A life changing adventure can begin right here

Natalie Warren (in bow) and Ann Raiho paddled upstream on the Minnesota River in 2011 at the start of their 2,000 mile adventure to Hudson Bay.

MONTEVIDEO — Natalie Warren and Ann Raiho celebrated their graduation from St. Olaf in 2011 by setting out on a 2,000 mile adventure.
They became the first women to follow Eric Sevareid’s route from “Canoeing With the Cree’’ and paddle from Minneapolis to Hudson Bay.
Neither left their studies at St. Olaf behind them thinking that their educations were only to begin, but that proved to be the case. Every day on the Minnesota River provided lessons on the state’s history and cultural heritage, thanks to the people they met and the places they saw. And every day, they learned about and witnessed the many water quality and land-use issues that are central to our discussions today.
Ann Raiho had grown up in Minnesota, but was surprised every day by all that she learned on the 330 miles of upstream paddling on the river, said Warren.
Now Warren, originally of Miami, Florida, and two partners are planning to make the Minnesota River a summer classroom for other young people.
Warren, Nick Ryan and Anna Johnson have created Wild River Academy. The three met in Washington D.C., but are opening their venture in Minnesota with plans to lead high school age students on trips on the Minnesota River. Lessons on science and history will be woven into the trips. They will have a focus on agriculture.
Warren said they hope to visit farms along the way to educate young people about the importance and challenges of agriculture.
Since the 2011 trip, Warren has been (and continues) to offer presentations on the adventure. Her story inspires people of all ages to explore and enjoy our outdoors.
There is no matching the real thing. Warren said the “experiential learning’’ opportunities possible on the Minnesota River can be life changing.
Warren and her partners were in Montevideo on Thursday to start laying the groundwork for their summer plans. They are especially interested in contacting teachers and others throughout the region interested in helping young people experience the outdoors.
They are looking for people who can help them introduce young people to the science, history and cultural heritage that can be learned along the way. They also welcome sponsors and other support.
To learn about the Wild River Academy, or contact Warren for a presentation, check out the website: www.wildriveracademy.com

– Tom Cherveny

Anglers venturing out for first ice opportunities on lakes in Kandiyohi County

Anglers are venturing out on foot to enjoy early season ice fishing opportunities on lakes in the Willmar area.

Anglers are venturing out to enjoy some of the season’s first ice fishing in Kandiyohi County.
While caution is always a must, there are reports of four inches of good, solid ice on some of the area’s larger lakes. It’s adequate for foot traffic, but not strong enough for four-wheelers or other vehicles.
The best ice is found on the area’s larger lakes, such as Green, Diamond, Nest and Eagle, according to Brad Foshaug, Brad’s 71 Bait, Willmar.
He said earlier this week that anglers are reporting the ice on some of the shallow, prairie lakes is questionable. He advises staying to the larger lakes where the ice formed after last weekend’s heavy snowfall.
As to be expected, anglers are tight-lipped about the fishing, but it’s not hard to figure out. “I’d say the fish are biting,’’ said Foshaug, who added that he was kept busy filling the bait buckets of anglers.
As conditions can always change, it’s always a good idea to check ahead with your favorite bait shop for information on ice conditions and where the fish are biting.
The Minnesota DNR offers these ice safety guidelines:
4 inches for walking
5 inches for snowmobile or ATV
8-12 inches for car
12-15 inches for a medium-sized truck

A polar explorer’s legacy may be as first to inspire action

Will Steeger is famous for his firsts in polar expeditions, but said his legacy may be as the last able to reach the North Pole by dog sled.

