In the early 90s I met a young man, maybe 30 to 40 years of age, who was fishing right below the Naselle River bridge on State Route 4. He was in a wheelchair and had a friend who brought him in a large van with a lift. Plywood panels were placed to get him to the shoreline. He was very skilled and used a Winona reel and sand shrimp for bait. His ability to effortlessly cast his reel was something to behold as I was using a similar reel, Keen Kaster, at the time. I saw him one other time back then and have not seen him since. Where he was fishing was the only place along the river where there was access for his wheelchair.

As time moved on I became acquainted with the hatchery staff and fished there regularly and gained knowledge about the facility and volunteered to help with renovations and other improvements and now I’m very active in the fishing-regulation process.

In recent times I had a friend, Fred, who owned beach front on the Columbia River. When I met him he was in his mid 70s, a veteran, who had macular degeneration. While legally blind, he still loved to fish and had a hilarious sense of humor. He’d often referred to himself as the near-sighted fly that starved to death. I would rig up his rod at that time as he was still able to cast. I would get him pointed in the right direction and he would cast out his favorite plug. I took him to the Naselle on several occasions on private property. I would cast his rod then hand it to him. When the bobber went down I would tell him to set the hook and he would start laughing and yelling ”Fish on.” As time went on, his health became an issue and while he would still come to fish, I needed to cast his rod for him. While we had good success catching springers at his property on the Columbia, Fred enjoyed most just having a line in the water and spending time with friends. His heath issues caught up with him this past year. He passed just after his 80th birthday, loving to fish till his last day

My experiences with the young man in the wheelchair and Fred left a lasting impression. When the funding for the capital improvement of the Naselle Hatchery was approved, I set out to ask about the possibility of including an Americans with Disabilities Act fishing site at the new facility as WDFW Fish Program leadership said it would be a ”state of the art facility!”

As a retired engineer who managed the design and construction of multi-million dollar projects, I knew timing was critical. About 1-1/2 years ago I contacted the regional hatchery manager in Montesano, who referred me to the Naselle Complex manager. I found out that the project was to occur in phases with the second phase probably when the ADA could be included. I thought this might plant the seed to include an ADA fishing site at the hatchery. No such luck. With Phase 1 gearing up and no word about the ADA status, I emailed the director of WDFW requesting a contact to possibly assist me. I received a very timely reply from a WDFW engineer and there appeared to be an interest in including an ADA site in Phase 2. We shared several emails with the status of Phase 2 design and the possibility of meeting to look at possible locations to construct the ADA site. On Oct. 13, 2020, I received a status report which was also copied to other WDFW staff including the Naselle Complex manager. And then nothing more. With Phase 1 now complete, Phase 2 in full design stage and no contact from WDFW, I began to wonder what had changed. I made several attempts to call, followed up with emails over several weeks and finally received a reply, but not what I was hoping for — more akin to the Kiss of Death. The email went into some detail about where things stood. It was this portion which stuck in my craw: “there were some concerns over providing safe and accessible quality fishing opportunities within the existing hatchery grounds as it is a busy place with limited space. We would need to be able to provide accessible parking, restroom facilities, and a good fishing opportunity, but unused space is quite limited. … The fish program is very supportive of an ADA opportunity and is currently looking both within the hatchery grounds and potentially at some alternate locations in the same system.”

I have family, relatives and friends who own substantial river frontage on the Naselle River and I am intimately familiar with access areas that could possibly be viable. The Naselle Hatchery is the only possible site to accommodate this. So what was/is the nexus that changed WDFW viewpoint from accommodation to excuses? Perhaps that Oct. 13 email which was copied to several WDFW staff may hold the key.

To be clear this is not about funding. My initial outreach indicated my willingness to acquire funds if need be and WDFW clearly indicated a desire to make this happen.

A bazillion dollar project and WDFW just doesn’t have the room or conveniences to provide handicapped veterans and others a place to fish. Whoever is driving that viewpoint does not belong in public service, not in this day and age.

State of the art facility, my ass.

STEVE GACKE

Naselle

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