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Outdoors continues to offer encouraging story

Despite the challenges of the continued pandemic, extreme weather and political divisions, our passion for the outdoors continues to offer an encouraging story.

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Kevin Ochsendorf, president of the Kandiyohi County Pheasants Forever chapter, discussed the work of local members in helping acquire what is now the Dalton Johnson Wildlife Management Area along Highway 7 east of Lake Lillian. He was among over 30 people who gathered to view the WMA and the more recently acquired Atwater WMA on Oct. 15, 2021. Participants joined at the Atwater site for a mini-roundtable to discuss public lands and conservation with representatives of the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources, including Commissioner Sarah Strommen. Tom Cherveny / West Central Tribune

A look back at the outdoor pages of the West Central Tribune for 2021 offers an encouraging story. We remain as passionate about the outdoors as ever and back that up with commitment and hard work.

It’s the only way to explain what the volunteers behind what is now called the Prairie Pothole Conservation Association did when they brought back Prairie Pothole Day at the Stoney Ridge Farm.

The return of Prairie Potholes Day was but one of many stories featured in these pages over the course of the year that speak to our passion for the outdoors.

Here’s a look at some of the issues tackled on these pages over the year:

A nearly three-years-long dispute in Lac qui Parle County captured statewide attention as part of the broader debate over public lands and conservation.

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The state Land Exchange Board voted Dec. 1 to allow the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources to purchase 80 acres of land from Phillip Sonstegard in Baxter Township of Lac qui Parle County. The County Board of Commissioners had voted in February 2019 to block the sale.

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Discussions over public lands in Kandiyohi County had a different temper. DNR Commissioner Sarah Strommen and members of her administrative team toured wildlife management areas in the county in the fall and met with local elected officials. They discussed the importance of these lands to the environment and our quality of life. Local leaders cited the recreational opportunities and economic benefits associated with them.

Our investment in opening recreational opportunities in the outdoors reached a milestone when construction on the Glacial Lakes Trail in Sibley State Park was completed in November. The new trail winds through prairie and the wooded, rolling hills of the park from its start at U.S. Highway 71. It sets the stage for completing the next leg: The approximate, 3.5-mile route from the highway to New London.

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One of the region’s biggest conservation stories came to fruition this past year when the drawdown of Marsh Lake was completed. The $13 million restoration project proved itself this autumn, when the vegetation that returned to the lake as a result of the project attracted migrating waterfowl in numbers like those of years ago.

These pages also told the stories of similar drawdown projects on Lake Hassel north of Benson and Lake Wakanda south of Willmar in the past year.

Traditional outdoor activities including hunting, fishing and camping were the focus for a number of stories during the past year. Our area deer harvest was not as big as hoped overall. Hunters in the revised Deer Permit Area north of Willmar generally matched last year’s success and those in areas to the west did better than the previous year.

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The trend of higher numbers of people enjoying camping in state and county parks and fishing on local waters that began with the pandemic continued in the past year as well.

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We chronicled another trend that can be attributed in part to the pandemic. More people are taking advantage of opportunities closer to home. Renville County is seeing growing numbers of visitors to its county parks. The county has been investing in park improvements and in opening the parks to more uses. A number of area counties are making a renewed effort to improve their recreational assets. Swift County is working on expanding the Appleton Area Off-Highway Vehicle park and recently met with supporters of the Swift Falls Park to look at improvements.
One of the themes that ran through stories on these pages during the past year is the growing diversity in how people are enjoying the outdoors. The Prairie Woods Environmental Learning Center helped introduce many people to winter biking with the addition of a fleet of fat tire bicycles. The interest in bicycling has continued to skyrocket as well. Gravel bikes are becoming a hot item as well, and our rural landscape offers lots of opportunities. A three-day, overnight gravel ride from Willmar through the Minnesota River Valley was a first for the area, as was the first Bluenose Gopher Gravel Race.

And while the gravel racers sped through the landscape, there remain many of opportunities to enjoy the outdoors at a much slower pace. Sibley Park was host to a Volksmarch for hikers this past summer, and we told the story of Willmar native Alan Bergo and his passion for foraging in the wilds to prepare award-winning cuisine.

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Related Topics: NORTHLAND OUTDOORSAPPLETON
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