The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Charleston District, in partnership with the South Carolina Department of Natural Resources, hosted the ninth annual Wounded Warriors Veterans Fishing Day at the Cooper River Rediversion Project in St. Stephen this spring.
The yearly event saw over 70 veterans gathered on the banks of the canal to spend a fun, leisurely day fishing. Attendees included veterans from all the service branches as well as students from the Timberland High School.
“This year’s event went great. Our attendance was up, we brought back Timberland High and the weather was beautiful,” said Jesse Helton, former Natural Resource Specialist. “Overall, this year is one of the best events we have ever had!”
Helton recently served as the Natural Resource Specialist at the CRRP. After organizing the event for the past six years, he was grateful for the chance to do it one last time before he moves to a new position within the District. The aspect he will miss the most is the interaction with the veterans, many of whom he has gotten to know personally over the years and developed friendships with.
“The veterans are fantastic to work with and hosting this event is easily the high point of my time at the CRRP,” Helton said. “I have gotten to know many of our participants and will miss talking with them about the event every spring. You can tell everyone looks forward to the announcement and it’s a good feeling knowing I got to be a part of something special for our veteran community.”
The event is only possible with the assistance of the DNR, which allows fishing to occur in a protected wildlife area once a year. It also gives DNR a chance to collect data on the fish caught. The students get a science lesson by helping collect biological data about the American Shad population that will be used to inform DNR’s fisheries management decisions for the species.
“It was great to have the Timberland students back with us this year after a break due to the pandemic. I think having them here benefits everyone involved. The students enjoy working with the veterans and the veterans enjoy having the young students around. They also get some real-world science experience working with the biologist at DNR,” said Helton.
Unlike other districts in USACE, Charleston does not operate any official recreation sites. However, the property in St. Stephen has been used unofficially for years as a recreation site in South Carolina and has hosted many events in addition to the fishing day.
The Corps proposed the CRRP in the early 1970s to reduce sedimentation and dredging costs in Charleston Harbor. Construction began in 1978 and was completed in March 1985. This project saves taxpayers $36 million per year in dredging costs in Charleston Harbor while benefiting shipping, industrial development, hydropower, and fish and wildlife.
Since the dam blocked fish from being able to swim upriver to spawning grounds, a fish lift was built to move the fish to the other side of the dam. More than 580,000 fish pass through the lift during the spawning season this year. It is operated by SCDNR during the spawning season, usually from Feb. 1 through May 15, depending on flows and water temperature.
The annual fishing day is not the only event hosted by USACE and DNR for veterans. In the fall, the agencies host a yearly dove hunt just down the street from the dam. Both agencies are honored to be able to give back to our nation’s heroes.