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Posted 3/6/2014

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By Erica Skolte

As the nation’s largest provider of water-based recreation with an important water safety mission, one of the most effective ways for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to promote its safety message is to take it to events where it will reach the maximum audience. In south Florida, this means hitting events like the annual South Florida Fair in West Palm Beach and the FLW fishing tournament.

For many years, the Corps has maintained a strong partnership with the Drowning Prevention Coalition of Palm Beach County, and sharing a booth at the South Florida Fair at the Palm Beach County Fairgrounds for two weeks was a great way to pool resources and raise awareness about water safety. This year, Adam Tarplee, natural resources program manager; Chris Abernathy, U.S. Coast Guard Auxiliary; Anna Stewart, manager of the Drowning Prevention Coalition and others brought the water safety message to fair attendees.

“It’s important to help people be safe, not only out on our lakes, but at home too,” said Tarplee. “When we go to big events like this, it’s a great opportunity for us to inform families and answer their questions in person. We answered all kinds of questions including things like how to get out of a sinking car, where to find swim lessons and pool safety barriers.”

When it comes to high-stakes professional bass fishing tournaments, the FLW tour events on Lake Okeechobee are right up at the top of the heap. The name “FLW” honors Forrest L. Wood, the founder of Ranger Boats and pioneer of modern bass fishing. The Walmart FLW tour is considered to be the world's premier bass-fishing tournament circuit and the winner of this year’s tour season opener on Lake Okeechobee took home $125,000 from a tournament featuring 178 of the world’s best bass-fishing anglers.

The Corps reached out to the fishermen and the fans last year, and returned for the first FLW tournament event of 2014.  Park rangers Paula Bratschi and John Chassey and volunteers Carol and Herb Sones spoke with more than 530 people in a single day, Feb. 9, and distributed 496 packets that included Bobber the Water Safety Dog coloring books and other information.

“FLW is a family-friendly event, so it’s a great opportunity to spread the Corps water safety message to people of all ages,” said Bratschi. “We can reach local people and folks from out of town. Some of them may recreate on Lake Okeechobee, but they may also use other Corps lakes and recreation areas nationwide.”

fishing tournament Jacksonville District recreation U.S. Army Corps of Engineers water safety