March 28, 2012
By Jim Moore
AOPA President Craig Fuller was joined by many friends, including Recreational Aviation Foundation President John McKenna and Sun 'n Fun President and CEO John "Lites" Leenhouts, to dedicate the first of 50 fire circles installed around the country.
Friendships are forged around campfires, particularly in the backcountry, where pilots seek out pathless woods and scenic vistas. One of the first jobs to be done after securing an aircraft in the midst of natural wonders is lighting a fire, as AOPA President Craig Fuller noted March 27 at Sun ‘n Fun, standing shoulder-to-shoulder with friends—Recreational Aviation Foundation President John McKenna, RAF Director and Florida Liaison Tim Clifford, and Sun ’n Fun President and CEO John R. “Lites” Leenhouts. The group gathered to dedicate the first of 50 campfire circles that will help support the RAF’s effort to preserve—and enhance—backcountry access for pilots.
The circle inside the campground at Sun ’n Fun came together quickly, installed in a matter of days after AOPA provided the funding. Longtime Sun ’n Fun camper W. D. “Bill” Lowry, a general contractor, not only gave up his favorite campsite, he stepped up to the task and worked with the RAF and Sun ’n Fun to assemble the circle of brickwork surrounding a steel-ringed fire pit in about a week.
“We scrambled a little bit, but we got it done,” said Lowry, who purchased one of the first bricks.
Orange-shirted RAF members at Sun ’n Fun will each have forms handy to help others follow that lead: A custom-engraved brick can be had for $100, $75 for volunteers. The RAF has prefabricated kits of metalwork that can be assembled with relative ease, forming the framework in which the bricks are laid. Clifford, one of the prime movers in the fundraising program, said the second circle is likely to wind up in the Pacific Northwest, with Aviat Aircraft prepared to sign on as the second major sponsor of a fire circle, likely to be located in Montana, Wyoming, or Idaho.
AOPA Online Associate Editor Jim Moore joined AOPA in 2011 and is an instrument-rated private pilot who enjoys competition aerobatics.
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