Patriots Cove has built a community around fly fishing to give veterans, first responders and caregivers a sense of purpose.
According to U.S. Army veteran Jeff Swire, the 18-acre, outdoor refuge known as Patriots Covehas already saved one life—his own.
Swire has over two decades of military experience, serving in the Iraq War as an infantryman and combat engineer. By the time he retired, Swire was left with a variety of physical and emotional issues, including a feeling of purposelessness that is all too common among veterans.
“For those of us that accept our service as part of who we are, and you lose that, it’s damn hard to figure out how you fit into the world out here,” said Swire.
In 2015, he and his wife Melissa purchased a property along Beaver Run, a small tributary in northeastern Pennsylvania, about 15 miles from the Susquehanna River. The property started out as a place for him and wife to get away, but soon after, Swire got the idea of turning the location into a site that other veterans, first responders and caregivers could visit.
His vision was simple: create a place that could help people with physical and emotional scars transition to life after military service or similar high-intensity, traumatic occupations. The work that it would take to get there was myriad, but for a natural leader and tenacious problem solver like Swire, building Patriots Cove was just another mission.
Army veteran Mike Yauneridge, left, of Johnstown, Pa., who was injured in Baghdad in 2003, mentors his childhood friend Tom McElwee of Roaring Springs, Pa., who is medically retired from the Army. McElwee had never fly fished before the November event at Patriots Cove, which he said was probably the biggest thing he’d done in three years. “I like the thought of working a little bit, so fly fishing might be for me,” said McElwee, who was the first to catch a fish that day. “And if it’s all in the wrist, that’s about the most movement I can do without pain, so even better.” (Photo by Will Parson/Chesapeake Bay Program)
The healing power of Beaver Run
In its third year, Patriots Cove is a nonprofit organization with dozens of members. Jeff and his team of volunteers have implemented award-winningrestoration projects on a mile of Beaver Run, expanding habitat for native brook troutand increasing opportunities for fly fishing.
On a sunny, 70-degree day in early November, the organization held its last weekend getaway of the year. Nearly twenty veterans, first responders and caregivers showed up, all of them in good spirits, despite hardships they continue to face.
“Coming here was the best decision I’ve ever made,” said Ardill Keeler, a veteran of the Iraq and Afghanistan War who struggles with anxiety and depression. “There are some days where I don’t want to do nothing and don’t want to be around anyone. But then I come down here and I’m a totally different person.”