North Carolina Volunteers Answer the Call
By Joyce Cooper, Great Smoky Mountains Chapter
Back in 2002 when I read the sign, “volunteers needed for children’s trout derby,” my first thought was, no way! The only thing I knew about fish was how to cook and eat them! So the first year I didn’t get involved. But I did drive by the Talking Trees Kids Trout Derby and was overwhelmed by the 700-plus children ages 3-11 and their parents and grandparents that I saw enjoying that early August Saturday on a quarter-mile stretch of the Oconaluftee River.
When the call came the next year, I thought, why not? There had to be something I could do besides bait hooks or clean fish. Dave Ensley, director of the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians Fish & Wildlife Department and originator of the event, asked me to serve on the derby committee. Dave and his crew had been involved with the reintroduction of elk into Great Smoky Mountains National Park. When I attended my first meeting I learned about all the ways I could help, including registering anglers, handing out t-shirts, caps, fishing poles and bait, serving lunch, and giving away fabulous door prizes and trophies—and that RMEF could have a pavilion for a display — I realized there were lots of ways volunteers could make the event successful for children.
During the same time, the Great Smoky Mountains Chapter was meeting regularly to plan our annual big game banquet. I was so excited about the derby that I wasted no time in telling the group about all the volunteer opportunities available at the event. The day of the Trout Derby, 22 RMEF volunteers drove 65-plus miles to bait hooks, wade in the river to show kids how to fish, blow up RMEF balloons and put elk tattoos on little faces and arms after they’d caught their limit of five trout.
We also talked to the adults about RMEF, handed out Bugle magazines, helped the kids hoist a big, heavy elk antler, and showed off all the elk trunk items.
My fellow RMEF volunteers all agreed it was an absolutely wonderful event! For 10 years now we have had an average of 20 committee members spend the day at the Oconaluftee River helping a cumulative total of more than 20,000 children make wonderful memories with their parents and extended family members. RMEF state grant funds have helped purchase fishing poles for the kids, and we’ve educated thousands of people about elk and the foundation at our pavilion display.
The most rewarding part of the event is the priceless look on a child’s face when he or she catches that first trout. That alone will keep us coming back for another 10 years!