Outdoors community mourns a young life

By ERNIE COWAN - For the North County Times | Wednesday, February 11, 2009 6:08 PM PST
It is so difficult to ponder the passing of a child.

For a parent, it is unnatural and unthinkable. It's just not the way things are supposed to be.

For a community, it tarnishes the hope of the future and dims the youthful glow of enthusiasm that follows every young person.

Kyle Casto, 20, who was a happy and youthful fixture around Lake Henshaw and well known in the hunting community, has lost his battle with cancer.

Kyle first appeared in this column when he tagged his first turkey at about age 10. His name appeared frequently after that at junior pheasant hunts, during deer season, duck season and when he graduated to bow hunting success.

As a resident of Lake Henshaw, Kyle grew up hanging around the crowd of hunters and fishermen who use the Lake Henshaw Cafe as city hall during the various outdoor seasons. His love of the outdoors combined with a warm, friendly personality and quick sense of humor quickly earned him membership in this ragged fraternity of nimrods.

He graduated from Julian High and took a few college classes with thoughts of someday becoming a game warden. He was part of the outdoors, loved the backcountry and wildlife. When not in school he worked at the Henshaw Cafe, but spent as much time as possible in the field pursuing deer, wild turkey, or waterfowl.

Late in 2007 he was diagnosed with metastatic melanoma, a serious form of cancer that was invading his young body. Kyle did not have health insurance, so the sporting community joined with the rural residents of Santa Ysabel and Julian to help.

A benefit banquet at Julian High attracted more than 300 people and raised nearly $30,000 for his treatment. The employees of Vista Irrigation District, where his father works, also held a benefit.

There were ups and down in the past year, but Kyle continued to spend as much time as possible in the outdoors, including a fall duck hunt at Salton Sea. He developed a special friendship with cancer survivor Mike Stevens, even traveling with him to North Dakota last fall to hunt waterfowl and upland game birds.

"It was a trip of a lifetime for him," Stevens said. "He said he enjoyed it so much that he would consider moving there."

Despite intense and specialized treatment, Kyle died last week at his home on a hill near Lake Henshaw.

Once again the community will come together at 1 p.m., Feb. 28 for a memorial service at Lake Henshaw. Kyle is survived by his father, Kurt, mother, Sheri, and sister, Brittany. They have asked that, in lieu of flowers or plants, donations be made to the National Wild Turkey Federation or Ducks Unlimited in Kyle's memory.

"I hope people do not think about the struggle, but remember him for his joy and for his love of the outdoors," Kurt Casto said of his son.

Maybe that can make the passing of a child a bit easier to take.

Ernie Cowan is the outdoor writer for the North County Times (760) 518-8050, or e-mail ernie@packtrain.com.

Photo taken by Mike Stevens

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