by Arlene Shovald
Special to The Mountain Mail

[reprinted from The Mountain Mail special edition, 11 November 2019]

Outdoor activities with a group of like individuals can be a transforming experience for disabled active military service personnel and disabled veterans.

The Collegiate Peaks Chapter of Trout Unlimited provides this type of experience through a partnership with the Colorado Springs Chapter of Project Healing Waters Fly Fishing (PHWFF). PHWFF began in 2005 to serve wounded military service members at Walter Reed Army Medical Center who were returning from combat in Iraq and Afghanistan and now has chapters across the country.

It is dedicated to the physical and emotional rehabilitation of disabled active military service personnel and disabled veterans through fly fishing and associated activities, including education and outings.

In June Collegiate Peaks Chapter hosts a PHWFF fishing outing at Hayden Meadows Reservoir and the nearby stretch of the Arkansas River. Members serve as mentors (guides) and cooks. Other members tie flies, and each vet is given a box of flies. Mentors are required to go through training to deal with physical as well as emotional problems such as post-traumatic stress disorder and traumatic brain injury.

“In September, Collegiate Peaks members stepped up to rescue another PHWFF outing that was on the verge of being canceled due to lack of volunteer mentors and cooks,” said Rick Helmick, Collegiate Peaks vice president.

“This outing on a private stretch of the Arkansas River was an extraordinary experience for the vets as well as the volunteers. We love doing this. Veterans have said things like ‘without this some of us wouldn’t be here anymore.’ That makes it all worth it.

“Our veterans are mostly from Colorado Springs and some from Pueblo because of the large number of military personnel in those areas. However, any veteran with a service-connected disability likely would qualify for the program.”

Collegiate Peaks Chapter encourages any local disabled veterans to join the Colorado Springs Chapter of PHWFF. TU has spread the word about the program through local fly shops and veteran groups. No fly fishing experience or equipment is necessary. The Colorado Springs Healing Waters introduces veterans to fly fishing, arranges for quality loaner gear as needed and provides transportation to approximately 40 fishing outings each year. Veterans can join online at Volunteers can join as mentors, cooks, photographers, etc.
at the same website.

“This is one small way we can support our troops at a local level and see how much they appreciate their experience on our beautiful rivers and lakes,” Helmick said. “A few of them have told us we save lives.”