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Project Healing Waters

April 19, 2014, 10:00 PM by Kevin Woster

Project Healing Waters

Project Healing Waters is a non-profit program operating in 47 states.  It uses fishing as a way to help veterans struggling with physical or emotional wounds.

Jim Phoenix has been a fly fisherman for almost 70 years. He's been a veteran since he left the Marines after fighting in Korea. So when he was asked to help veterans with post-traumatic stress disorder, Phoenix again answered the call.  This time, armed with fly rod.

"We benefit both ways. We get to help guys out, and we get to fish ourselves," Phoenix said. "So, you can't ask for anything better than that."

For eight years, Phoenix has guided emotionally-bruised veterans in the Black Hills through a non-profit program called "Project Healing Waters." Here, troubled veterans learn to tie flies, build their own rods and cast their way to a better frame of mind.  Properly constructed and waved over peaceful waters, a fly rod can be an instrument of recovery.

Navy veteran and out-patient treatment specialist Cathy Edler says Healing Waters does good things for vets served by the Veterans Administration PTSD program in the Black Hills.

"It increases camaraderie, decreases social isolation and we get an opportunity to go visit all around the Hills," Edler said. "So, I can't speak highly enough about the program."

Neither can Vietnam veteran Norbert Johnson of Rapid City.

"Gets you out. Fresh air. Get back with nature," Johnson said. "Now if I could just get my casting down right."

He's working on that, with help from a guy who understands the wounding power of war and the healing power of time on the water.

Phoenix directs Healing Waters programs for veterans in Sturgis, Hot Springs and Rapid City. He says that in the past eight years, veterans in these programs have built more than 400 rods and caught enough fish for a lifetime of memories.

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