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Free as a bird… Hundreds of kids test their angling skills at Ronnie VanZant Park during a free fishing derby.

Youth anglers cover the shoreline
Fishing Buddies

Lake: Jacksonville District Office

Partners: USACE; Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission; Clay County Parks and Recreation

Corps POC: Heather Burke

Story: The US Army Corps of Engineers partnered with the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) and Clay County Parks to host a youth free fishing derby on April 3, 2004 in conjunction with free freshwater fishing weekend in Florida. Children under the age of 13 were invited to come out to Ronnie VanZant Memorial Park in Middleburg, Florida to have fun and learn how to fish. Sponsors including Wal-Mart, Sport Fish Restoration, Hartley the Florist, and Thrifty Hunting Supplies provided raffle prize donations that were drawn throughout the event. The FWC provided loaner rod, tackle, and bait free of charge. This year’s event was an overwhelming success with a record crowd of 244 youth participants ranging in age from 2 to 13, and approximately an additional 150 adults. The kids were so eager to fish that they started showing up an hour before the event to try their hand at fishing. The weather was a perfect sunny 70 degrees and the kids had a great time catching the stocked channel catfish and large mouth bass. Volunteers from the community, the FWC, and Clay County Parks roamed the shoreline to assist where needed. Kevin Salvilla and Heather Burke, outdoor recreation planners for the Corps engaged the participants in water safety education. “For me, one of the most rewarding parts of the day was when I watched one of our partners from Clay County Parks work individually with a young boy to teach him how to cast, and you could see the results immediately. The smile on the faces of the boy and the volunteer were the best,” Salvilla said. Raffle prizes were drawn every half hour, and each child that caught a fish had their photo taken to show their friends and family at home. The child that caught the biggest fish all day won a fishing rod and reel. No child left empty handed thanks to the FWC and the Corps who provided 'goodie bags' with water safety and fish and wildlife education materials. “Even though the fish weren’t biting as much as we hoped, nobody complained. Everyone was having fun in the sun, enjoying the day and making new friends. That’s what this event is all about,” said event organizer Steve Lopez.

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