HUNTINGTON - Anglers of all stripes tossed their lines into Lake Vesuvius in Pedro, Ohio, on Thursday for the 17th annual Wheelin' Sportsmen Fishing event.

The event aims to give those with physical challenges an opportunity to participate in outdoor activities such as fishing, hunting and bird watching. It's hosted by the South Hills Longbeards Chapter of the National Wild Turkey Federation and the Wayne National Forest.

A local hatchery spent the morning pouring more than 1,000 rainbow trout into the lake for participants to reel in. People then lined the quarter-mile boardwalk along Lake Vesuvius, taking turns casting their lines and hoping to catch the biggest fish.

More than 300 people attended Thursday's festivities, including those who may be restricted from outdoor activities because of age or abilities. Local middle school and high school special education students were invited, as well as residents from local nursing homes.

The event is special to the members of the South Hills Longbeards Chapter, including spokesman Chris Sammons. Sammons is in a wheelchair stemming from a car accident several years ago. He joined the organization five years ago after learning about its mission to provide opportunities to those who have physical challenges.

"Like them, I wasn't able to get outdoors until I met the guys at the National Turkey Federation's South Hills Longbeards Chapter," Sammons said. "I saw what they were doing and I asked, 'How can I help to get others like me outdoors?'"

Sammons said that without the event many people would not be able to experience fishing, bird watching or hunting.

Volunteers also helped participants go on a bow hunting trip for wild turkeys. Sammons said the volunteers helped them load the bow and pull back the bolt until the time to fire.

Everyone in the organization looks forward to the annual event and it's usually the highlight of their year, Sammons said.

The event is sponsored by Ohio Department of Natural Resources' Division of Wildlife and City National Bank, among others.

It's one of the bank's outreach activities every year, and employees fight over who gets to attend, said Massie Schemmel, branch manager of the Ironton, Ohio, location.

"This year we had a couple of folks that hadn't had an opportunity to come with us before, so they were very excited," Schemmel said. "With my staff I say, 'Who's going to fishing day this year? You got to earn it.'"

The bank provided more than 1,000 hot dogs, buns and 35 pounds of hot dog sauce. Schemmel said her favorite thing is watching people get excited when they catch a trout, especially those who haven't caught a fish before.

"You see people out there and they are catching these fish," she said. "I saw people dancing today. It's just very uplifting."

The bank has participated in the event for at least a decade, said Carl Bowen, regional manager of the Chesapeake, Ohio, location.

"We get to be there among all these great people and seeing their facial expressions of joy when they catch a trout is also rewarding," he said. "It makes it all worthwhile."

Although the Wheelin' Sportsmen event is over, there still are plenty of trout in Lake Vesuvius, which is located 7 miles north of Ironton, off Ohio 93, approximately 1 mile east on Lawrence County Road 29 (Paddle Creek Road).

Travis Crum is a reporter for the Herald-Dispatch. He may be reached by phone at 304-526-2801.

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