unlimited.