The closures at Lake Belton and Stillhouse Hollow Lake due to the partial shutdown of the federal government may result in the cancellation of the Fishing for Freedom tournament, one of the most popular events in the region.

For eight years, the Fishing for Freedom tournament on Lake Belton has brought more than 300 soldiers and hundreds of boaters together to honor service members and their families with a day of fun and fishing.  But this year, the popular event is threatened by the closure of boat ramps at two lakes as well as the possible closure of the Belton Lake Outdoor Recreation Area (BLORA).

Fishing for Freedom Director Rick Smith (host of KTEM's "On the Dock," a local outdoor sports show) said he spoke to officials with the U.S. Corps of Engineers, all of whom said that the Forth Worth Water District, which oversees Lake Belton and Stillhouse Lake, is under orders from Washington D.C. to keep courtesy ramps closed, "no exceptions".

But an exception has been made in the past, Smith said, which gives him hope that one might be made for Fishing for Freedom as well.

"There has been precedence for this," Smith said. "The Corps did open ramps on Lake Sam Rayburn last weekend for the FLW Everstart Series. We're trying to get the Corps to agree to do this so we don't disappoint the military people who've signed up."

Like Lake Belton and Stillhouse Lake, Lake Sam Rayburn is also under the authority of the Corps.

Smith said the cancellation of the tournament would not only be hurtful to military men and women, but to the local economy as well.

"We typically have about a thousand people at the barbecue Friday night at the Killeen Convention Center," he said. "This will impact hotels, sporting goods stores, restaurants and tackle shops."

Smith said hundreds of reservations with area hotels and motels might be cancelled if tournament organizers are forced to cancel this year's event, which was scheduled for October 18 and 19 with boats launching from BLORA.

BLORA is currently open to the public, but Smith said they won't know until Tuesday, Oct. 15a,  if it will remain open.

Smith says tournament organizers are going ahead with their plans and seeking more volunteers and soldiers to participate while "hoping for a miracle." He insists that there is no reason for area boat ramps to be closed, as many are unattended high water gates that are usually left unlocked.

"Unfortunately, if we can't get the ramps open for the weekend, Fishing for Freedom is cancelled for 2013," Smith said. He added, "The right phone call from the right person could make all of this go away."


KTEM reached out to Nicholas Johnsen of Fort Hood MWR. According to Johnsen, BLORA staff have not been furloughed and the site is still operating as usual for the foreseeable future. The main impediment to Fishing for Freedom, Johnsen said, is the fact that BLORA has only one boat ramp available. That may prose a problem simply because of the large number of boats expected to launch in order to participate.

KTEM will update this story as more details become available.

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