DOUG ROSS: Angler casting around for fishing spot in Gary

2014-05-23T00:00:00Z DOUG ROSS: Angler casting around for fishing spot in GaryDoug Ross doug.ross@nwi.com, (219) 548-4360 or (219) 933-3357 nwitimes.com

Silas Sconiers says he wants nothing more than to sit on the shore, or maybe a pier, and catch fish from Lake Michigan.

Well, he does want more than that. He wants to do so in Gary, his hometown.

Last year, he and his friend Stacey Clayton filed a federal civil rights complaint in hopes of advancing their cause.

"Dad used to take us out on Sunday mornings to Buffington Harbor all the time," the AARP-eligible Sconiers told me. But that fishing spot has been officially shut down.

Nor is there anywhere else to fish on the Lake Michigan shoreline in Gary. You can fish from a boat, sure, but on the shore? That's not allowed.

"Gary is 22 miles long," Sconiers notes, and occupies a longer stretch of the Indiana shoreline than any other city. But unlike elsewhere, the shoreline is almost entirely used by industry.

His cause has drawn the attention of environmentalist Jim Sweeney, with the Izaak Walton League's local chapter. Izaak Walton wrote "The Compleat Angler," first published in 1653.

"All I want is fishing. I'm trying to stay out of the politics fray of it," Sconiers said.

That doesn't mean he hasn't been casting around for help from politicians and bureaucrats, though. He's talking to anyone who will listen.

Sconiers tells of fishing with a friend in Michigan City back when Thomas Barnes was Gary's mayor. The Indiana Department of Natural Resources heard his complaint about not being able to fish in Gary.

"They called me in the office, hugged me, said we're going to do this," he said.

Next thing he knew, he said, the state was advising him to go fishing where it was prohibited. Challenge the restrictions, he was told.

But Sconiers wants to reel in fish, not trouble.

He retired from the EJ&E railroad at age 38. "Twenty-five years later, I'm sick and tired, and I want to go fishing," he said.

Sconiers has talked to the appropriate politicians — U.S. Rep. Pete Visclosky, Mayor Karen Freeman-Wilson and others. But agreeing with him isn't the same as making it happen. 

I can see why.

Funding is a big challenge, and think of the many challenges facing Gary.

The city needs to knock down the former Sheraton Hotel and other derelict buildings. Improving public safety and revitalizing neighborhoods are likewise urgent.

Simply put, this idea hasn't been a high priority — except to Sconiers and Clayton.

I sat down with Sconiers, Clayton and Sweeney to hear the story in mid-March. I haven't forgotten their crusade.

But like the politicians, I've had bigger fish to fry in the many weeks since then.

This Memorial Day weekend, with attention turning to outdoor activities, it's the fishermen's turn. Gary needs a safe, accessible place for Sconiers and others to fish.

The Marquette Plan, which calls for improving access to Lake Michigan, should be both a strong hook and bait for funding for making Sconiers' dream come true.

Someday.

Editorial Page Editor Doug Ross can be reached at (219) 548-4360 or (219) 933-3357 or Doug.Ross@nwi.com. Follow him at www.facebook.com/doug.ross1 and on Twitter @nwi_DougRoss. The opinions are the writer's.

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