It’s a treasure, indeed, to find a facility that accommodates the needs of the guests, and that’s just what Parky’s Farm offers to the veterans and wounded warriors of Project Healing Waters Fly Fishing-Cincinnati. The pond behind the horse barns, complete with a handicapped-accessible dock and nearby restrooms, is the perfect place for the veterans to learn or practice their fly fishing skills. Plus, the abundance of blue gill and bass fish makes it more appealing.
Project Healing Waters Fly Fishing is a national program started in 2005 in the Washington D.C. area. Founder Ed Nickelson walked into the Walter Reed Army Medical Center and started asking wounded warriors returning from Iraq and Afghanistan if they wanted to learn how to fly fish. That turned into a mission to provide veterans across the nation with a chance to learn a skill that would also be recreational therapy for disabled veterans with physical and emotional injuries.
The program has grown in 10 years and now has 178 programs in all 50 states and affiliate programs in Canada and Australia. Each program is centered around a VA Medical Center, a local fly fishing club with a supply of volunteers and the veterans interested in learning to fly fish.
The Cincinnati program was started in 2009 by R. Thomas Scheer, DDS-retired. The veterans in the program come from all branches of the service. They served in Vietnam, Croatia, Iraq and Afghanistan, and one veteran—the oldest of the group—served during the Korean Conflict.
The numbers served varies, for there is a consistent core of veterans who attend every event. One Vietnam Army veteran rides the bus from his home in the downtown Cincinnati area to Winton Woods where he is picked up and taken to Parky’s Farm by volunteers. And then there are the ones who sample the offerings and move on. Twenty six attended the last outing of the year at Parky’s Farm in early October.
The veterans come to the program from the Cincinnati VA Medical Center and the Ft. Thomas VA Domiciliary. The Cincinnati program is the only one in the nation with two sponsoring fly fishing clubs—Buckeye United Fly Fishers and Northern Kentucky Fly Fishers. Each club has supported the program with volunteers and technical assistance.
On the surface, the program is about fly fishing, but deep into the water, it’s about building relationships and the camaraderie of the veterans and volunteers. It’s like a band of brothers (and an occasional sister)—individuals creating lasting ties that bind. And, it’s not uncommon to hear a veteran say, “This program saved my life.”
The fishing outings take place April through October. In addition to Parky’s Farm, fishing events are also held at other locations, providing a variety of fishing experiences. November through March is a series of fly tying classes and events where the veterans learn fly tying techniques. There’s also a fly rod building class where veterans get to build their own, personalized fly rod.
With its accessible facilities and accommodating staff and volunteers, Parky’s Farm is an important component for the program. In fact, two of the park volunteers, Bill Campbell and Jerry Hasson, have pretty much become part of the program. They line their schedule up to be with the veterans.
A perfect match of purpose, people and place what continues to attract the veterans and volunteers to Project Healing Waters. And what the newcomers learn—what PHWFF already knows—there is peace and tranquility when you’re on the water or at the water’s edge.
You can learn more about the national program at Project Healing Waters Fly Fishing, Inc. website or the Project Healing Waters Fly Fishing-Cincinnati Facebook page.
D. Brent Miller, Program Leader, Project Healing Waters Fly Fishing Cincinnati