Mantrap Valley Conservation Club seeks young members
In a time when most young adults consider themselves environmentally conscious, a local conservation club wonders who will step up to carry on its legacy.
The Mantrap Valley Conservation Club was incorporated in 1953 by Tom Bell and some of his friends.
"Now we're old here," said Ray Rosenberg, an early club member. "We have no young members."
Bell, club members and some members of the public gathered Saturday for a turkey shoot at the club grounds on Highways 24 and 104 (Jewel Drive.)
A "turkey shoot" is simply a target shoot in which a frozen turkey goes to the winner. No actual turkeys are hunted down - or dropped on the range.
"Oh, they wouldn't let us do that," chuckled MVCC vice president Stewart Steele. "We haven't done this for 30 years so we didn't know what to expect."
Several sharpshooters showed up to test their prowess in the club fundraiser.
Bell remembers those early years. "It's changed with the times," he said. "We're used to working on a shoestring budget, but we did some great things. We weren't sure they were legal at the time."
He's talking about building permits for the initial clubhouse, which was expanded two years ago, using club labor. A new deck overlooks the target range.
"It took us a couple cases of beer," said club president Dale Strei, admiring his handiwork.
"Voluntary help is wonderful," said Rosenberg,
The club has embarked on many ambitious projects throughout the years.
Every year it gives tree seedlings to Hubbard County third-graders.
"We've had grandchildren come back to tell us those trees are still growing," said Lillelue Rosenberg, who joined the club with her husband, Ray, in 1955.
Lillelue also wishes some younger blood would get involved. "All of us old folks had kids running around," she said. "There's no kids here any more."
Bell and his friends met in those early days at the Deer Lane Store, which his family owned.
An early conservationist, he lives down the road on Highway 24, where he feeds deer and wild turkeys. He and Ray Rosenberg worked three decades at Wonewok, the 3M-owned compound on Big Mantrap Lake. There they had an eagle-eye view of nature.
Club members, in the 1950s, began hosting various fundraisers; bake sales, competitive shoots and card parties to raise money for the clubhouse and land.
The non-profit still hosts bingo nights and a monthly dinner - all well-attended. And the irony is that while there are 400 contributing members and 80-100 members of the Women's Auxiliary, a small core of 30 seniors is the driving force behind the club today.
But those seniors are an active bunch. They distribute handmade bluebird, wood duck and bat houses. They host, in addition to the community dinners, bake sales and rummage sales.
The Women's Auxiliary donates money to the Park Rapids Area Library to purchase books and magazines on conservation and nature, gives out the seedlings to celebrate Arbor Day, gives kids bluebird house kits, hosts a festival for sixth-graders, sponsors kids to attend conservation camp, sponsored a 4-H club, gives scholarships to college students pursuing conservation or environmental majors, gives money and holiday turkeys to food shelves and the senior nutrition program and donates money for numerous other causes. Whew!
The Men's Club sponsors firearms safety classes, maintains the rifle/pistol range and hosts an informational booth at the Hubbard County Fair.
Part of the club's metamorphosis is an evolution to more social events, Bell said.
That was what club members hoped would attract more young people into the fold.
Steele and his wife are among the "younger generation" trying to keep the club alive. The senior core group admits it's hard with competing interests and groups vying for attention, members and dollars.
But they hold out hope that a new core of willing, energetic people who share a vision for conservation and the environment, will someday take the reins.
The seniors have done much of the heavy lifting. The next generation will have an easier time of it.