Rapid Healing

Fly-fishing brings healing.

  • By: Fly Rod and Reel
  • and Friends of the Forest Lodge

“Once in a while, spend a week in the woods. Wash your spirit clean.” —John Muir

“We need the tonic of the wilderness.” —Henry David Thoreau

“There is not very much tranquility left in the world today. It may be in striving to preserve a little of it we are making the best contribution within our powers” —Louise Dickenson Rich, We Took to the Woods, 1942

Shining like a glittering jewel in the western mountains of Maine is the famous Rapid River. Here, Aldro French and the Friends of Forest lodge were honored to host a group of deserving Project Healing Waters Fly Fishing (PHWFF) veterans from around the country last autumn.

Arriving at Forest Lodge by coach from the Togus Veterans Administration Hospital, outside of Augusta, Maine, 12 wounded warriors arrived on Monday afternoon full of excited expectation for a week of fantastic fly-fishing. The Togus crew was joined by two wounded warriors from Fort Drum, New York, who had arrived earlier after being collected from Portland airport by a volunteer. “The opportunity of a five pound native brook trout or a large landlocked salmon made us all tremble with anticipation and fish fever” says Alan Gregory, local reporter and resident Maine Guide at Forest Lodge. This was the third consecutive year Forest Lodge had opened its doors to PHWFF veterans—from the humble acorn grows the mighty oak.

The first small group of eight local Maine veterans and support staff has, over three years, grown to fourteen veterans and twenty support staff. As more wounded warrior transition from the military healthcare into the Veterans Administration, the demand for this service will continue to grow. LTC Doug Matty insists that “one of the unique results of the Project Healing Waters Fly Fishing Program is the multiple organizations and people joining together to support the rehabilitation and support for wounded warriors and veterans through a common effort.“

Volunteers from three different chapters of the Maine Council of Trout Unlimited, assist the veterans as fishing companions. Ray and Marie Chabot of Sugar Shack on the river opened their camp and hearts to the volunteers that could not be housed at Forest Lodge. Next Era Energy Resources exemplifies “corporate social responsibility” with the donations of the use of their log cabin at Middle Dam for further accommodations and managing the water at a fishable, constant flow of 1000 cfs. We thank them for their continued support and understanding of our needs.

This was also the first time that Brian Stiller, the Director of the Togus facility, joined Terri Olson the Adaptive Sport coordinator on the excursion to the Rapid River. LTC Doug Matty, longstanding member of the PHWFF board and ardent promoter of the program, joined the Veterans for his first trip to Maine. “The sum total of all the outcomes far exceed the expectations of a single program…It sells itself,” says Brian Stiller. This program offers “a unique opportunity for Viet Nam, Gulf, Iraq and Afghanistan vets to share common experiences thereby helping each other heal” says Aldro French, a Viet Nam vet himself.

Among the volunteers from Sebago TU, Dr. Edmond Lowrie said, “These several days with PHW was an eye opening experience for this TU volunteer. As a Physician, I could see tangible clinical benefits for those wounded warriors. Learning and practicing the art of fly fishing, guided by experienced and compassionate fly fishers stimulated participants to surmount physical handicaps in a most remarkable way. Both Veterans and volunteers enjoyed warm camaraderie in a beautiful setting that for both made disability seem to melt away. As a clinician I recognize that fostering such positive and constructive attitudes is key to healing both body and soul. PHW can go a long way toward assisting the rehabilitation of those to whom we owe so much.”

It is with gratitude we thank the many sponsors from around Maine, for their donations of food and time, that made this week so successful. Too many to mention…too few to ignore. With over one hundred fish caught ( and with as many lost?) all the veterans “hooked up”. The participants have left Forest Lodge with fond memories of their week in the woods.

For more information on 2010 PHW programs at Forest Lodge in Maine, call (207) 650-3890 or visit www.friendsofforestlodge.org/vets