Although best known for building and managing many of the largest water projects in the western U.S., the Bureau of Reclamation, U.S. Department of the Interior, also participates in many community service events. One such event is Catch a Special Thrill (C.A.S.T.) for Kids. Through the C.A.S.T. program, Reclamation employees treat children with disabilities to a day of fishing and boating.
A special program designed for special children
Reclamation ’s Lower Colorado Region, headquartered in Boulder City, Nev., is one of several Reclamation offices that annually hosts a C.A.S.T. for Kids event. The region hosts the event on Lake Mead, created in 1935 with the construction of Hoover Dam on the Colorado River.
Reclamation ’s Lower Colorado Region has hosted the event since 1998. Each year, between 30 and 40 kids spend the day at Lake Mead enjoying boating and fishing, and having fun.
The Make-A-Wish Foundation, the Blind Center of Nevada, and Give Me a Break (a local family support group) select the children to participate.
Starting with a partnership
C.A.S.T. for Kids is a national program designed to give disadvantaged children and children with disabilities an opportunity to experience sports fishing. It was begun in 1991 as a partnership between the Washington Bass Federation and Reclamation. As part of its public outreach program, the federal agency wanted to form partnerships with local organizations to host public events on its reservoirs. Jim Owens, then director of the Washington Bass Federation, worked with, at that time, Reclamation ’s Pacific Northwest regional director John Keys to initiate the event. Today, Owens is the executive director of the C.A.S.T. for Kids Foundation. Keys, who still actively participates in C.A.S.T. events, is commissioner of the Bureau of Reclamation.
Community organizations pitch in
Cooperating agencies and sponsors help Reclamation ’s Lower Colorado Region employees conduct the C.A.S.T. for Kids event. Cooperating agencies are typically other government agencies, such as the National Park Service that manages Lake Mead ’s recreation facilities. The Las Vegas World ’s Fair Committee and the C.A.S.T. Foundation also are cooperating agencies. Sponsors are local businesses that donate supplies or equipment or donate items to a silent auction held annually to raise money for the event. The Nevada Striper Club and the Silver State Bass Anglers volunteer boats and skippers, while a marina donates the use of its pontoon boats. In all, 50 organizations and companies in the area contribute food, gifts, prizes, and entertainment for the day.
The day of the event, about 75 Reclamation employees from the regional office donate their Saturday, alongside another 50 or so volunteers from the community. Two emergency medical technicians from the National Park Service also donate their time.
Few fish, but lots of smiles
Children usually board the boats around 9 a.m., and return by noon to avoid the tricky afternoon winds that can kick up on the lake. Some children do not have much stamina, which is another reason to limit the time for fishing. Reclamation outfits each child with a fishing rod, tackle box, bait, T-shirt, and hat.
For many children, this is the first time they have been on the water – let alone held a fishing rod. The excitement is obvious when one sees the smiles on their faces as the motors rev and the boats leave the dock. Although Lake Mead has plenty of fish, the kids are challenged to catch the finicky striped bass. This doesn ’t seem to matter as the children enjoy the boat ride, meet new friends, and experience the pure fun of fishing. In fact, Reclamation de-emphasizes catching fish in order to keep the event as non-competitive as possible.
Obviously, a concern is the safety of the children. That concern is overcome by outfitting each child with a flotation device worn while on the water, and having an adult crew member on board, as well as an individual caregiver required for each child.
A large barbeque kicks off around noon, followed by entertainment. To complete the day, an awards ceremony is held, with each child receiving small gifts and a plaque carrying his or her photo with the boat ’s captain.
Money and time make the event happen
Reclamation invests about $5,000 per C.A.S.T. for Kids event for equipment and supplies. In addition, a Reclamation event coordinator may spend up to two months of time coordinating the event. The day of the event, though, everyone is a non-paid volunteer. The total cost to the Lower Colorado Region for the Lake Mead event is estimated at about $25,000, including the salary of the coordinator, who is a full-time Reclamation employee. The agency budgeted $150,000 for as many as 24 C.A.S.T. events in 2004 and beyond.
Because of the volunteers ’ commitment, the Lower Colorado Region has received great support sponsoring C.A.S.T. for Kids. Local social service agencies are more than willing to give these children a special day, and local businesses readily step forward to donate goods and time.
Promoting the benefits of Reclamation recreation
The Lower Colorado Region ’s involvement in this community service event allows it to help deserving kids and, simultaneously, gives it an opportunity to highlight the recreational opportunities provided by Reclamation ’s projects. The public spends about 18 million visitor days a year taking advantage of the recreation opportunities of the Lower Colorado River Reclamation projects or sites associated with those projects. Reclamation partners with federal, state, and local communities to offer the public opportunities for boating, fishing, bird watching, hiking, biking, camping, canoeing, and hunting, as well as outdoor educational experiences.
– For more information on the Bureau of Reclamation Lower Colorado Region ’s involvement in the C.A.S.T. for Kids program, contact Bob Walsh, regional external affairs officer, P.O. Box 61470, LC-1140, Boulder City, NV 89006-1470; (1) 702-293-8421; E-mail: [email protected]