Colorado Alpine fly fishing program aims to create community among local veterans | SummitDaily.com
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Colorado Alpine fly fishing program aims to create community among local veterans

Ryan Johnson casts his line during a Project Healing Waters Fly Fishing trip to Kraus Ranch near Fairplay on May 20, 2022. A Colorado Alpine program of Project Healing Waters Fly Fishing recently was established to serve veterans in Summit County and other mountain communities.
Joel Wexler/For the Summit Daily News

For many people, there is nothing more freeing and relaxing then a day spent fishing on a river or another body of water. The gurgle of a stream while a meticulously placed cast is placed on the water provides an escape from the outside world and allows the caster to focus on only one thing: snagging their next big catch.

That freedom and relaxation is a big part of why Project Healing Waters Fly Fishing works to bring former members of the armed services out to the water, and why the nonprofit is expanding into the region.

“It is really dedicated to the physical, emotional and mental rehabilitation for veterans that are active disabled service personnel or disabled veterans through fly fishing,“ Dr. Eric Syverson, the Colorado Alpine lead program director of Project Healing Waters Fly Fishing, said.



Project Healing Waters Fly Fishing has existed since 2005 with wounded veterans always being the organization’s main focus. Since 2005, Project Healing Waters has expanded nationwide, establishing several programs.

The Colorado High Alpine program is one of the nonprofit’s newest programs with Syverson, an associate optometrist doctor at Summit Vision Source in Frisco, spearheading the program.



It was while he was working at a few Veterans Affairs hospitals as he trained to be an eye doctor that Syverson felt he, someday, wanted to give back to veterans.

Two veteran fly fishermen attempt to catch a fish at Kraus Ranch near Fairplay on May 20, 2022, as part of a Project Healing Waters Fly Fishing trip. Frisco optometrist Dr. Eric Syverson is leading his own Project Healing Waters Fly Fishing program where he hopes to grow a community of veteran fly fishermen across the Western Slope.
Joel Wexler/For the Summit Daily News

The Project Healing Waters Colorado Alpine program has been in the works for a while but recently started up this spring, according to Syverson.

After seeing several veterans come through the Summit Vision Source office, he realized there was a need in his own local community for a veteran-focused program.

With the help of Chris Benson, the Rocky Mountain South region’s resource chair in Colorado Springs, Syverson committed to become the lead program director because of his own experience of struggling through rough times in his own life.

“If there is anybody that is going through hard times, I think when you get out of those hard times you want to help other people and make sure they don’t go through the same thing,” Syverson said. “If we can provide an outlet and another service for people that are going through physical, mental or emotional issues — that’s really been the No. 1 thing for me.”

Although he has never served in the military, Syverson has dealt with his own challenges, and he says he feels like he is able find solace through fly fishing and the community that comes with the sport.

Ryan Johnson and Dr. Eric Syverson pose with a fish at Kraus Ranch near Fairplay on May 20, 2022. The fishing trip to Fairplay was the first outing Syverson had been on as part of Project Healing Waters Fly Fishing. Syverson leads the Colorado Alpine program of Project Healing Waters Fly Fishing.
Joel Wexler/For the Summit Daily News

Besides allowing veterans to have time on some of Colorado’s most popular rivers for fly fishing, the program also aims to provide an additional network for its participants.

“Really it’s about establishing a community,“ Syverson said. ”Having a place to hang out with friends and establish relationships. I can speak for myself. I have been through a heck of a time, but fly fishing has always been a healthy release in terms of getting your mind more set.“

Syverson has big plans for growing the burgeoning program, including serving areas outside of Summit County like Vail, Alma, Leadville, Kremmling and Fairplay.

“We are trying to start to bridge that gap because there are a lot of offerings down in Denver, but then the next stop is kind of Grand Junction,” Syverson said. “There’s a lot of guys between the Eisenhower tunnel and Glenwood Springs that do not have these type of programs available to them.”

Scott Miller casts his line into the water during a Project Healing Waters Fly Fishing trip to Kraus Ranch near Fairplay on May 20. A Colorado Alpine program of Project Healing Waters Fly Fishing recently was established to serve veterans in Summit County and other Alpine communities.
Joel Wexler/For the Summit Daily News

With the help of Benson, Syverson orchestrated his first trip a few weeks ago on Friday, May 20, as snow flocked most of the state.

The weather did not dampen the trip, which lasted from May 20-22, as several veterans from the Colorado Springs area made the trip to the Kraus Ranch near Fairplay for a morning of fly fishing.

Summit County fly shop owners sponsored the weekend-long fishing trip, helping guide the veterans and providing the permits needed to fish in certain areas.

“The Summit County fly shop owners have been incredibly supportive to Project Healing Waters Fly Fishing and its Colorado Springs program,” Benson said.

After equipping the veterans with all of the equipment needed for a successful day of fishing, Syverson and Benson educated the veterans on how to properly use their fly fishing poles in order to ensure a catch.

“Whether they just started fly fishing or have been fly fishing for 10 years, we are going to try to tailor our program to education, fly tying, so it will be something that is available to all levels of fly fishing,” Syverson said.

A trio of veterans attempt to catch a fish at Kraus Ranch near Fairplay on May 20, 2022, as part of a Project Healing Waters Fly Fishing trip. Frisco optometrist, Dr. Eric Syverson is leading his own Project Healing Waters Fly Fishing program where he hopes to grow a community of fly fishermen across the Western Slope.
Joel Wexler/For the Summit Daily News

Syverson and Benson hope to grow the Colorado Alpine program through veteran participants and the help of volunteers so that the first Colorado Alpine region fly fishing trip can go on without a hitch in August.

Volunteers and participants interested in joining the local Project Healing Waters Fly Fishing program can attend the open house from 4-6 p.m. on Sunday, June 12, at Gravity Haus located at 605 South Park Ave. in Breckenridge. They can also email Dr. Syverson at esyver@gmail.com.

A Project Healing Waters Fly Fishing group, mostly from the Colorado Springs area, poses for a photo after fishing at Kraus Ranch near Fairplay on May 20. Project Healing Waters provides veterans with an outdoor recreation therapy through fly fishing trips and education. Recently Project Healing Waters has added a Colorado Alpine program which is led by Frisco optometrist, Dr. Eric Syverson.
Joel Wexler/For the Summit Daily News

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