I landed at the Austin airport, and hustled over to the rental car company only to be told my license had expired the day before. The glee of the two clerks behind the counter was not lost on me. I was 90 minutes from New Braunfels, Texas, where I was scheduled in a few hours to keynote the 2018 Guadalupe River Chapter of Trout Unlimited (GRTU) TroutFest.
TroutFest is a GRTU chapter fundraiser. Ten or so years ago, I got a call from Mick McCorcle, then the GRTU president—now the vice-Chair of the board and our top volunteer leader, saying “GRTU would like to donate $10k to support the protection of Bristol Bay in Alaska.” My first thought was, “How do they even know about that campaign?” My second was, “Who knew we had a chapter in Texas?”
And what a chapter. In addition to the support for Bristol Bay, the chapter created a cold-water conservation fund that sent money for worthy projects to chapters all around country. Then came the Tomorrow Fund. Last year, GRTU committed $100k over ten years to help support TU’s work with kids. Then, this past year, they challenged other chapters to match their contribution, raising more than $40k.
The Tomorrow Fund supports Trout in the Classroom. More than 100,000 kids in New York City alone, have moved through that curriculum—kids who have never seen a forest or a running stream—learning about the life cycle of trout. I recall a Trout in the Classroom fingerling release in Maryland a few years ago, where not a few teen-agers had tears in their eyes, as they released the fingerlings they raised and named. I did not point out to them the well-fed, large brown trout, just downstream…
The Tomorrow Fund supports Trout Unlimited’s enitre stream of engagement with kids from kindergarten through college through programs such as STREAM Girls and Summer on the Fly to our decades old youth camps such as the Pennsylvania Youth and Conservation Camp. It is one of the best TU camps in the country. The kids have a week long, chock-full agenda of conservation, bugs, fishing, and citizenship. Last summer, I asked those 30 teenagers “How many of you want to get into conservation as a career?” Every kid raised their hand. Every kid.
That was a special camp as Adam Beede was slated to win the Robert Behnke award—something the camp gives to an outstanding youth leader from around the country. Six years before, Adam sent me a letter explaining how the Colorado youth camp “saved his life.” He had had a knee surgery get infected, and was in and out of hospitals for months, before the doctors finally cleared him to attend the camp. From there, he went on to found one of our early Five Rivers chapters. And, I assure you, we haven’t heard the last of him yet.
The Tomorrow Fund makes possible the 5 Rivers Native Trout Odyssey—an amazing partnership between Costa Del Mar, the Forest Service, and Trout Unlimited. This past summer, we sent five college kids from Florida to California, in two vans to fish for native trout on public lands. They caught a passel of trout, learned a ton about Trout Unlimited conservation work, and had more than one million people tune into their offerings on social media—one million people.
Last year, as a national organization, we protected over 1,200 miles of river, and reconnected and restored another 1,000 miles—this does not include the accomplishments of our nearly 400 chapters and 36 state councils. No other non-profit in the country can boast those statistics. And, to be clear, it is because of our state, federal, industry, landowner, and foundation partners that this work is possible.
I barely made it to TroutFest, and I am glad I did, because it reminded me that if we fail to invest in the next generation of conservation stewards getting out into nature, that conservation work that I mentioned above will be lost. As conservation-anglers, each of us share a moment that crystalized our commitment to giving back to the lands and waters we love. The Tomorrow Fund accelerates that commitment in our future leaders. The Tomorrow Fund is an investment that gets kids off their devices and into the outdoors.
I hope you will join me in supporting the Tomorrow Fund today.
–By Chris Wood