by Matthew Vos
For our veterans returning from service to their country, the public lands managed by the Bureau of Land Management can provide not only a wide variety of recreational activities, but also an opportunity to enhance physical and emotional well-being while connecting with the lands and waters they fought to protect. For many veterans, BLM lands and waters have a truly healing effect.
In, 2013, for the third consecutive summer, I was able to join BLM-Alaska in helping several war burdened individuals experience rehabilitation through fly-fishing in one of Alaska’s most beautiful settings…
Around four years ago, Tim Sundlov, BLM-Alaska fisheries biologist and fly-fishing enthusiast who is a military veteran himself, got the BLM hooked up with a program known as Project Healing Waters. Project Healing Waters is a national initiative that provides fly fishing, fly casting, fly tying and rod building classes at no cost to its participants. The project is dedicated to the physical and emotional rehabilitation of disabled active military service personnel and veterans through fly fishing and outings.
From June 26-28, BLM-Alaska co-hosted a trip to the Tangle Lakes/Delta Wild and Scenic River corridor with non-profit Wrangell Institute for Science and Environment (WISE). Eight participants from the Project Healing Waters Anchorage chapter were part of this trip. During the three days, two BLM-Alaska fisheries biologists, Tim Sundlov and Jason Post, along with Safety Officer Keith Genter and myself, a BLM-Alaska Public Affairs Officer, provided shuttles, instruction, support, and photography for the soldiers on their fishing excursion.
Sundlov originally chose the Delta Wild and Scenic River corridor with the headwaters feeding from Tangle Lakes not only for the incredible Grayling fishing but for the awe inspiring beauty and wildlife the area offers. Tangle Lakes are as scenic as it gets with the Alaska Range looming just to the north and the sub-arctic tundra extending out as far as one can see. Wildlife such as moose, brown and black bear, caribou, beaver, eagles, loons and swans are often seen all through the area.
By the amount of smiles and laughter shown through the photos, it’s hard to imagine the pain and struggles that these soldiers have gone through and continue to go through today, but for a brief moment, the serenity of the surrounding landscapes can take that all away. BLM-Alaska is fortunate to manage such a magical place and it’s a privilege to be able to work with and beside these men and women that have sacrificed so much. The stories told at Project Healing Waters are always emotional but they are stories that encourage, enlighten and enthrall, and telling their story is part of the healing process.
There are many quotes about the joys of fishing and I leave you with one that is very well-known but couldn’t be more appropriate from Henry David Thoreau “Many men go fishing all of their lives without knowing that it is not fish they are after.”