The Union Sportsmen’s Alliance (USA) has honored Jeff Burgin of the International Association of Sheet Metal, Air, Rail and Transportation Workers (SMART) with the 2019 SMART Conservation Steward of the Year Award for his efforts to improve public access to one of the Southeast’s premier fishing and recreational boating destinations.
The award recognizes volunteers from each of the USA’s charter unions who have made exceptional contributions to the USA’s efforts to organize union volunteers to donate their time and unique trade skills to preserve North America’s outdoor heritage.
Burgin, of Dunlap, Tennessee, serves as SMART Local 5’s Chattanooga-area business representative. He also championed a USA Work Boots on the Ground (WBG) project to enhance access to Tennessee’s Lake Chickamauga—a popular destination for anglers and other watersports enthusiasts from within the state and around the country.
Burgin played a pivotal role in the major overhaul of one of Chickamauga’s busiest access points, the Wolftever Creek Boat Ramp adjacent to Harrison Bay State Park just outside Chattanooga. The renovation expanded year-round access by replacing an existing dilapidated dock with a brand-new, 104-foot-long, handicap-accessible floating pier. Volunteers also restored a fishing pier adjacent to the launch and later hosted a USA Take Kids Fishing Day event at the rejuvenated ramp.
The entire project was conducted without state game and fish funds. Materials were purchased with $10,000 raised by United Auto Workers (UAW) Local 42 and $22,000 in federal marine fuel tax revenues from the Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency (TWRA). All union labor was donated by volunteers from SMART Local 5, UAW Local 42, IBEW Local 175 and Iron Workers Local 704.
“Jeff was crucial to the Wolftever Creek fishing access project,” said USA Conservation Manager Rob Stroede. “He, along with the apprentices that he leads, donated their time on multiple weekends to see the restoration through to the end. Without his assistance and leadership, the project would have been difficult to complete. Now the renovated pier provides better access to the thousands of anglers and boaters who utilize the boat ramp, as well as to the many anglers who fish from the pier.”
For his part, Burgin said the efforts were a labor of love.
“After hearing Stroede speak about the upcoming project and the USA’s Work Boots on the Ground program at a Chattanooga Area Labor Council meeting, I was hooked and told him that we wanted to help,” Burgin explained. “The USA is spot-on with their efforts to provide union labor with an outlet to serve their communities with meaningful conservation projects that positively impact the environment. I’m thankful to serve and look forward to working with the USA again in the future.”
USA CEO and Executive Director Scott Vance presented Burgin with his award August 15, 2019 at SMART’s Second General Convention in Las Vegas.
The Conservation Steward of the Year selection process begins with the nomination of potential recipients by peers or union leadership. From this pool of nominees, USA staff select individuals who have had the greatest impact on the USA’s mission, represented their unions in the most exemplary fashion, and made the biggest difference in their local community.