Rice Area Sportsmen’s Club recognized for conservation

Longstanding organization lauded as stewards of the landscape

Ellarry Prentice | Staff writer

SAUK RAPIDS – The Rice Area Sportsmen’s Club was honored as Benton County’s 2021 Outstanding Conservationist.
During its 85th annual meeting, the Minnesota Association of Soil and Water Conservation Districts honored the club with a certificate of achievement at a Dec. 14, 2021, ceremony in Bloomington.
Presented annually, the Outstanding Conservationist Award recognizes conservation organizations, farm families, individuals and other groups for their accomplishments in implementing conservation practices and improving Minnesota’s natural resources.
The Minnesota Association of Soil and Water Conservation Districts is a non-profit organization representing Minnesota’s 88 conservation districts and those who serve on their governing boards. This year’s state winner was Mallery Jerseys Inc.

The Rice Area Sportsmen’s Club was nominated as the area’s Outstanding Conservationist by Benton Soil and Water Conservation District. For decades, the district has worked with the club to help plan and apply effective conservation practices.

“Rice Area Sportsmen’s Club is a prime example of what it takes to be good stewards of the landscape,” the Benton SWCD wrote in the nomination form.

“They are always looking at what can be done to promote, create and manage more wildlife habitat for the next generations. The practices they have implemented on the different properties over the years and continue to incorporate have helped protect soil and water quality and preserve and increase wildlife habitat in the area. In addition, the Rice Area Sportsmen’s Club provides a positive image to their community and are always willing to share and educate their experiences with others by getting the community involved.”

Chuck Rau, a Benton SWCD Board supervisor and vice president of the Minnesota Association of Soil and Water Conservation Districts Board of Directors, has been involved with the Rice Area Sportsmen’s Club for 30 years as a member, past board member and officer.
The club, Rau said, is worthy of recognition based on the volume of land it has procured for wildlife habitat, hunting, fishing and other purposeful uses.

“I’ve seen firsthand what this group has done,” Rau said. “It’s nice to see this recognition go to a group that’s been doing this for so long.”

Many conservationists have been recognized through the state award program, but the Rice Area Sportsmen’s Club is unique because of the volume of land it has set aside for recreation and habitat, Rau said.

“The scope of what this group’s been able to dedicate, I’ve never seen anything like it,” he said.

Current club president Jerome Kahl said it was an honor to be recognized.

“Very nice award,” agreed Mark Reimer, a longtime member and current board member. “It was a very enlightening presentation. Gives us ideas for things we can do.”

Club efforts
The Rice Area Sportsmen’s Club, Reimer said, owns several hundred acres of land that is maintained and enhanced for wildlife habitat and outdoor opportunities including hunting and fishing. The club does not just donate property to the state but procures it for local use, he said.
The club has worked with a number of landowners and organizations on efforts locally and across the state, such as clean water and causes that directly support conservation, Reimer noted.

“We keep dollars in conservation,” he said.
Members also do projects that support youth such as providing places for them to hunt.

According to the Benton SWCD, the club’s conservation efforts include:

– Enrolling in 2016 a 16.6-acre field into a Continuous Conservation Reserve Program wetland restoration area to be planted to its historic vegetation. In 2017, 4,200 trees were planted.

– Re-enrolling in 2017 a 9-acre CCRP field windbreak area and planting an additional 600 replacement trees in 2018.

– Enrolling in 2016 a 16.1-acre CCRP riparian buffer along Mayhew Creek to be planted to trees, and planting 1,000 trees along the shoreline in 2017.

– Enrolling 25.6 acres of tall grass prairie into the Conservation Reserve Program’s State Acres for Wildlife Enhancement initiative in 2008 and another 15 acres in 2017.

– Enrolling in 2010 145.76 acres into a CRP wildlife habitat area with food plots.

– Re-enrolling in 2020 145.76 acres in the CRP and establishing 13.1 acres of pollinator habitat, planted in 2021.

Community leadership and partnerships
According to the Benton SWCD, the club makes donations to the high school trapshooting, archery and fishing teams to promote youth to be active in the outdoors.

The club also donates to various organizations to help military veterans go on turkey and deer hunts.

The club partners with many organizations, including the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources, Sauk Rapids Sportsmen’s Club, Pheasants Forever, Minnesota Deer Hunters Association and the Wildlife Turkey Federation to promote the outdoors and create or enhance wildlife habitat.
It partners with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to hold a Habitat Day event at Crane Meadows National Wildlife Refuge, where wood duck and blue bird house kits are donated to the public to promote nesting.

The club was a financial sponsor in the drawdown of Little Rock Lake, which promoted natural revegetation, helped stabilize shoreland and created habitat.
The club has also donated two tree planters and food plot equipment to Benton SWCD to make available for public use.

Dedicated members
The Rice Area Sportsmen’s Club has a long history in Benton County and up to 150 members today. Between 60 to 75 people attend each meeting.

“It’s a pretty active group,” said Reimer, who is serving his second three-year term on the board. “If you need help with a project, there’s a lot of people who will step up and help. That helps a lot.”
Jim Petron has been a member for 50 years and previously served on the board for 20 years.

“All this club does, it’s for the good of the community, for wildlife and saving the soil,” Petron said. “We follow advice from area technicians about what to do for farming, wildlife and recreation. We’ve opened woods and swamps to public hunting, put up wood duck houses, bought land or turned it over to the state, maintained CRP land we privately own. We’ve been doing all that for quite a few years.”

Petron serves on the club’s land committee, which brings recommendations to the board about potential projects to enhance land, wildlife habitat and opportunities for hunters and anglers.

The Rice Area Sportsmen’s Club meets the first Wednesday of the month at 8 p.m. at Old Village Hall in Rice. The club will host its annual wild game feed Feb. 19 at the same location.