WILLMAR — We know Will Steeger as a modern-day polar explorer who earns a place in history for impressive firsts.
He led the first confirmed expedition to the North Pole by dogsled without re-supply in 1986, and was the first to cross Antarctica by foot in 1990.
During a visit to Willmar on Tuesday, he expressed his own surprise at realizing that his legacy will not be his much-celebrated “firsts,” but for being the last.
He’s the last of the polar explorers to travel by dog sled to the North Pole.
“Believe it or not you can no longer travel to the pole by dog team because of the open water,’’ Steeger told a small gathering before his public presentation at Vinje Lutheran Church. “In order to get to the pole you need some form of floatation, kayak, canoe or sled that floats.’’
A couple of hours later, some 360 people filled the church to hear the famous eye-witness to climate change.
Climate change is showing itself in dramatic ways in the Arctic.
Until five years ago, some 90 percent of the Arctic Ocean remained snow and ice covered through the entire year. Last year, two-thirds of the ice- nearly an area the size of the United States- broke up.
In Greenland, many of the glaciers are sliding into the ocean at the rate of 15 miles per year.
The equivalent of two, Amazon Rivers gush from the melting ice in the summer months.
“The changes I’ve seen are biblical. It is hard to find words for it,’’ said Steeger during his talk prior to the public event.
We are all becoming witnesses to global climate change, said Steeger. He noted that scientists predicted that global climate change would show itself first through the dramatic changes being witnessed in the arctic regions. They also predicted it would be followed by an increasing frequency in weather extremes in mid-latitude regions, such as Minnesota.

Beverly Crute was among those who stepped up to take part in the forum hosted by Will Steeger at Vinje Lutheran Church in Willmar on Tuesday.

We’re certainly seeing the extremes in Minnesota, according to Steeger and J. Drake Hamilton, a scientist with Fresh Energy who also spoke in Willmar. They pointed to the record books that show the average temperature in Minnesota has been rising at a rate faster than the global average, and that the incidence of torrential rains has increased by 50 percent in recent years.
They provided a sobering account of the science documenting climate change, but also offered encouraging news on what is being done to reverse it. Steeger’s ultimate legacy may be not as the last to witness climate change in the arctic, but as the first to inspire people in Minnesota to action.
He is optimistic that we will respond. Seeing the size of the crowd in Willmar supports his outlook.
“I am totally convinced that the time is right now in Minnesota,’’ said Steeger to the small group before the public presentation. “We can sit around the table and look at the science, at the problems, and then figure out what we’re going to do about it and start building our new economy.’’

Hunters harvest 17 anterless deer during special muzzleloader hunt in Sibley State Park

Sibley State Park has offered a special muzzleloader hunt since 1992. It still attracts some traditionalists with flintlock rifles, but the majority are carrying modern, in-line muzzleloaders.

NEW LONDON — Hunters harvested 17 anterless deer during the special muzzleloader hunt offered in Sibley State Park last weekend.

This year’s hunt saw 46 hunters on Saturday and 41 return on Sunday. There were 50 permits available.
Park Manager Jack Nelson called the harvest a respectable number given the deer population in the area.

The hunt began in 1992 as a four-day hunt, and was originally held in December. The first year saw a harvest of 88 deer, but numbers in recent years have been in the lower 20’s.

The hunt is now a two-day event, and held on the first weekend of the muzzleloader deer season in the state. The hunt was moved to an earlier date so as not to conflict with snow-based activities such as skiing and snowmobiling, noted Nelson.

John T. Hutchinson of rural Benson demonstrates a traditional flintlock rifle in this Tribune file photo.

In 2001, a December hunt at the park was cut short by a record, 30-inch snowfall.

The hunt is offered to help the park manage the deer population and protect again over-browsing, according to the park manager.

It is also offered with safety in mind. Keeping the deer herd in check reduces the risk of car-deer collisions in the area.

Nelson said the hunters reported a positive experience. While the success rate wasn’t as high as some year, all of the hunters Nelson spoke to told him they saw deer moving and had opportunities.

– Tom Cherveny

The sequel to a successful hunt

A local husband and wife each were able to obtain wolf licenses, and both returned from a deer hunt near Two Harbors with wolves.

NEW LONDON — There’s a sequel to last week’s story about the first wolf taken by an area hunter and brought to the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources wildlife office station in New London.
The hunter, who asked not to be named due to the harassment some successful wolf hunters have received, returned to the hunt with his spouse. She also had a wolf license in the state’s first organized wolf hunt, and as the photo shows, was successful as well.
The hunter was too. While he was happy to harvest a wolf this year, his main goal was to take home a nice buck, and he did, a 10-pointer.

