Healing waters

Local veterans enjoy Battle at Boxwood

Iraqi War Veteran Dawn Gwinn grins with a rainbow trout “longer than my forearm!” Gwinn was one of four veterans from Grand Junction who participated in the annual August showdown on the pristine North Fork of the South Platte River. Also participating were Daniel Giller, Doug Tucker and Ted Fawcett.

The Battle at Boxwood was heated and intense. It pitted 20 teams of specialized forces formed of the finest men and women who ever served in the United States military.

Twenty teams, five members per team. Veterans all.

Their mission: To catch and record the most total inches of fish per team, using only artificial flies, in a half day of angling on 2.75 miles of the pristine North Fork of the South Platte River.

Four veterans from Grand Junction — Dawn Gwinn, Daniel Giller, Doug Tucker and Ted Fawcett, along with a stellar support group — ventured across the Continental Divide to that private stretch of water at Boxwood Gulch near Shawnee (30 miles southwest of Denver on U.S. Highway 285) for the annual August showdown.

The group and the Battle at Boxwood are a product of Project Healing Waters, a nonprofit organization “dedicated to the physical and emotional rehabilitation of disabled, active-military-service personnel and veterans through fly fishing and fly-tying education and outings.”

Or, Dawn Gwinn says on Project Healing Waters’ Grand Junction Facebook page: “Working with Veterans through fishing to help in the healing process.”

Has it helped in that process, Dawn?

“Well, my dog’s not happy because I’ve been traveling and fishing so much, but I’m happy.”

You could hear it in her voice, and you can see it in her smile as she proudly displayed a photo of herself and a strikingly large rainbow trout caught during the Battle of Boxwood. “It was longer than my forearm,” she exclaimed.

That rainbow helped Dawn’s team garner second place in this year’s Boxwood Battle.

“Last year I got third place, so I’m moving up, but one of the new guys (Doug Tucker with wife Linda for support) took first place this year. What’s with that?” she quipped.

Nonetheless, she said, “I took some of my own flies this year, and the first day just nailed it. That makes your whole day.”

Local veteran Daniel Giller was on the team that finished third, giving the Grand Junction group a clean sweep.

Boxwood has been one of many fishing trips for this intrepid group of piscatorial philanderers in 2012. They’ve angled north in Wyoming and Montana and south on the San Juan River in New Mexico. They’ve been to the east in Boxwood, and to the west to De Beque, Palisade and Grand Mesa’s Carson Lake.

One veteran, Ron Rudy, had a blast catching crappie on his own hand-tied flies at a private pond in De Beque. He posted this on the chapter’s Facebook page: “Those that missed it missed a great time.”

He also graciously thanked the homeowners association and their local contact for allowing them onto private property to pursue their passion.

The group meets regularly for beginner and intermediate fly-tying classes, usually at the Veterans Affairs Medical Center. They have all sorts of fun with Grand Valley Anglers’ Trout Unlimited. The Grand Valley Anglers provide plenty of support and expertise and a free first-year membership for any veteran participating in Project Healing Waters.

While many of the trips come during warmer months, these veterans are not idle during the winter. That’s when most of the fly tying and rod building occurs.

Last year, one of the fine mentors for Project Healing Waters, Ryan Keyes, compiled a book on beginning fly tying based on classes taught here in Junction. Future fly-tying classes will use the 47-page spiral-bound book, but if you’d like to help our local veterans, you may purchase your own copy for $32 at Western Anglers, the fly fishing shop at 413 Main St. A portion of the proceeds goes to the local Project Healing Waters group while Ryan continues to negotiate through National Project Healing Waters headquarters to have the book provided free of charge to all Project Healing Waters regional chapters throughout the United States.

That’s a tall order because the number of regional chapters is growing rapidly. According to the organization’s 2011 annual report, “The original program at Walter Reed Army Medical Center in 2005 has expanded to now include programs at 119 locations in 41 states, after adding 26 new programs in 2011.”

The Grand Junction chapter has been around for a couple of years, thanks to volunteers like Keyes, Charley Hensel and Kevin Matthews, who help provide “opportunities for these veterans to learn fly fishing, tying, casting and rod building with experienced volunteers in both the classroom setting and on the water.”

Events like the Battle at Boxwood give participants something to look forward to. However, the ongoing classes help our veterans — many with post-traumatic stress syndrome and numerous other physical disabilities — by providing an activity for their hands and their minds. Matthews also said the camaraderie that has developed among the participants and between participants and volunteers has been “just incredible.”

Although the program may not be “event-oriented,” Dawn has been on so many trips this year, she said she’s whipped. So, her dog is happy she’ll be staying home for a while, organizing those fly-tying classes and getting the trip schedule set for next year.

If you want to help, here’s how: Donate gear, donate time, donate money.

Go to its national web page at http://www.projecthealingwaters.org. To see what’s going on locally, check out the group’s Facebook page at http://www.facebook.com/ProjectHealingWaters.


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