OUT: Sunday Column April 26, 2009

A volunteer group for every animal

Of the many conservation groups I’ve been associated with or written about in my 25-plus years of covering outdoor causes and issues, none stand out as much as Trout Unlimited.

Agreed, Trout Unlimited doesn’t own the concession stand for worthwhile conservation groups. There are a lot of hard-working, goal-oriented organizations available for just about any outdoors-related interest.

From waterfowl (Ducks Unlimited) to big game (Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation, Colorado Mule Deer Association) to upland birds (Pheasants Forever), and on and on, if you’re hungry to volunteer for your favorite animal, it’s likely there’s a support group waiting for you.

And all these organizations thrive only because individual members are willing to do the heavy lifting, to get dirty and sweaty and do the often-thankless tasks that mostly have as their only rewards a feeling of accomplishment.

For example, Brandon Siegfried and the 15 banquet committee members for the Grand Valley Chapter of Ducks Unlimited managed this year to pull of a very successful fundraiser and banquet in the face of some dire economic conditions.

Siegfried recently reported that although attendance at this year’s banquet was down 14 from last year’s, the chapter managed to increase its post-banquet donation to the national Ducks Unlimited organization. Plus, the local chapter likely will qualify for 500 Acre Club, which means the local members raised enough money to conserve more than 500 acres of wetlands and waterfowl habitat.

That’s only due to the sweat equity members put into the banquet, and the energy they put into sweet-talking potential sponsors into donating some desirable prizes.

When it comes to engaging the public at large, however, I can’t think of another local organization that puts on the show of the Grand Valley Anglers.

This is a double chapter, being affiliated both with Trout Unlimited, whose broad reach is protecting and conserving cold-water fisheries, and the Federation of Fly Fishers, whose focus on fly fishing and education runs parallel to Trout Unlimited’s efforts.

The very best of those agendas was highlighted during the recent Western Colorado Fly Fishing Exposition, the annual two-day event that turned 11 this year.

It began as a way to showcase some of the best fly-tying talent in the West and offer a bit of late-winter succor for anglers suffering from near-terminal cabin fever. The expo has become a much-anticipated weekend replete with great fishing stories, demonstrations and seminars of the decidedly “Gee, I wish I could do that” variety, and enough family oriented events to qualify for the Disney Channel.

There was fly-tying aplenty, as more than 60 tiers, including Tim Mack of El Paso, Tex., wrapped familiar and exotic patterns,  many of which ultimately were given away. The future was well-served as “several dozen” youngsters (in the words of expo honcho Pat Oglesby) were enthralled and instructed by the crazy-talented trio of Taila Oulton, 13, and Tyler and Ava Befus, 11 and 8, respectively.

No, you can’t adopt any of them for a one-day tutorial, but it’s entirely possible you’ll see them wrestling a fish or two out of your favorite fishing spot.

And the always-amazing Jack Dennis entertained and educated about 16 die-hard fans with his on-the-water seminar at the Pleasure Park along the Gunnison River, in spite of a reported temperature of 15 degrees and 5 inches of new snow.

And this in only one weekend.

Trout Unlimited in recent years has adopted a broader ethic, realizing that clean water is tied to a healthy environment, which means giving attention to all that may affect our public and private lands.

The Grand Valley Anglers has long been active in protecting fisheries and the clean water needed to foster them, and the chapter is adding its voice to the push for energy rules allowing conscientious development while preserving wildlife habitat.

This is a lot to ask of any volunteer group, and understandably there is always room for anyone willing to lend some time and energy to a worthwhile cause.


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