Volunteers help corps with Thurmond Lake projects

CLARKS HILL, S.C. — Ron Furr and Hank Allen spend their summers golfing together at a course near their hometowns in rural Connecticut.

“I’m from East Lyme, and he’s from Old Lyme,” Furr said. “We get together up there, and that’s how I ended up down here.”

The men are spending the winter in McCormick County, S.C., as part of a growing network of volunteers who help the Army Corps of Engineers with projects at Thurmond Lake and its network of recreation sites.

This week, the men were part of a team building and installing fishing reefs made from recycled Christmas trees.

“We set them up in clumps – three at a time,” Allen said, while hauling plastic buckets weighted with cables and concrete to the shoreline of the lake.

Aided by another volunteer – Steve Smith, of Wisconsin – the men drilled holes in the trunk of each tree and fastened them with steel cables to the 30-pound concrete weights.

“This is something we try to do in areas that are used by bank fishermen,” said Ken Boyd, the corps conservation biologist. “This part of the lake doesn’t have a lot of vegetation, and this kind of cover can hold and attract a lot of fish.”

This year’s tree-recycling project, he said, yielded about 1,000 trees that can be made into fishing reefs at corps parks or used by anglers interested in creating their own fishing holes.

“We brought them up here in two tractor-trailers and two dump trucks,” Boyd said. “Once they are weighted and covered up under water, we can usually get about three years out of them before we have to redo the area.”

The corps, like many government agencies, has endured budget cuts in recent years that have made maintenance and park improvements more of a challenge.

Thurmond Lake’s volunteer program offers participants a place to stay in its Volunteer Village campground on a scenic peninsula near Modoc, S.C., which has water and electrical hookups, a high-speed Internet connection and a boat ramp.

Smith, who loves his cabin in northern Wisconsin, said the opportunity to spend the coldest months in a southern climate made the volunteer program attractive.

“My wife has a niece here, so we thought it was a nice spot to volunteer,” he said. “And at home, just two nights ago, it was minus 17 degrees.”

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