Gone Fishing: CHD Makes Outdoor Recreation Accessible

More than a few people daydream about going fishing. Jessica Levine, Program Manager for CHD Disability Resources, has a sticky-note on the wall above her desk for a daily reminder about just that topic. That’s because fishing is one of many outdoor activities that Levine and the staff of Disability Resources make accessible for persons with disabilities, including kids, adults and veterans.

“I try to take a well-rounded approach to Disability Resources programming,” Levine explains.  “Fishing can be incredibly social and laid back if you allow it to be, but you need the right channels and resources to make it accessible and inclusive. We pulled those channels and resources together to create Gone Fishing, which has become one of the most popular programs we offer.”

Levine points out that, for people with disabilities, fishing involves two key components: licensing and accessibility. “Massachusetts fishing licenses are free for life for persons with disabilities,” she explains. “All that’s required is a state-issued form and a physician’s signature, so that solves the licensing component.”

To identify locations where fishing is accessible to someone in a wheelchair, Disability Resources enlisted the help of Adapt Outdoors, an organization that specializes in supporting people with disabilities and veterans in their pursuit of enjoying the outdoors. “We learned that fish and game clubs are private organizations and most are interested in finding ways to give something back to their communities,” says Levine. “For example, the West Springfield Fish and Game Club has a lake on site that is stocked with fish and the setting is highly accessible to anyone who uses a wheelchair, as some of our program participants do. Adapt Outdoors provides the gear and bait, which is a huge benefit for parents who don’t have to lug around fishing poles and tackle boxes.”

Gone Fishing participants include individuals who have a variety of disabilities, including those who have an intellectual disability, developmental disability and/or visual impairment. Some are wheelchair users, some aren’t. Some are also siblings of individuals with a disability.

“Participants typically catch sunfish and trout,” says Levine, “and we do all catch and release. These events also include a cookout so they develop organically into a family night. We have some amazing volunteers who help participants fish and also prepare food for the cookout. The lake has fish, the poles are ready to go, the hooks are ready, the worms are there—all you have to do is show up!”

For 2018, Gone Fishing includes two eight-week sessions. The Spring session is April 25 through June 13, and the Summer session is July 18 through September 5. Each event takes place on a Wednesday evening from 5:00 to 7:00 p.m. at the West Springfield Fish and Game Club, 329 Garden Street in Feeding Hills. The program is open to the public. Cost for the full 8-week session is $20 per individual ($35 per family of 3) for Disability Resources members, and $30 per individual ($50 per family of 3) for nonmembers.  A $50 annual membership in Disability Resources provides access to free programming and community outreach plus reduced cost for paid programming such as Gone Fishing. 

“You don’t have to be a member, you just have to be interested in some fun and accessible outdoor activity,” Levine says. “At the end of the day, we are about giving people access to great recreation.”

To learn more, visit the CHD Disability Resources page on Facebook or contact Jessica Levine, Program Manager for CHD Disability Resources at 413-788-9695 or jlevine@chd.org.  

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