WILMINGTON - A party is planned this weekend to raise money for a statue honoring fly fishing icon Fran Betters.
Betters - a fly fisherman, writer, owner of the Adirondack Sports Shop in Wilmington and spokesman for the West Branch of the AuSable River for more than 40 years - died on Sept. 6, 2009 at the age of 78. He is a member of the Fly Fishing Hall of Fame and the New York State Outdoorsman Hall of Fame. As a fly tier, he was best known for creating the AuSable Wulff and the Haystack series, which were named among the top 10 trout flies of all time by Field & Stream magazine.
The second annual Fran Fest will serve as a benefit to support the Francis Betters Memorial Statue Project. The party will feature live music by T.J. Swan, an auction and a barbecue, and it will be held at 4 p.m. Saturday, Aug. 30 at the 20 Main tavern in AuSable Forks.
More than a year ago, the project's committee members originally began raising funds with the goal of purchasing a life-sized bronze statue of Betters and placing it somewhere in the town of Wilmington. Swan was a good friend of Betters and came up with the idea, according to Fran Fest co-organizer Rarilee Conway.
"He had interviewed Fran for seven hours, prior to Fran passing, and he condensed that down to make an audio CD that he donated to the cause," Conway said. "Anyone who makes a $25 or more donation gets one of these CDs."
With proceeds from last year's Fran Fest, the committee has raised a little more than $3,000, and the town of Wilmington is handling the money. Conway estimates that it will cost $10,000 for the project. That's not enough for a commissioned sculpture of Betters, which could cost upwards of $100,000.
"It's not going to be a likeness of him, but it will be a fly fisherman," Conway said. "I think that would be really nice (to have a life-sized statue of Betters), but it's not within our scope. I know they did that one for Art Devlin in Lake Placid, and it cost something like 90,000 dollars. That's what it goes for to hire an artist and hire a foundry; it's very expensive."
Instead, a bronze statue of a generic fly fisherman will be dedicated to the memory of Betters, and Conway said committee members were thinking about erecting it somewhere near The Flume on the West Branch of the AuSable River. At the current fundraising pace, it may take a few more years before the project is complete.
Conway also knew Betters, and he helped her family with fly fishing.
"He was just really sweet to my son," Conway said. "Our little ones knew Fran, and he helped Jamie get involved in fishing. Jamie's dad is a big fisherman, too, but Fran was good with kids and had a good sense of humor. ... He's a legend, a local legend."
For more information about the statue project, contact Rarilee Conway at 518-524-0493.