After providing millions of thrill-seekers with entertainment for more than 21 years, Universal Orlando Resort closed its much-beloved “Jaws” ride. But that was only the beginning of a new story. Universal shared the adventure with Give Kids The World by donating props to the Village fishing program. Located in the Park of Dreams, the Fishing Hut at GKTW provides wish families with a chance to experience a Florida pastime over at the Happy Harbor Fishing Pond. The fishing program is “catch and release” because all the fish just so happen to be good friends with Mayor Clayton.
The fishing program started 20 years ago with only a handful of poles. When our beloved Amberville was opened in 2000, the fishing gear was maintained and distributed from this new venue. At first, the fishing program was only available twice a week. Fortunately, Michael Bresnahan had much bigger dreams. He insisted that GKTW wish families should have the opportunity to fish seven days a week.
Thanks to Bresnahan’s hard work, his dream has become a reality. With the help of his lifelong friend, Michael Hetchler, and fishing partner, Cathrina Wirick, the Fishing Hut renovation was put into full effect. The major renovations of the Fishing Hut came within recent years. Many volunteers with a shared passion for the outdoors generously volunteered their time.
When Hetchler asked the talent that built the Universal Orlando ride “Jaws” to donate their time to construct the Fishing Hut, Universal Orlando took it upon themselves to go the extra mile. Director of Universal Orlando Facilities, Tim Samels, assisted in the building. With a lot of hard work on some very hot days, the new Fishing Hut was completed. To add the final touch, Erick Baker, Universal Orlando Creative, donated several show props from the Jaws ride that closed in January 2012. GKTW received the lobster trap, wooden tackle block and buoys that were used in the 1975 Academy Award-winning film “Jaws.”
Hetchler added that they are not quite done with the decorating. Universal Orlando would still like to add mounted fish and a sign to strengthen the unique ambience of the GKTW Fishing Hut.
The Fishing Hut volunteers refer to themselves as “Fish Whisperers,” as they do not believe in name recognition. They selflessly announce that it is the other volunteers that deserve the recognition.
“We’re actually blessed to help and to make a mark. We’re just taking what we love and giving back. I’ve already gotten more out of it than I’ve ever needed. When a child catches their first fish, their expressions remind me of my first catch. I get to relive it a thousand times over,” says Michael Bresnahan describing his volunteer experience. These fishermen truly are Angels, and they deserve a spotlight for their passion and dedication to GKTW.
Magic truly happens at the Fishing Hut. If a fishing pole is lost in the lake, it’s not a big deal. “We try to run it like we’re still kids,” says Bresnahan. The Fishing Hut doesn’t have rules. Well, except one small rule: When a wish child catches a fish, they have to kiss the fish on the lips before letting it go. This is the only rule. However, if the child makes an unpleasant face, the parents are allowed to kiss the fish in place of their kids.
Thank you to everyone who was involved in this wonderful project! GKTW’s Happy Harbor Fishing Pond is now full of smiling junior fisherman.
Contributed by Julie Aebersold