The Power of Community: Disabled Veterans Heal in Wise River, Montana
“There are no words to best describe how Freedom Ranch made me feel. The best I can do is to say I felt WELCOMED and SECURE. It’s been a very long time since I last felt that way.”
Located along the banks of Montana’s famed Big Hole River lies Freedom Ranch for Heroes – a special partnership between Project Healing Waters Fly Fishing (PHWFF), The George and Betty Harbaugh Foundation, and the community of Wise River, Montana. Now entering its third year, this special place has been a life-saving gift to hundreds of disabled active duty military personnel and disabled veterans from PHWFF programs throughout the Nation.
“I had 3 nights of uninterrupted sleep with no intrusive thoughts nor breakthrough dreams . I truly had 3 days of freedom at the Freedom Ranch.”
On Montana Highway 43, where the Wise River flows into the Big Hole River sits the small community of Wise River. The community is surrounded by over a half-million acres of peaks, lakes, and rivers in the Pioneer Mountains and offers some of our Nation’s most spectacular scenery. But Wise River transcends its stunningly wild and natural beauty – for it’s the people of Wise River that make it so special.
“This trip was a once in a lifetime experience for me. The physical environment as well as the social interactions with veterans is something that was very comforting. This trip refreshed me mentally and helped me forget about the struggles of normal life. I’m so thankful;, my soul is refreshed.”
Though small in population, the heart of the Wise River community is gigantic. Just a few moments at the famous Wise River Club will leave you with a lasting impression of a welcoming, generous and patriotic community. It is due to this hospitality and unwavering support for our Nation’s military family that so many disabled veterans furthered their journey to physical and emotional recovery while at Freedom Ranch.
“I just can’t say enough great things about Freedom Ranch and all the local people. Rachael, Paula, Clint, Dale our drift boat guide and all the people that I can’t name here that gave of their time and talents to make this trip the greatest fishing trip I have ever been on. The last night at dinner at the Wise River Club, the owner (Tom) invited everyone in the club to come gather around us and he led us in singing the Star Spangled Banner! Where else in this Country would that happen? As a Veteran I truly felt welcomed and cared for in and around Wise Montana.”
Each year between May and October, 20 PHWFF groups gather in Wise River at Freedom Ranch for Heroes to experience the therapeutic powers of fly fishing, to connect with their fellow disabled veterans, and to celebrate our freedom and the part they played in protecting it. During their ranch visits, these courageous heroes are able to have some fun, learn new skills, and spend quality time with their fellow disabled veterans. They are embraced by the Wise River community and the Harbaugh Foundation. Thanks to them, these trips transcend fly fishing – they build relationships, community and camaraderie. The love and support of the following businesses, organizations, and individuals cannot be overstated:
- The Wise River Community Foundation and all their volunteers and the Anaconda Sportsman’s Club
- The Montana State Government especially Dave Hagengruber of Montana Fish Wildlife & Parks and the Beaverhead County Sheriff Deputy Jeremy Wyrick
- Local businesses in the Wise River, MT community such as The Wise River Club (with owners Tom & Linda Davis and staff), Wise River Mercantile (Connie, Dannette and staff)
- Local businesses in Butte, MT like Spherion, Gamers Cafe (owner Paul Cote), La Casa Toscana (owner LaSonia Zachow)
- Big Creek Coffee Roasters in Hamilton, MT; Bar 3 Bar-B-Q in Belgrade, MT; La Quinta Inn in Belgrade, MT; Northwest Farm Credit Services of Montana; and NorthWestern Energy of Montana.
- The Big Hole Lodge (Outfitters Craig & Wade Fellin and guides); Troutfitters (Lance Stanchfield, Matt Sawyer and guides); Blue Ribbon Guide Service (Jack and Tony Schoonen and guides); Montana High Country (Russ Kipp and guides); Tom and Chris Guide Service; Sunrise Fly Shop (Ryan Barba and Eric Thorson and guides).
- The Freedom Ranch construction crew: Lee Strimpel – Project Manager, Jarrett Wiegel and crew.
- Paula Krugerund , Rachel Stepan, Clint Chamberlin, Chet Pearce, Rogue & Barb Schonsberg, Marv Johnson, Janice Lannin, Kandis Ronchetto, Sharon Osborn, Aidan Francisco, John Vanda-Veer, and the Kambich family
“Before I left for Freedom Ranch I was known to be around people and not talk to anyone. Prior to leaving I made a deal with my wife and a VA Doctor to stay around other participants and talk to them. I upheld that deal and made life long friends that I wouldn’t have otherwise made. Freedom Ranch is built to give PHWFF participants an experience they won’t forget. I’m here to tell you that, because of everyone associated with Freedom Ranch for Heroes, you will have an experience you will not forget!”
This Project Healing Waters Fly Fishing national program is generously funded through the support of the Harbaugh Foundation, formed after the passing of George and Betty Harbaugh – as a former Air Force pilot George’s estate is now used to better the lives of others, especially those who fight every day to protect our freedoms.
PHWFF is unique in that our programs are providing programming and classes on an on-going, long term basis in over 220 communities across the United States. Helping disabled veterans is not a one-time event and this unique partnership exemplifies that by offering support year-round at home with on-going program activities and during their special time at Freedom Ranch.
A Year in Pictures: Freedom Ranch for Heroes >
“Having been involved with my local PHWFF program for years I can say that it has enabled me an outlet to relieve stress and has provided many hours of solitude and relaxation. From tying flies to building rods. This trip to Freedom Ranch enabled me to put what I have been learning to practice. My thanks to all that make this program possible.”
“My trip to Freedom Ranch gave me five days of companionship, laughter, fishing, and great food. It gave me time to relax and forget about upcoming health problems. It calmed my soul.”
Did you know that there’s a special coffee blend from Big Creek Coffee Roasters dedicated to Freedom Ranch? Each time you buy Freedom Ranch Coffee, $5 of the purchase price will be donated to Project Healing Waters – helping to fund future trips for more disabled veterans to visit Freedom Ranch. Freedom Ranch Coffee can be purchased by visiting our friends at Big Creek Coffee Roasters at http://www.bigcreekcoffeeroasters.com/freedomranch