The Wenatchee Sportsmen’s Association is celebrating its 70th anniversary this year and will be honored as the volunteer organization of the year by the state Department of Fish and Wildlife today in Ephrata.
I had the opportunity to learn more about the projects the club is involved with in conservation as well as the impact they are having in a conversation with three key members — President Don Millar, Matt Gutzwiler and Gordon Goodwin. I am indebted to my former Wenatchee World colleagues Gene Robards and Dave Dahlen for alerting me to the work of the club.
I had no idea of the scope of activities that this volunteer organization is doing in North Central Washington. It is the spirit of contribution that fosters a sense of community, which is something that is in abundant supply in the valley and the region.
They are not big on promoting their good deeds, but they have much to be proud of. “As my grandmother used to say, ‘If a chicken lays an egg, it has a right to cackle,’ ” said Gutzwiler with a laugh.
The Wenatchee Sportsmen’s Club isn’t the biggest organization in the state, but it is probably the most active, I was told. The 300 members are active in getting kids away from their smartphones by putting on youth hunting and fishing days, advocating for wildlife corridors and public access to rivers and lakes, and a host of other activities.
When you drive up Highway 97A toward Chelan, you can’t help but notice the miles of game fencing that has been installed to cut down on collisions between vehicles and deer. The club helps providing funding every year to maintain that game fence.
Another major project of the organiztation is maintaining about 70 guzzlers and feeders for the Fish and Wildlife Department. The state agency doesn’t have the resources to do that work and relies on clubs around the state to get that important work done. Building and maintaining those facilities for wildlife isn’t cheap, said Gutzwiler.
The youth hunting and fishing day is another high-impact project. For the past two years, the association has taken the lead on promoting and staffing the event in collaboration with other groups. The first year, 87 kids participated; and the second year, more than 300 were involved. Creating a culture of conservation is an important part of the organization’s work.
Something I didn’t know was that the club is responsible for processing improperly harvested game to be used to support local charities, primarily Lighthouse Ministries in the Wenatchee Valley. The 1,500 to 2,500 pounds of meat annually adds up to a lot of protein for those who are homeless. That’s a far better use than having that meat taken to the dump.
A significant amount of time and energy is devoted to protecting and enhancing public lands for the benefit of wildlife, including elk and mule deer habitat. The club provided the seed money to preserve the property owned by the Burts family on Horse Lake Road for habitat and public access.
The club has been intimately involved in the Stemilt Partnership and discussions about the expansion of Mission Ridge Ski and Board Resort. They are deeply concerned about the wildlife corridor for elk and the potential for long-term damage if those areas are significantly developed.
Millar, the club president, said it’s vital that we think in terms of the long term when we make decisions about these issues. It is that sense of stewardship and commitment to doing things that will preserve out ecosystems for wildlife for generations to come that drives their work.
I salute the work of this organization in enhancing the quality of life here. As development pressures continue, we need that perspective.
Rufus Woods is the publisher emeritus of The Wenatchee World. Contact him at 665-1162 or rwoods@wenatcheeworld. com.