The Paul Bunyan Chapter of Ducks Unlimited celebrated its 30th anniversary Saturday night.
The first banquet took place Sept. 7, 1973 on the second floor of the old Elks Lodge building on the corner of Sixth and Laurel. Among the prizes was a three-wheeler. After the banquet the lucky winner rode his prize down the steps and out of the building.
"We gave away canoes and boats," recalls Mike Engler, an early committee member and present spokesman. "It's amazing what got carried down those steps at 2 in the morning."
The annual banquet has made the rounds. When the old Elks Lodge closed it moved to the Moose Lodge, then to the Waterfall and Brainerd Country Club before returning to the Moose. The banquet once drew notable outdoor writers and artists such as Ron Schara, Les Kouba, Maynard Reese, Jerry Raedeke, Jim Killen and Carl Melichar.
Traditionally one of best-attended hunting banquets in the area, it moved to Cragun's this year. Gone are the days when raffle prizes included a 12-pack of Pepsi. This year's prizes averaged $30 to $50 in value. The average attendee spent $100. Bronze sponsors, who pay $250, have grown to more than 50.
From 1937 until 1984, DU's mission was to protect waterfowl breeding habitat in Canada. Soon the founders realized that if waterfowl was to be fully protected, habitat protection would have to expand to south of the Canadian border. The first U.S. project was in North Dakota in 1984. Since that time U.S. projects have grown to a $70 million per year program.
DU is helping to restore 100 wild rice lakes in north-central Minnesota and would like to expand the program to 200 lakes this year. Over the next three years DU plans to spend more than $7 million in Minnesota.
"The need for habitat restoration and protection across the continent is immense," said Mike Burton, DU's senior director of development for the Great Plains region. "It will need to continue way into the future. Even at over 10 million acres protected so far, we're still losing hundreds of thousands of wetlands each year not only to development and expansion but to Mother Nature herself, things like erosion and the incursion of salt water into Gulf Coast marshes. Similar problems are happening in the Chesapeake Bay. Habitat is changing all over the country.
"DU now focuses on different types of habitat, breeding and nesting habitat, migration corridors, wintering habitat. We look at the entire life cycle of waterfowl and other migrating birds, starting in Canada and going all the way to Central and South America. We determine what are the most important areas in each flyway."
Locally, DU is restoring 100 wild rice lakes in north-central Minnesota. The project is key to maintaining the vestiges of this region's great waterfowling tradition. "We want to grow this program from 100 lakes to 200 lakes this year," Burton said.
Over the next three years DU will spend more than $7 million in Minnesota, Burton said. State and federal funds as well as private donations is expected to generate that dollar amount.
The local Greenwing program for youths is gearing up again this year and will be headed by Maury Halverson. His grandfather, Max Halverson, was an original Paul Bunyan chapter member and was there the night the three-wheeler went down the stairs at the old Elks Lodge.
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