NAPLES — Wheelchair accessible Veteran’s Fishing Platforms at Songo Lock in Sebago Lake State Park have been completed and will be dedicated in a late May ceremony.
The event celebrating veterans and their sacrifices to our nation and state will be held on Friday May 27, at 10 a.m., and concludes more than five years of planning, coordinating with various State agencies, engineering studies, budget development, fundraising, and construction..
During the winter of 2010 – 2011, a small group from the Mollyockett and Sebago Chapters of Trout Unlimited began to discuss and plan for the construction of a fishing platform to honor and facilitate the needs of disabled veterans . The brainchild of Mollyockett Chapter founding member and past Chapter President George Westerberg, the idea took shape slowly over the next few months and years.
The project began as George’s desire to welcome home veterans bearing the disabling wounds of war. His vision was to provide a facility which would allow disabled veterans, accustomed to fishing for wild trout and salmon before their service connected disabilities and now finding it difficult to access the wild places they were accustomed to fishing, an opportunity to once again enjoy the peace and healing qualities of fishing and would offer an opportunity to contribute to the rehabilitation of our wounded warriors.
Of the project, Lee Margolin, past President and founder of the Mollyockett Chapter, said: “The Veterans Fishing Platforms will extend the usual physical therapy programs already employed in the treatment of disabled veterans, while including easy access to the beloved outdoor recreation and the personal satisfaction that can only be found in open spaces and quiet surroundings. We believe the effect of providing this recreation opportunity for disabled vets will also lower the cost of medical care and enable and hopefully speed the recovery of these individuals who have sacrificed so much for our freedom.”
Once the group had formed their ideas into an actionable plan they began meeting with the various state agencies which would be responsible for the different aspects of the project.
The Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife identified the Songo Lock location as the perfect spot to provide access to one of Maine’s “blue ribbon” landlocked salmon waters and championed approval of the location.
The Department of Agriculture, Conservation, and Forestry and its Division of Parks and Recreation then stepped forward and coordinated the heavy lifting of feasibility studies, engineering planning and design, budget development, permitting, application for the Land and Water Conservation Fund grant which provided nearly half the required funds, and finally construction.
Throughout the process the Mollyockett Chapter of TU worked tirelessly to raise the funds required to pay for half the cost of the project.
Grants were awarded from: the Land and Water Conservation Fund; Trout Unlimited; and the Davis Conservation Fund.
Additionally, the project received generous donations from: LL Bean; Poland Spring; the Mollyockett Chapter of TU; the Sebago Chapter of TU; the Upper Andro Anglers Alliance; Eldredge Brothers Lumber and Hardware; Schiavi Custom Builders; Jim and Cindy Mullen; Terradyne Consultants; Fly Fishing in Maine; American Legion Posts 17, 19, and 83; Veterans of Foreign Wars Posts 6783, 6859 and 11362; Dr. William and Mrs. Marjorie Medd; and numerous individual contributors.
All told, the Mollyockett Chapter raised the nearly $140,000 required. Finally, after nearly five years since its inception, construction of the one-of-a-kind facility in the Northeast began in early September 2015. Work was completed by October 1st.
Trout Unlimited is dedicated to conserving, protecting, and restoring cold water fisheries and in 2011 started it’s Veteran’s Service Program as a means of mobilizing TU’s grassroots members in helping courageous men and women heal from the wounds of war.
In kicking off the project TU’s president and CEO Chris Wood stated: “The success of Trout Unlimited is built on a legacy of service; service of people who donate their time and resources to protect sensitive habitats, repair degraded rivers, and teach children about conservation through fishing. Tonight we celebrate a different kind of service – the service of the men and women who have selflessly defended our liberty. We are blessed with an exceptional band of people who have made extraordinary sacrifices to protect the rights and freedoms that make the United States great. Our reward is the opportunity to express our most sincere thanks to them. Saint Ambrose once said, ‘No duty is more urgent than that of returning thanks.’ As we gather tonight to thank our veterans, all of us at Trout Unlimited thank you for your involvement and support.”
The kiosk at the Veterans Fishing Platforms states in part: “Convenient access to this fishery is made possible through the gift of Trout Unlimited, and its friends, to all disabled veterans who come here to fish and find healing in these storied waters. For the angler, the ritual of the salmon’s life and survival has long been one of fascination and wonder. To hook and catch him is one of the reasons people come here to fish. The disabled veteran has still another reason.”
The landlocked salmon coming out of Sebago Lake to spawn in the fall and chasing smelts in the spring are as wild as their genetic ancestors of 10,000 years ago. With the construction of these fishing platforms and their easy accessibility, no disabled veteran will now have to abandon the anticipation he or she once felt when the snow begins to melt in March.