Lindsey can't wait to get her life jacket on. She's only four, but her grandpa has a boat, and she's been on it lots of times, says her Mom. While the adults are trying to find one that fits, the child is ignoring their drabble about weather and water. Instead, she's fixed her gaze on a woman heading toward the swaying dock with a handful of smallish jackets. Both are smiling.
Lindsey wasn't the only youngster anxious to get off dry land and into a boat at Strawberry Reservoir recently. The Fourth Annual C.A.S.T. event seemed to have that effect on a lot of twenty-five or so kids there. Since 1997, the Bureau of Reclamation and the "Catch a Special Thrill" foundation have been co-sponsoring the blowout fishing event in Reclamation's Upper Colorado Region. This year, it was kids from Popham's Tiny Tots, the Summit County Downs Foundation, Hillcrest Elementary School, and the Ark of Utah who were partnered with fishers from the Bass and Walleye Federations. Every year, these enthusiasts unselfishly give of their time and resources so that kids, most of whom endure a range of developmental problems, can have a carefree day doing something they probably wouldn't be doing otherwise.
Jim Owens, Executive Director of C.A.S.T., says since it's beginnings in 1991, the event has grown to 30 states and almost 50 separate events for a simple reason. "Fishing is something that almost every disabled child can do, with a little bit of help," says Owens. "There are a lot of other activities out there for disabled kids, but not recreation. And so we wanted to provide them with something they could do, do inexpensively, do with the rest of their families, and do for the rest of their lives."
The list of more than two dozen participants reads like a Who's Who of public and private institutions. From corporate sponsors like Walmart, to federal agencies like the Forest Service, to non-profit organizations like the Boy Scouts. It's a coalition cobbled together by folks like Valerie Harrison. She's the coordinator of the annual event, and works as a Recreation Specialist in Reclamation's Salt Lake Regional office. "When we got involved with C.A.S.T.," says Harrison, "there was not only a need for greater exposure of Reclamation and it's facilities to the general public, but also the opportunity to try to do something really good in the community. We were lucky, because both happened."
By the end of the event, even after registration, fishing, lunch, a raffle and visits by several famous mascots, the smiles were still broad and bright. Owens thinks he knows why. "In some cases, it is more than a recreational opportunity. [You're] giving these kids a chance to come out and engage in an activity like able bodied people," he says. "That does an awful lot for their self esteem and their ego. It allows them to see that they can do things like this, and it allows their parents to see it too." Plus, Owens says the most important part of C.A.S.T. is that it builds memories. "This day of fishing is the first time for a lot of these kids, and in some cases, this may be the only time they get to go fishing, so it's nice to be able to supply memories," he says.
Eliza Raymond, a volunteer and friend to one of the visiting kids, agrees. "Jake is so excited," she says. "I know all of them are. On the way over here they were all saying, 'We're goin' fishing!'" Jake looks up and closes his eyes while a huge smile spreads across his face. "I mean, look at him," says Eliza, " ... he's shaking he's so happy. They just love it. It's so good for them." Not just for them, Eliza.