The Backcountry Hunters and Anglers Armed Forces Initiative welcomed active duty and retired service members to Lake Lawrence on Saturday, May 20, to promote outdoor recreation for area military members.
Justin Spruiell, with Backcountry Hunters and Anglers, said the event aimed to teach service members how to properly enjoy the outdoors in Western Washington. Spruiell described the organization as a public lands advocacy group.
“What the Armed Forces Initiative does is we look to get veterans involved in conservation. We focused today on our active duty community due to national Armed Forces Day,” Spruiell told the Nisqually Valley News. “We have our fishing event so new people arriving at (Joint Base Lewis-McChord) can understand how to get out and go fishing here in Washington.”
While at Lake Lawrence, volunteers with the organization taught participants how to rig their rods, and how to fish from both the shore and from a boat. They also shared information on how to understand stocking reports and how trout function in Washington.
Spruiell said the event saw good participation numbers and noted a plethora of fish were caught.
“It’s been amazing. I’ve been volunteering with (Backcountry Hunters and Anglers) since 2020. They took me out on a Yellowstone fly fishing trip, and they taught us how to fly fish, how to go to a shop, and how to get public access,” Spruiell said. “That’s what drew me into it. It’s amazing to get people out here to teach them how to enjoy nature.”
The Backcountry Hunters and Anglers hold one event per month in Washington, according to Spruiell. He said the events vary from “pint nights” at bars to discuss upcoming events and topics, to things like the “Wild Turkey 101” event, where service members learn how to hunt wild turkeys.
Those who participate in the events are not only taught how to get involved in outdoor recreation, but they also learn about why they should care about in the areas they live.
“I was active duty for eight years. I got to explore everything that Washington has to offer. I got to explore Europe, Korea, and we found that as a lot of people move around, they have a big learning curve,” Spruiell said. “It’s great to straighten out that curve for them a little.”
The organization ran a membership survey in 2018 and discovered that 18% of its membership comes from members of the military. Since then, they’ve offered numerous programs and events aimed toward military members.
“We’ve grown to 14,000 military members across the nation. We’ve also got Europe and Asia covered,” Spruiell said. “We’re all across the nation, represented in all 50 states and Canada. It’s a civilian organization that takes care of our public lands and waters. We want to keep public lands in public hands.”
The organization hosted 102 events in 2022, and took 1,700 veterans into the backcountry to get them involved in adjunct therapy. Spruiell said it’s simply all about getting the service members outdoors, while teaching them how to enjoy it.
Those interested in becoming a member of the Backcountry Hunters and Anglers can visit their website at www.backcountryhunters.org. Select the “programs” tab and then click on the “Armed Forces” tab to learn about the programs and events for service members.