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Another northern Michigan ice fishing tournament delayed

Michigan Operation Freedom Outdoors says it's postponing their first annual ice fishing tournament on Otsego Lake due to a lack of ice.
Mike Cox
Michigan Operation Freedom Outdoors said that ice conditions on Otsego Lake are too hazardous for fishing this weekend. The organization is hoping that by Feb. 25 ice conditions will improve to host their first ice fishing tournament.

Michigan's recent influx of warm weather has lead to the cancellation of winter events across northern Michigan. From the sturgeon fishing season to the UP 200 sled dog race being called off, communities across the state are feeling the impact of a warmer winter.

Michigan Operation Freedom Outdoors is the latest organization to be impacted by the weather. The non-profit that helps veterans and people with disabilities access the outdoors has postponed its ice fishing tournament in Gaylord this weekend due to lack of ice on Otsego Lake.

WCMU's Tina Sawyer spoke with project coordinator Tom Jones to learn more about the organization.

Jones said he's hoping for better ice conditions on Otsego Lake later this month.

This transcript has been edited for clarity and length.

Michigan Operation Freedom Outdoors
Michigan Operation Freedom Outdoors is a non-profit organization that helps disabled veterans and people with disabilities access outdoor recreational acitivies.

Tina Sawyer: Why don't you tell me a little bit about Michigan, Operation Freedom Outdoors?

Tom Jones: You know, I'm a combat disabled veteran myself, and when I got out of the army and came back to Michigan, that was part of my reintegration. You know, everything was hectic. Can you know? You stare at Beast of war in the eye and it takes it takes a lot to bring you back home and and running to the woods seemed to help me. So about 2014, some folks were sitting around with, you know, the Department of Natural Resources and various other conservation groups about, you know, how can we attract. Stable veterans and. You know, of course, no one sitting around the table as a veteran. So when they brought me in and, you know, I was talking to him, I was like, hey, this is more, you know, we didn't just sign up and fight for us veterans. We fought for those that couldn't fight. You know, there's plenty of people that are born with a disability or later in life have an incident, though, that prevents them from getting into the outdoors. But this is for everyone we fought with and fought for. You know, from 2014, we ran it as a cause for three years to get vetted in this community. I didn't want it to be perceived as a fly by night organization, just looking to make a market of us poor vets.

TS: Now you say in this community, where do you serve?

TJ: All of Michigan, really. But we are centered around the Sharonville State Game Area in Jackson County there. There's a 700 acre parcel that I've placed eight accessible hunting blinds on and it's a reserved unit through the Natural Resource Commission to where anyone that has a standing vehicle permit or the blind and deaf communities laser sighted device users and 100% disabled veterans have an inclusive spot to hunt by themselves. The reintegration. From not only you know service members, first responders to general civilian population with health challenges, it's working.

TS: How helpful is this? Can you tell me, like in your own experiences, what types of stories have you heard?

TJ: Oh man, it's. You know, I've heard from people's wives like someone's wife called me. Like, what did you do to my husband? I was like, why? What are you talking about? Like, he hasn't been this excited. You know, he hasn't talked this much to me in years as the older Vietnam vet and building, you know, opening these doors and breaking barriers down for folks extends past just that individual, you know, it'll help their family, you know, maybe have that get that spark back or have some motivation to put your “buddy wiser” down... because you got to be accountable to be meet me at camp at 5:00 in the morning, you know. I’ve seen a lot of stories of people, you know, getting off of substances. I have resources for vets to get into civilian sector type of therapies. It's just a plethora of resources that I've come across on this and I extend that to everybody. I mean, it's not about the hunting and you know, the harvests and the harvest is opening someone's eyes to a better tomorrow and then realize and that they can do it. You know, they don't necessarily need me. I'm just the excuse. You know, I would like to see it highlighted more on the DNR's accessibility page to where anybody around the state, if they're looking for an area closest to them, they can log on and see. Where these free reservations are, I mean, it's public land whether you like it or not. As Michigan residents, you know, we have nearly 6-million acres that are ours. And like I said, you know, it doesn't matter if you can throw a backpack on and hike out 10 miles and go camping in the middle of the woods, or you need to take a track chair. You know this is access for all. If you're getting involved the community and say it's public land for the public, you need to make sure that something's available for everyone.

TS: Tom Jones, project coordinator of Michigan Operation Freedom Outdoors, Thank you so much for joining us today. Appreciate it.

TJ: Oh, thank you, Tina. I appreciate it as well.

Tina Sawyer is the local host of Morning Edition on WCMU. She joined WCMU in November, 2022.