There will be even more smiles this year at the annual Camp Big Sky Fishing Tournament on Saturday, May 23.
The reason for those smiles is that the event is growing and can accommodate more Camp Big Sky campers and their expert fishing partners. Camp Big Sky offers outdoor experiences to people with disabilities and their campers participate in the fishing tournament each year with professional fishermen who donate their time and expertise.
Camp Big Sky Executive Director Brad Guidi has announced the tournament will be hosted at Giant Goose Ranch this year. The site has more shoreline for families and fishermen attending the event and a larger lake which will allow about 10 more camp fishermen and their partners to participate. The event begins at 6 a.m. and the camp fishing tournament will run from 8:30 to 11:30 a.m. At 11:30 a.m. a parade of boats will take the tournament fishermen to a stage for the weigh-in ceremony.
The fishing tournament coincides with the Giant Goose Ranch Spring Open House.
Guidi explains that Giant Goose Ranch has around six miles of shoreline surrounding a 121 acre lake. The new venue can also accommodate around 100 more bank fishermen than in previous years.
Guidi is working with the new owners at Giant Goose Ranch, Herman Brothers Lake and Land Management, who are investing in a complete renovation at the site. Their goal is to provide a world class hunting and fishing destination, explains Guidi.
Guidi says with the opportunity to serve more fishermen, he invites families to come out and enjoy the many events planned in conjunction with the tournament and open house.
Visitors can enjoy bank fishing with the help of volunteers, lawn games, pony rides, face painting, kite flying, and hayrack rides which will provide a shuttle service. Buell's Marine of Canton will provide pontoon boat rides.
Food will be available during the event and is being offered by The Meat-N-Place of Creve Coeur.
Guidi explains that many professionals from the area fishing scene have donated their time for the tournament, including Ron Boyer, Jim Crowley, Mark Reed, and many others.
Over 150 visitors attended last year, and Guidi hopes to have 300 family and friends come out this year. The event is geared to accommodate anyone with a disability.
The fishing tournament offers people with disabilities the chance to partner with expert fishermen as they celebrate their fishing successes. Many volunteers help with the tournament, including The Fellowship of Christian Boaters. Guidi says all of the volunteers make this day of fishing possible.
"The last couple of years, we have been in the process of going to the next level with the service we provide at Camp Big Sky," says Guidi.
In 2014, the camp hit an all time record with 2,062 visitors. The camp serves visitors from 27 counties in central Illinois.
In 2013, the camp started a life skills education program with Farmington School District. Campers learn skills needed to live an independent life in their communities. "We use the outdoors as a classroom," reports Guidi, who says the Bradley University Department of Teacher Education and the Special Education Association of Peoria County support the program.
The camp recruits Special Education majors from Bradley as interns at the camp and classes are taught every Friday for 10 weeks from summer through fall. The program is evaluated every year.
Campers learn to orient themselves in their environment, such as knowing the sun comes up in the east and sets in the west. They use a compass and enjoy scavenger hunts with those skills, explains Guidi.
Camp Big Sky is open from May 1 through the end of October. The camp is located at 16478 E. Markley Rd. near Fairview. Phone 309-258-6002 or visit the website at www.CampBigSky.org