Good wishes and prayers go out to my lifelong friend Spencer Woods, who recently had cancer surgery that will require a lot of hard work and about a year’s worth of patience to fully recover from.

I’ve known Spencer for most of my life. When I was around six years old, my dad and I were walking out of a store to our car when Dad said, “There’s Wilma!” At the time, the only Wilma I knew about was Mrs. Flintstone, so my eyes immediately scanned the parking lot for a cartoon character with big red hair.

Dad called out to Wilma, and we stood and talked to her and her kids for a few minutes, then headed on our different ways. I would be a teenager the next time I ran into some of Wilma’s kids – Ginger and her brother Spencer. Ginger had married into my friend Jack’s family, and several years later, when Spencer mentioned his mother’s name, I tied it all together.

Spence was one of my role models growing up – he’s smart, has a rich sense of humor, works his butt off, plays hard, is a world-class prankster, and has a good time at whatever he’s doing. He’s a gifted storyteller, and has found his way into a lot of good stories over the years.

A true outdoorsman, some of our best times spent together have been on the lake or at a campground. He sold me my first boat (gave me a kinfolk deal), and it stayed in the circle of family and friends for years and years – whenever one of us needed some money, somebody else in the group would buy the boat and leave the key where everybody else could get to it.

He’s a scuba diver, barefoot skier, and spelunker, so he’s happy no matter where he is – on top or underneath. At one time, he held the depth record at Carlsbad Caverns, and got to name some of the rooms that he discovered. He has found (and returned) lost valuables from sunken boats at area lakes, and once found a car at the bottom of Lake Whitney. After nervously inspecting it and finding no bodies inside, he opened the glove compartment and removed the registration and insurance paperwork. Once he got home, he called the owner to let him know about the car, but the guy wasn’t happy about it, and Spencer ended the call before learning something he might have had to testify about in court.

One of my favorite things about Spence is that he’s always in the right place. One day, he dropped by my house and said, “Todd, I’ve gotta show you something.” We went out to his truck and it was loaded with fishing poles, some tackle boxes, and other fishing and boating-related gear.

He said he’d been driving home from work and saw a woman in her driveway carrying some poles, and when he stopped to talk, she told him how she had kicked her no-good, cheating husband out of the house and was moving his stuff out to the garage until trash day. Spencer asked if she’d be willing to sell it to him instead, and she said, “I’ll tell you what, you can just have it for free.” She even tried to give him the husband’s boat, but dealing with registration seemed like a lot more hassle than it was worth, and Spence was already feeling a little sorry for the guy.

Even though he’s currently in the hospital, Spencer is still keeping a bunch of his friends entertained through a group text, and he appreciates all the support coming from those who have known him over the years. He recently got some videos from his longtime friend and Austin-based musician Guy Forsyth, who shared some encouraging words and sizzling songs. Spence says he watches them several times a day and it always gives him a boost.

If you know Spencer, you know that he’s energized by other people, and he has a gift of making instant friends out of strangers. If you’d like to send him some words of encouragement, or a video of you singing, etc., you can reach him through my email (nafeoutdoors@gmail.com) or Facebook (Centex Outdoors) – and I’ll pass them on to him.

Keep getting better, Spence. Can’t wait to see you around the campfire again.

Take care — of the outdoors and ourselves

With infection and hospitalization numbers continuing to climb in Central Texas and beyond, it’s evident that too many people are listening to politicians instead of health experts.

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers’ district office in Fort Worth announced last week that two parks at Lake Whitney – Soldiers Bluff and Walling Bend – have been closed due to Covid19-related safety concerns that mostly relate to groups of people gathering to jump off cliffs located in the parks.

The statement announcing the closures said that in recent weeks, large crowds (some numbering upwards of 600 people) have gathered in these areas in defiance of park guidelines. Officials say that in addition to being a threat to public health and safety, the crowds have also negatively impacted the land and natural resources, with large amounts of trash/debris left behind and vehicles parked in non-designated areas causing damage to park areas.

Jumping off the cliffs at Whitney is nothing new, and I count myself among those who’ve done it. It’s definitely a thrill, but putting first-responders at risk – as well as the wider population – is foolish and irresponsible, and thanks to people who can’t control their urges, we’re now looking at park shutdowns.

Fortunately for folks with outdoor recreation plans at Lake Waco, there are no current plans for park closures, according to lead park ranger Mike Champagne. “At this time, we are not having the same issues as Whitney,” he said.

However, there are some areas of concern, and anglers and others who enjoy the parks and shorelines of the lake should step up and not give the Corps any reason to follow Whitney’s lead.

“We are continuing to have issues with vandalism at Bosque Park — more specifically the fishing area by the outlet structure,” Champagne said. The area is littered with garbage, and fences are being damaged and tampered with.”

In other COE news, some of the best public deer hunting around can be found at Corps parks, and Champagne says his team is finalizing plans for the upcoming deer season, so stay tuned to the Tribune-Herald outdoors for details as plans unfold.

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