It’s Wednesday, so this must be Bear Creek Lake State Park, and the Central Virginia Chapter of the Heroes on the Water is back at the park again for our monthly outing.
The gang loves the park, and we have a partnership with the park staff. They have proven over and over again they love having the men and women of the US Military share the park with them, and they mean it when they say, “Anything we can do...” his month’s outing showed just how many hoops they were willing to jump through to ensure our visits go off smoothly and that we have a great time during each and every visit.
The National Wheelchair games had drawn to an end, and all the guys and staff, who had been tied up in that one, were looking forward to some decompression on the lake, it was going to be a good sized event this month. Miss T and I had brought both kayak trailers and expected a group of 20. As Miss T directed the group in setup, and I took my normal place in the shelter the park always reserved for us, I looked across at an old friend, a 40 foot pine tree and was shocked to find it gone, nothing left but the stump.
This 40 foot pine had fallen the previous week during a violent storm that
swept through the Central Virginia area leaving many
without power for days… the shelter lay directly in its path.
I looked up into the rafters of our beloved shelter and lo and behold, a hole, directly above my head. As I suspected from the debris trail, the tree had indeed hit the shelter. Our park staff had been busy between that massive storm tearing thru the area the previous week and our arrival today. They had cleaned up that 40 long tree, and all the debris, no small feat. hey had also replaced the damaged support beams in the ceiling of the shelter.
The stump is a blur at the base of this picture, but you can see the clear line of debris leading to the roof line of the shelter, and the damage to the roof of the structure that
still remains on the “to do list.”
In conversation with the assistant park manager, Joey Dayton, they have much more to do to get the holes repaired and more done to put the shelter back in tip top condition, but the goal was to get it safe to occupy in time for our visit. The new structure beams were a big step in that direction.
Quick work on the part of the park staff saw the shelter repaired and safe for the group to occupy in time for our big event. Note the new beams and the hole that remains.
We didn’t give the building another thought and turned right to getting the equipment set up for the arrival of the veterans. The big trailer was unloaded and the gear bags of pfd’s and sets of two piece paddles pulled from the truck. Fishing rods have to be rigged and bait boxes set up with the lures for the day. Our goal is to have the kayaks and equipment ready and waiting when the veteran’s arrive. We also brief the volunteers and get our game plan in place for the day. A lot of work goes on before the big bus rolls up.
Volunteers unload the kayak trailer in preparation to the start of the day. The VA Bus arrives and the excitement begins. The CVHOW family is together again.
Once the bus pulls to a stop and the gang is on site, the feeling is that the CVHOW family is together again. Our vets are part of the HOW family and we all pull together to get the gang on the water and get some fishing done. The regulars know which kayak style they want and have favorite volunteers they fish with and in a flurry of laughter and lunacy, they are gone. We’ll see them all again in a few hours when we sound the dinner horn. They all know the routine and it has become a favorite.
The team launches a veteran in his favorite kayak. We’ll see him again with his guide, only when the horn sounds for dinner.
As the flurry of activity begins to die away, you notice Miss T in the corner with a small group of folks, new volunteers grabbing some last minute advice before they launch. Could be secrets of Bear Creek Lake, (We have fished here for about twenty years.) or some clarification on policy and procedures, or just what bait to start out with. You never know with Miss T… she runs full speed ahead at these events… and I think she loves it. I saw her whispering to Mr. B before he paddled away….
Mr. B’s smile tells the story, but don’t ask what Miss T told him before he left, he’ll keep her ‘secret’.
The hours at Bear Creek Lake fly by and all too soon we hand the horn to a junior volunteer and let them sound the tone signaling dinner. This month, Miss T has made her special BBQ chicken, slowly baked in the oven for hours while the gang paddled, and it’s so tender it’s falling off the bones. he conversations move around the tables, laughter, lies, fish, and friendship. This is what the day is about. More than one person comes up to me afterward and tells me they can’t wait to see me again next month. This is what we do and it’s why we do it. Some of our vets are no longer attached to the VA hospital here in Richmond. One drives up from North Carolina to fish with the CVHOW family. Another drives down from Maryland to do the same. Gee, maybe it’s not about the fishing.