— Tom Cherveny

Measuring a hunt’s success by the smiles

Zach Smisek of Otsego harvested his first deer – a trophy – in the youth hunt offered at Sibley Park.

NEW LONDON — There were a few nice antlers, including one set for the wall, but Sibley State Park Manager Jack Nelson is measuring the success of this hunt by the smiles, and understandably so.
Nelson saw lots of smiles as Sibley State Park hosted its first-ever Youth Deer Hunt on Oct. 27 and 28.
There were nine youth participants, each accompanied by an adult mentor. They harvested five deer, four of them bucks and one doe.
All of the youth saw deer on the move. One hunter’s dad told Nelson they counted 25 deer. Another young hunter tallied 18.
The hunt is offered as an opportunity to introduce young people to deer hunting, and to hook them. Plenty of studies show that early success is what helps galvanize a young person’s interest in hunting in later years, said Nelson.
Being able to hunt in Sibley State Park obviously improves the odds not only for success, but to see deer and actually learn by doing. The youth and their adult mentors took time prior to the hunt to find and identify deer sign and scout out their sites. They devoted time to learn about their quarry and develop a hunting strategy. They learned that preparation and knowledge can matter more than sheer luck.
There’s not always the opportunity to learn these skills during the regular deer firearm season, when there’s a hunter on every stump and deer are running with their tongues hanging. Too often in this situation, it’s luck that matters most.
Perhaps what mattered most of all during this hunt is that the youth and mentors “got it,’’ said Nelson. He was impressed most of all by the camaraderie shown by the group, their ethics and respect for the sport, and the one-on-one relationship of parent and child. It wasn’t about helping their kid get a big buck, said Nelson. “It was about getting out and passing on this hunter tradition to the next generation.’’

– Tom Cherveny

Walk In Access programs takes a second, big step while proving its value

The Walk In Access has grown to offer access to over 15,000 acres in this, its second year in Minnesota.

Minnesota’s Walk In Access program is providing more opportunities for hunters in its second year and proving its value.
The program has expanded from offering access to about 9,000 acres last year to more than 15,000 acres this year, according to Tabor Hoek, private lands director with the Minnesota Board of Water and Soil Resources.
It is funded through the United States Department of Agriculture as a pilot project in Minnesota. There is USDA funding for two more years. Hoek said proponents would like to see Minnesota establish an on-going revenue source to sustain it, and they’d like to see the number of acres enrolled reach 25,000.
The program costs about $25 per acre, including all of the administrative costs, payments to landowners, and mapping and related work required.
The Walk In Access program has certainly proven its value to hunters. It’s impossible to measure usage, but anecdotal evidence is very strong that Walk In Access lands are seeing lots of usage. That will be more than evident this weekend with the opening of the pheasant season.
The Walk In Access program is also a great way to recognize the many landowners in the state who are generous enough to allow hunters on their lands. Hoek noted that in most cases, the Walk In Access sites are lands where the landowners have long been receptive to allowing hunters.
The WIA program saves them the hassle factor of responding to all the phone calls and requests to hunt their lands, while also offering some compensation –about $12 to $13 per acre- for the valuable resource they open up to the public.
Expanding hunting opportunities is critical for many reasons, from the economic benefits provided our rural economy to the valuable experiences young people enjoy in the outdoors. The challenge of providing hunting opportunities is only going to grow as we lose conservation lands and our population grows.
– Tom Cherveny

Let’s Go Fishing answering a bigger need than anyone imagined

Sean Willms of Willmar caught this 20-inch smallmouth while fishing with his grampa, Let’s Go Fishing founder Joe Holm.

