Pay lake becoming disabled-vets sanctuary

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Wheelchair users can fish now, hunt this season, owner says

By Kevin Koelling, Managing Editor

DERBY - "I sell the daylights out of them," Jeff Piper said of birdhouses built from recycled fencing materials and license plates.

The owner of Rainbow Pay Lake near Derby boasted that he's helping to keep hundreds of pounds of materials out of landfills. Their reuse serves a higher purpose he hopes to expand upon, however. He has several of the finished products on display at the lake, and they're also available through his Web site, www.ovrthere.com, where his threefold mission is described:

"To create veterans' employment opportunities; to use reclaimed materials to manufacture environmental products for the retail market; and to promote outdoor recreation, such as fishing, hunting, and camping, in a handicapped-accessible facility."

He gathers the materials - wood from fencing companies, and license plates donated by car-rental agencies to serve as roofs - and delivers them to disabled veterans for assembly, Piper said.

"Everyone wants to tear out and replace their fences," he said. "I've watched truckloads go into landfills. Most landfills have rules that once it's there, you can't remove it."

"I don't pay for anything but the screws," Piper said. "I work out of a small garage and do all of the cuts so (the vet) doesn't have to worry about sawdust. I cut pieces during the week and spend my weekends here" at the pay lake.

As he's describing the process, his cell phone rings.

"Yeah, bring that 2-year-old out and let him fish," he instructs the caller. When the conversation is finished, he explains that the dad he spoke to has custody of his child on weekends, and they like to visit the lake when they're together. His own son helps him run the business, Piper said.

Getting back to the birdhouses, he explained he pays disabled vets $4 for each house.

"If he wants to embellish the birdhouse, he gets more money," Piper said. Embellishment can include the addition of sticks cut the old-fashioned way - by beavers.

"All of the sticks are beaver sticks; they cut a nice angle for us," Piper said with a smile.

He's not a "roller," his shorthand for disabled veteran in a wheelchair, but Piper is a disabled Vietnam veteran himself. His reflex sympathetic dystrophy had its origin in a tank track that fell on him during a stateside assignment, and "fires pain 24-7," he said. "It never goes away. They sent me home with methadone; that's all you can do."

He shows no signs of disability as he navigates a golf cart over the terrain between the several bodies of water invisible from the Indiana 70 entrances to the pay lake. He hopes to put a screen over one small pond to keep herons from eating the tilapia he wants to raise, he says as he pulls up to it.

As he drives to another area, he points out places where the ground was hardened by trucks that used to haul materials from the area when it was an active quarry. With a little clearing, it will easily accommodate wheelchairs. Piper points to deer tracks as he drives past one point where he said he'll put a blind to conceal a roller. A primitive campsite will be developed in yet another area.

"I plan to have a guy in a wheelchair hunt this season," he said. He pointed to a nearby hill and said another blind could go on the other side so two disabled vets can enjoy the sport.

For now, Piper advertises that the pay lake is veteran-owned and –operated and features five acres of wheelchair-accessible fishing. Wheelchair-bound anglers fish for free with a paid admission.

"I do this because I'm a vet," Piper said. With the nation fighting two wars, "we're creating more rollers every day," he added.

More information is available at the Web site or by calling 836-4411, (317) 946-8365 or by sending e-mail to jeff@ovrthere.com.