Silverthorne’s Got Heart: Jim Buckler and Project Healing Waters
Published January 23, 2019
Whatever the source, veterans young and old, from all branches of the U.S. military, have had transformative experiences of engagement, reflection and healing after participating in Project Healing Waters, a national fly fishing program that serves disabled military service personnel and veterans.
Volunteers in hundreds of communities nationwide participate, and Silverthorne is proud to be one of them. Jim Buckler, owner of Cutthroat Anglers, alongside other local volunteer guides, has been helping veterans heal through the program since 2011.
It’s a remarkable program, says Jim. “It goes beyond drinking beer and going fishing. It has to do with mindfulness. I’ve seen changes in people in a couple of days that you can’t believe.”
In total, the Silverthorne community has raised about $160,000 for the program in just five years, helping provide services to more than 250 veterans. “I compare ourselves to much larger communities [that participate in Project Healing waters], and we are head and shoulders above them,” Jim says with pride. “It’s a phenomenal feat for our little town.”
Most participants come from the Warrior Transitions Unit in Colorado Springs’ Fort Carson. Jim credits the generous ranch owners in the area who open their gates to let this group of 18–20 soldiers, volunteers and guides onto their properties for two and half days at a time.
On Feb. 15, the Fly Fishing Film Tour (F3T), a fundraiser for Project Healing Waters, returns to Silverthorne Pavilion. The annual fundraiser begins with a silent auction at 5 pm, and the film festival portion kicks off at 7 pm. F3T is a national effort that starts in Bozeman and travels around the country, with Silverthorne being one of the very first stops.
Donations allow for veterans to receive and keep their equipment so that they can continue to fly fish. Many participants come back to serve as mentors.
To convey the program’s impact, Jim shared a few stories from the many that have stuck with him.
“We had one soldier who, unbeknownst to me, came to the program at the encouragement of his wife, who said she had to get him in the program because he had quit talking. He showed up, was quiet, and we went fishing. He had suffered physical trauma as well as PTSD. I’ll always remember him catching his first fish. It was a huge rainbow trout, and as he released it, something happened for him. It was a magical moment. The guy started talking and didn’t stop for 45 minutes straight. It was only later, back at the cabins, that I learned of his story and what had brought him to the program.”
“One fellow a few years ago wouldn’t leave his house. His shades were pulled, and he had been living that way for years,” said Jim. “He was upset, nervous, and just a mess one morning, and the general who was there talked to him and finally convinced him to just wade out in the water. Once he did that, he was at peace. He said, ‘That’s all I needed today, to just get in the water.’”
“You see young guys who have just returned from active duty, and old people like me,” Jim adds. “Last year, we even had a Korean War vet. It’s mind-blowing to think that all that time had gone by, and only now did he finally find a therapeutic program. It’s humbling. You never know what to expect. You don’t ask these soldiers, ‘Hey, what happened to you?’ You don’t go there. But there’s been a number of times when a vet says, ‘You know, I just want to sit and talk,’ and it’s an emotional experience for sure.”
“It has grabbed my heart, I’ll tell you that,” says Jim. Jim’s dedication has generated remarkable results for the returning heroes he serves, and in 2016, he and Kouri Wolf were awarded the Patriot Award, the highest award for service to Project Healing Waters.
Tickets to the Fly Fishing Film Tour can be purchased for $12 in advance or $15 at the door. You can get advance tickets at Cutthroat Anglers in Silverthorne, or at Mountain Angler or Breckenridge Outfitters in Breckenridge.
Veterans who wish to participate in Project Healing Waters, or families interested in signing up on behalf of a veteran, can learn more and apply on the Project Healing Waters website, or contact Jim Butler at Cutthroat Anglers (970-262-2878) to learn more.