WILLMAR — Let’s Go Fishing founder Joe Holm could not have put a bigger exclamation point on the summer fishing season than he did on Tuesday, when he led his seven-year-old grandson Sean Willms out on the water. Willms boated two large smallmouth bass, measuring 20-inches and 19.5 inches, along with two walleyes. The picture tells the story.
This has been one of the best summers ever for Let’s Go Fishing, which has grown from its start in 2002 to include 30 chapters across the state. Holm was on his way Thursday to Alexandria, where the Douglas County chapter is celebrating a record-breaking summer. It hosted over 2,000 people on the water this year, the first time a chapter has crested this high water mark.
Statewide, Let’s Go Fishing volunteers hosted over 20,000 guests this year. That brings the total since the start to over 90,000 people. “I view it as 90,000 stories,’’ said Holm.
The stories are heart-warming, and needed more than anyone would ever have believed possible, Holm included. Holm launched Let’s Go Fishing to give back to seniors, well aware that many aren’t able to enjoy their golden years as they deserve.
What he could not imagine or know- but is learning now- is just how many seniors are living their final years in isolation and often, depression. Let’s Go Fishing is bringing a smile to their lives that is only matched by the one worn by his grandson.
– Tom Cherveny

Early waterfowl opener proves a good one in region

Just about everything played into the favor of waterfowl hunters on the opener last Saturday and rewarded those who were ready at first light.

NEW LONDON — Waterfowl hunters enjoyed one of the better openers in recent memory, with reports of limits filled and lots of action being the norm in the region.
Jeff Miller, assistant wildlife manager with the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources in New London, said he heard from many hunters in the area who had a big day on Saturday. The action slowed on Sunday.
He noted that quite a few hunters told him they packed up by mid-morning on Saturday, their limits filled.
The same was true on Marsh Lake, where John Wollenberg and Dan Zimmerman with the DNR’s Lac qui Parle wildlife office surveyed hunters. They were still tabulating the numbers when reached earlier this week, but said it was apparent that hunters enjoyed a good opener.
Wollenberg said he believes the average tally will be just over three ducks per hunter.
The number of hunters on the popular waterfowl hunting lake was up as well.
Blue winged teal, mallards and wood ducks comprised the majority of ducks taken in all locations. .
The DNR was aiming for a good opener when it set the opening date about two weeks earlier than normal. The earlier start gives hunters more opportunity to harvest local ducks before they migrate out.
The decision to allow the opening shooting to start one half hour before sunrise, instead of 9 a.m. as had been the case in previous years, benefited hunters too.
Most of all, the weather played right into the hands of hunters on Saturday. A cold front moved plenty of waterfowl into the area. The blustery, northwest wind and cloud cover made for ideal conditions.
The drought conditions also dried up many smaller wetlands and served to concentrate the waterfowl.
The action has slowed since the opener, and the lull is likely to persist. The forecast calls for continued mild weather without the cold fronts needed to move new birds into the area this week.
The split season means that waterfowl hunting (duck and goose) will be closed from Monday Oct. 1 through Friday, Oct. 5 in the central zone south of Minnesota Highway 210 and from Oct. 1 through Oct. 12 in the southern zone south of U.S. Highway 212.

– Tom Cherveny

LeRoy Dahlke saying goodbye to a career made just for him in Willmar area

LeRoy Dahlke

NEW LONDON — LeRoy Dahlke developed a passion for the outdoors while growing up on a Sibley County farm.
When a high school guidance counselor told him there was such a thing as a career as a wildlife manager, he could hardly believe anything so good could be true.
He is retiring September 22, after a little over 39 years with the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources. He’s well known for his role since 1984 as the wildlife manager for the DNR office serving Kandiyohi, Chippewa and Meeker counties. Through all of these years, Dahlke still feels the same way about the career that has defined so much of his life.
He’s made his mark here by working hard to develop wildlife management areas, build and maintain strong partnerships with area sports and conservation groups, and keeping the public involved and informed. If being a wildlife manager was the perfect fit for him, so too was his transfer to the Willmar wildlife office that is now located in Sibley State Park. He’s found that there are many people in the three counties who share his passion for protecting our natural resources.
Dahlke will be honored for his service with a retirement party from 12:30 to 4:30 p.m. on Saturday, October 6 at the Kandi Entertainment Center in Willmar.
RSVP Linda Ostermann at 507-359-6032 by September 22 if you wish to reserve a $13 ticket for the buffet meal to be served.
Dahlke won’t be pushing paperwork anymore, but he still will be found on the public lands he worked so hard to maintain. His retirement plans focus on hunting, fishing and getting some of his oft-delayed home improvement projects completed. He said he plans to pace his transition into retirement by only fishing and hunting every other day.
– Tom Cherveny