Why TU?

Last year on a canoe trip down the Bois Brule River, I was asked why I volunteer and more specifically, why I do it for TU.  I gave a simplistic fatherly response: “I’m doing this for my kids – so they can have the opportunity to enjoy the outdoors just like I have”.   Upon further reflection, it’s much more than that.


Don’t get me wrong – kids are a big part of my drive to volunteer.  Not just my kids, but your children and grandchildren too.  I’m not sure either of my daughters will be hardcore trout anglers in 30 years, but I’m know someone’s kids will be.


And regardless of how much they get out on the water, we all have a right to access and use these public places.  We owe it to the next generation to leave our public lands and waters a little better than we found them, right?


My volunteering motivation has certainly evolved over the years.


I was drawn to TU in my mid 20’s.  Having recently moved to Milwaukee and not knowing anyone in the area who fished, I’d sit and stare at the River flowing through town and think – there must be people out there who know how to approach this.  So I started going to the local TU chapter meetings.


At the third SEWTU meeting I attended, John Knitter sat down next to me.  He was a Vietnam Veteran, short in stature with a big heart and an even bigger belly.  He opened up his fly box and started telling stories about the River.  I was hooked.


Our Chapter was in a lull at the time.  We didn’t have any habitat workdays coming up.  The old guard was diligently holding this shell of an organization together – waiting for the next wave to come along and move the Chapter forward.


John also volunteered for a local non-profit, Milwaukee Riverkeeper, and he was the site captain for one of the spring clean-up spots on the River.  For three hours on a Saturday in April, us anglers would get together and pull garbage out of the water.  Plastic bags, tires, candy wrappers, shopping carts, toilets, box spring mattresses – they all have a way of accumulating in urban waterbodies.  Getting some of it out of the River every now and then was the least we could do.


It was about this time that folks named Vetrano, Koltz, Durian, Freund, and others became active in moving that local chapter forward.  We started having monthly workdays – on actual trout streams (hey, there aren’t many in the Milwaukee area)!


We continued cleaning up the garbage, but we were also creating vortex weirs, plunge pools, and better spawning habitat.  Better habitat meant more and larger fish.  We were ensuring success on our future fishing outings!


Then the Recession hit, and on a personal level, things got real serious, real fast.  I was laid off just before Christmas of 2009, as jobs in the Architectural field were drying up faster than the Colorado River in a drought year.  We were three years into our first mortgage with a 1 year old baby at home.  For the first time in my adult life I was generating no income.  My self-esteem was at an all-time low.


Our TU Chapter President Henry called me on the eve of my best friend’s wedding.  I remember that night well.  I was wearing a smile on the outside, but inside I was in a pretty dark place.  He said he needed me to help get the Chapter involved in a program called Project Healing Waters.  I knew nothing about it but eagerly jumped at the opportunity to do SOMETHING.


Soon I was waist deep in memorandums of agreement, volunteer spreadsheets, program budgets, and dirty diapers (at home).  It was exactly what I needed when I needed it most.  I had the best people on my side (TU volunteers) working within the VA hospital to do what we could to help reconnect military veterans to the outdoors.


I’m not sure where I’d be right now if Henry hadn’t made that call, or if John hadn’t opened his fly box and started telling stories at the Bavarian Wurst Haus.  But I do know the best thing TU has to offer is its people.  Volunteers standing shoulder to shoulder doing what needs to be done.


So ask me again, why do I do it?  For the fish.  For the water.  For my friends.  For the kids.  For myself.  It’s all of the above.  Because someone before us took up the task of making things a little bit better and someone after us will do the same.


Right now is our time.  Let’s pull up our sleeves, get in the water, and roll some rock.


Much Respect,

Mike Kuhr

Wisconsin TU State Council Chair