Longtime friend and volunteer Alan Folger writes about the recent “Camp Keystone” which took place in western North Carolina from May 23 – 27, 2018. Originally dubbed ‘Camp Healing Waters,’ the retreat originated as an afterthought to the already effective rehabilitation concepts offered through Project Healing Waters Fly Fishing program activities. The retreat offers something that further expands the trust and camaraderie developed between the volunteer and participant ranks as a natural occurring byproduct of a productive day on the water or behind the vise. Camp Keystone further aids in demonstrating that it is more than just the fishing.
Our third Camp Keystone, formerly known as Camp Healing Waters, took place at the Lake Logan Conference Center in western North Carolina from May 23rd to May 27th. We hosted ten disabled veterans and their spouses during the event designed to provide specific life-skill training, camaraderie and of course quality fishing.
Our veteran couples traveled from homes in North Carolina, Tennessee, South Carolina, Georgia, and Texas and when they arrived on Wednesday the 23rd it was soon obvious that we had a good mix of veterans as they bonded very quickly and began to enjoy the type of good natured shenanigans that vets are known for. Our first workshop occurred on that evening as Ryan Harman conducted a very informative and helpful Personal Finance seminar that was well received by all.
After breakfast Thursday we all headed for the West Fork of the Pigeon River (the stream that forms Lake Logan) which we stocked with trout prior to the veterans arrival. The fishing was a bit tough, but many of the vets managed to catch a few trout with the help of their volunteer guides. For a special treat for our veteran’s spouses, and thanks to one of our donors, Marla Anderson, one-half of the spouses enjoyed massages, facials, manicures, and pedicures while their husbands enjoyed the fishing. Later in the day we were treated to a presentation by Squeak Smith – an F4 pilot from the Vietnam era. Due to an unfortunate medical error Squeak came down with MS while on active duty and his talk dealt with dealing with disabilities, and more importantly, maximizing and focusing on abilities.
On Friday as the other half of the ladies headed for the spa our veterans were transported to the famed Davidson River where they fished the private waters managed by Davidson River Outfitters. Again with their guides, our vets – all of our vets – caught many trout in the 18 to 24 inch range. When we returned to camp Kristen Fisher, a Registered Dietician at the Hickory, NC CBOC taught us the do’s and don’ts of proper nutrition. (After a few days of eating the fantastic meals provided by Lake Logan’s chef we needed that!)
Saturday was a day of family fishing at Sorrell’s Creek, located just down the road on the slopes of Cold Mountain. Prior to hitting the water our couples were instructed in the Tenkara method of fly fishing by PHWFF’s Tenkara Guru, John Miko. After John helped each of our couples assemble their rigs they hit the heavily stocked ponds formed by this little creek and managed to land fish after fish – fish that were later filleted, put on ice and given to our guests. A fun time indeed. To close out our time on the water we were treated to a burger and smoked trout picnic provided by Sorrell’s Creek Trout Farm.
After returning to camp and a quick change of clothes we headed into Asheville for a special dinner at the Biltmore Hilton. As the salad was served each of our vets were hustled out of the room and were each given a beautiful bouquet of flowers that they then presented to their wives. The highlight of the evening was a talk given by our special guest, Hank Parker of bass fishing fame. His entertaining and inspirational presentation provided the perfect close for our days of lessons, fun, fishing, and bonding.
All too often the spouses of our disabled veterans are forgotten. The spouse, the veteran’s primary care giver and support system endures a lot – side by side with the veteran. Their pain, frustration and concerns equal and might even surpass that of the vet. This recognition is what makes Camp Keystone so important and unique. We saw the spouses bond and share their circumstances freely as they recognized that they, just like their veterans, were not alone.