The most common argument about Fishing Has No Boundaries-Eagle River (FHNB-ER), an annual event giving disabled people the opportunity to enjoy fishing, is: Who gets more out of it — the disabled participants or the volunteers who take them out and make the experience possible?
In its 12th year in Eagle River, Fishing Has No Boundaries-Eagle River will this year welcome 120 physically and mentally challenged persons of all ages to its 2005 event, held on the Eagle River Chain of 28 Lakes (The largest chain of freshwater lakes in the world), Friday through Sunday, June 3 to 5, 2005.
With some 16 chapters nationally (Eagle River was among the first), FHNB events have given thousands of people the singular opportunity to enjoy what the average person may take for granted: Enjoying a weekend of fishing with all the wonders and beauty of nature surrounding them.
FHNB-Eagle River’s mission statement says it all: “Fishing Has No Boundaries-Eagle River is an educational, non-profit organization. Its purpose is to open the world of fishing to all disabled individuals, introduce educational devices to aid the disabled angler, and create an atmosphere of friendship and camaraderie with a people-helping-people event.”
The Eagle River FHNB event was jointly founded some 12 years ago by “three men who fell in love with an event where everyone pulled together for the benefit of others,” says Wil Campbell, one of the founders, and current co-chair of the Eagle River FHNB.
“We started out with 35 attendees the first year, and now it’s grown to our maximum service limit of 120. It takes more than 150 volunteers, sponsors and professional guides to put this event on — not including the support of the Eagle River Chamber of Commerce, service organizations, Native Americans, and others who do everything they can to further our efforts,” adds Campbell.
The event requires lodging, pontoon boats, food, specialized bait and tackle rigs, guiding, EMS personnel, public services like police and fire, entertainment, music, goody bags, prizes, trophies, raffles, drawings — everyone’s a winner — and all are taken care of through the generosity and dedication of the greater Eagle River community — plus folks who come from all over the Midwest to help. (Originally from the Chicago area, Campbell owns a factory in Ft. Wayne, Indiana, but visits his 85-year old mother who lives in Eagle River, “every chance I get”; is a Green Bay Packer fan; and of course intends to retire to Eagle River).
“There can be as many as 32 full-size pontoon boats out on the water at any given time, each captained by a volunteer professional fishing guide, with at least one attendant,” Campbell continues.
After each day of fishing, the catch is measured, weighed, and photos are taken. Guides and volunteers clean some of the fish so that the guests can take them home. Sometimes there’s an impromptu Wisconsin fish fry.
An extremely fascinating aspect of FHNB is the ingenious ways and equipment that sponsors, manufacturers, and guides have come up with, so that just about anyone, with almost any type of disability, is able to fish. (At one FHNB event, held in Hayward, where FHNB originated, a quadruple amputee was able to cast a line using his chin, tongue, head and neck).
When asked why he and so many others are so dedicated to this event, Campbell says, “It’s always a standing argument as to who gets more out of it — volunteers or guests? At times there are glitches and the like; and sometimes we’ve had some just awful weather; but it always works out; and, although it is very tiring, just as soon as we finish the current event, everyone is already anxious for the next year to come.”
“I can’t emphasize enough, the personal satisfaction and enjoyment that we all get from doing this event,” Campbell adds. There are no egos, and we’ve all seen lots of volunteers unashamedly weep, with pleasure and humility at the ultimate satisfaction they feel when their guests catch a fish and their faces have big smiles on them; or when the volunteers are hugged and kissed by the grateful guests. It’s the best payday in the world” says the soft-spoken Campbell.
“And then, imagine the fun of having our guests participate in our great karaoke event after a day of fishing. Sometimes we can’t get them off the stage,” Campbell says with a laugh.
Campbell says the Eagle River area, as the quintessential definition of The Northwoods, lends itself perfectly to this type of event. Surrounded by the Nicolet National Forest and the Northern Highland State Forest, boasting some 1500 lakes, along with wetlands, meadows, flowers, birds, and wildlife galore, biking, hiking, picnicking, relaxation, historical sites and museums, Native American culture and history — wonderful accommodations, and food, great hospitality services, and, most important — caring, decent, warm, welcoming locals.
“Once you see our participants (and volunteers) awestruck as they watch an eagle or osprey soar overhead; or a deer or other small mammals moving about in the woods; or they catch their first fish… THAT is special,” says Campbell. These are things many of us take for granted, and are so very special to our guests. I just love it, and welcome any and all who would like to join us in our efforts” Campbell concludes.