The Little Red River Foundation and the Arkansas Game and Fish Commission hosted a summer day camp program this week at John F. Kennedy Park on the Little Red River. Volunteers from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Greers Ferry National Fish Hatchery, as well as Beau Davidson, Tim Burnley, Tom Bly, Trent Whitehead, Jonathan Coats, Kimberly Rowland Dollins, Amanda Brogdon, Carol Ballard, Herpetologist Stephen O’Neal, Cristy Graham, Kyle Swallow and Jr. Counselors Katie Bennett, Resident Artist; Dalton Yancy, Caroline Dwyer, Emmett Dwyer, Matt Schroeder and Matt Horton.
Fishing poles for all the campers were donated by Tom Mix. Mix is an avid fisherman and has a special place in his heart for the Little Red River. When Mix returned to Heber Springs in 2015, after serving in the military. He was hurt in Afghanistan and Medevaced to Germany, then to the States where he spent 18 months in a Warrior Transition Unit in Ft. Polk that was attached to a hospital where he was treated. “I started fishing on the river until I forgot about the deployments.” The fishing was a way of healing.
There were about 35 campers there on Tuesday and after they were given their new fishing rods they set out to do some fishing. Unfortunately, about ten minutes after they all got out in the water to fish the horn sounded that water was going to be released. Out of the water everyone came in an orderly fashion. AGFC officers Trent Whitehead and Jonathan Coats used this as a teaching time. They explained to the campers how fast the river can rise. They had them sitting up above the river by the parking area, but gave them a big rock to watch and see how fast the water covered it. In less than 12 minutes the huge rock that was sticking completely out of the water, was submerged at least 1-2 feet below the water. The campers asked questions and then the officers asked the campers questions about what they had learned that day.
The camp began Monday and focused on activities about the history of Cleburne County, Greers Ferry Lake and the Little Red River. Conservation, safety and careers relating to the outdoors were investigated. The students also learned about habitat and species, participated in a scavenger hunt, participated in casting games, dissected fish and painted on canvas with local artist Katie Bennett. The students also assisted biologists from the AGFC with electroshocking and sampling in Collins Creek. On Wednesday, campers were able to earn their boating license through AGFC.
Robin Harris, with the Arkansas Master Naturalists also came out and gave each of the campers packages of wildflower seeds and told organizers that she and the Master Naturalists wanted to help out next year with the camp.
On Wednesday, Whitehead held a boating safety class for about ten students who wanted to learn more about boating safety and earn their boating license.
The Camp was held this year in honor of Kenzie Hess, who passed away in May of 2016 after battling rheumatoid arthritis and diabetes. She was 21. Quoting the newsletter from the Little Red River Foundation it read, “She loved everyone, even the ones that were hard to love. She was always the friend who reached out to troubled, sick, scared, hurting and lonely people. She worked at Camp Aldersgate Medical Camps and Camp Caudle church camp during her summer breaks. She loved working with children and serving as a mentor and she remained a bright light in their lives even after camp sessions. Kenzie would have graduated as an occupational therapy assistant in the fall of 2016 from Arkansas Tech University. As you can see, her lifelong goal was to love and serve others. She had her own medical struggles, but she never gave up. She lived life to the fullest. She touched more lives in her short 21 years than most touch in a lifetime. She made a huge impact on the world and continues to do so.”
The Little Red River was special to Kenzie. Her family has many precious memories of her and friends and family on the river. Her brother Hunter Hess, loves fly fishing on the Little Red and he has been patient in teaching his parents how it should be done. He spends as much time on the river as he can. It’s an escape from the hard things in life. The river is a place of peace. The river is a refuge for all the family, especially now.
Little Red River Foundation member Kimberly Rowland Dollins is a part of Kenzie’s family and has been a volunteer for the group. The family purchased red bracelets with the emblem of a Mayfly and “Fly High Kenzie” on them and gave them to each of the campers and volunteers. Kenzie’s family hopes each person will be reminded of Kenzie and will always keep “flying” even when you feel like your wings are broken. Dollins uses the bracelets to teach others how to hold the fly rod.
For more information about the Little Red River Foundation contact Amanda Brogdon at Amanda@lrrf.org.