Thu, 05/12/2022 - 12:27pm caleb
Veterans participate in rod-making class and fishing trips during Bamboo Bend Project in Lovells
Caleb Casey | Managing Editor
The Bamboo Bend Project – an endeavor to help military veterans by providing them with rod-making classes and fishing trips and camaraderie – returned to Lovells Township last week after a three-year hiatus caused by the COVID-19 pandemic.
Bamboo Bend Project President Mark Mackey said the annual event was cancelled in 2020 and 2021 because of the pandemic.
“Everyone’s real excited to get back to business this year,” Mackey said.
During the Bamboo Bend Project, volunteer instructors teach participants how to make bamboo fishing rods, and the students get opportunities to fish with their creations during their stays in Crawford County.
“It’s therapeutic,” Mackey said. “There is a collection of bamboo rod makers in the Grayling area. That’s the main reason we’re here. We tap into that knowledge. All the instructors are volunteers.”
The Bamboo Bend Project – a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization – pays for materials (the bamboo for the rods is imported from China), food, travel, and lodging, Mackey said. This year’s participants included veterans from other states, including Ohio, Indiana, and Minnesota.
“This year we received a large donation that made this class possible,” Mackey said.
Mackey said the donation came from a “local anonymous source.”
“I know they’re from Grayling,” Mackey said. “It was a very sizeable donation.”
Mackey said people can help the Bamboo Bend Project by donating online at www.bamboobend.org.
The class features eight students per year, Mackey said, and Project Healing Waters refers most of the veteran participants.
“We work closely with them,” Mackey said.
“Project Healing Waters Fly Fishing, Inc. is dedicated to the physical and emotional rehabilitation of disabled active military service personnel and disabled veterans through fly fishing and associated activities including education and outings,” according to projecthealingwaters.org.
Mackey said the only requirement for being a Bamboo Bend Project student is being an honorably discharged veteran from any branch of the United States military. He said some participants have disabilities such as PTSD or missing limbs.
“They’ve been through a lot,” Mackey said.
Mackey retired from the Marine Corps in 2013 after serving for 23 years, a period that included “several combat tours,” he said.
“The military asked me to do a lot of difficult things. Sometimes I had a hard time dealing with those things,” Mackey said.
“I grew up in northern Wisconsin and always had a really close relationship with the outdoors, fishing, hunting, camping,” Mackey said.
After retiring from the military he joined Project Healing Waters and went to the Bamboo Bend Project in 2016. After he participated in the event, the president of the Bamboo Bend Project asked Mackey to take over the program.
“I’ve been president ever since,” Mackey said.
He said students sometimes return to the program as instructors.
Mackey said there is an “enormous waiting list” to get into the Bamboo Bend Project and organizers are hoping to eventually expand, possibly adding another Michigan class and creating similar classes in other states.
“That is something we’ve looked at because the interest is so great,” Mackey said. “Our feedback speaks for itself. They walk out of here with new friends, a new fishing rod, and a giant smile on their face.”
Mackey said the Bamboo Bend Project has two slogans: “handcrafted healing” and “mending the spirit.”
“They’re both applicable,” Mackey said.
Participants arrived for the class on Saturday, May 7, got to work on Sunday, May 8, and left on Sunday, May 15, organizers said. Lovells Township Hall provided the work space for making the bamboo rods.
“We spend a lot of time rod-making in the day time and in the evening we sit around the campfire and we each tell our story if we’re comfortable with that,” Mackey said. “We go fishing. It’s a bonding experience. It’s camaraderie. Somehow through all that it includes the healing. We all become great friends.”
The students stayed at the North Branch Outing Club, which is celebrating a relaunch in 2022.
“The previous owner, Judy Fuller, was a huge supporter of our program,” Mackey said.
Mackey said the communities of Lovells and Grayling and Crawford County have been very supportive of the Bamboo Bend Project. People have stopped by to provide food or say hello to the veteran participants, he said.
“The people of Lovells and the people of Grayling are very supportive of our efforts,” Mackey said. “It’s all been so positive. It’s reassuring.”