By Tracy Robillard
CALHOUN FALLS, S.C. — For the people who live near Richard B. Russell Dam and Lake, the value of America's Great Outdoors doesn't go unnoticed.
"I don't think there's anything more important in contributing to childhood than connecting them to our natural environment," said Lee Garrett, Mayor of Calhoun Falls. "I always say, the more technology we have, the more nature we need."
And a hearty dose of nature is exactly what the community received during the 24th Annual Kid's Fishing Derby, hosted May 12 by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Richard B. Russell Project. About 150 children and their parents attended the derby at the Calhoun Falls Bank Fishing Area, which was netted and stocked with 1,300 pounds of catfish.
For some children, the derby was their first time learning how to bait a hook and cast a line, such as a group of kids who drove from Greater Mt. Canaan Baptist Church in Augusta, Ga.
"This is the first time some of them have ever gone fishing," said Ben Anderson, a member of the church. "They saw four or five deer on the drive up--they were really excited."
Other families came from the local area with memories of attending the derby in past years, such as Sam Dove of Calhoun Falls, who brought his children Elizabeth and Andrew.
Mae and Leon Brown brought their 11-year-old grandson Drew from Elberton, Ga., for the second year in a row.
"It's wonderful for children to learn by doing," Mae said. "They learn how to bait a hook and how to reel…and it's just a lot of fun."
Drew was one of 20 kids who caught a tagged fish, which won him a prize of his choice among an assortment of fishing gear and toys donated by the community.
Carrie Caldwell, a Clemson graduate and six-year resident of Calhoun Falls, volunteered to work at the derby for the first time this year. Caldwell, like several other volunteers, is a member of a recently-formed non-profit group under the Calhoun Falls Chamber of Commerce called the Lake Russell Recreation and Tourism Coalition.
"We want to make it a family-friendly community and build a better reputation for our town," Caldwell said. "We promote events in the Lake Russell area for family-friendly activities."
Elaine Barrett, a lifetime resident of Calhoun Falls and a member of the coalition, also volunteered at the derby for the first time.
"It's a great way to meet people, help the kids, give back to the community, and have fun," she said.
Erin Parnell, Corps of Engineers park ranger and event coordinator, said the derby is part of President Obama's "America's Great Outdoors" initiative and the First Lady's "Let's Move Outside" initiative.
"We want families to re-connect with the outdoors and to protect and enjoy the abundant natural resources we have at Lake Russell," Parnell said.
Other partnering groups included the Georgia Department of Natural Resources, the Southeastern Paralyzed Veterans of America, Faith Hunters for Youth, and the Anderson, S.C.-based Outdoor Dream Foundation. James Robert Kennedy, also known as "Radio" as portrayed by the 2003 motion picture, attended the fishing derby with the Jones family representing Outdoor Dream.
"We couldn't host this event every year without help from the kind-hearted people in our community," Parnell said.