Winterfest celebrates Michigan’s outdoors

Public invited for a day of family fun

The Izaak Walton League of America (the “Ikes”) has had another busy year with many activities at the local Dwight Lydell chapter. The nonprofit conservation club has stayed active in environmental issues at the state and local levels, following their interests in water quality, energy, fishing, hunting, and their love of nature.

Evan Karel talks about his birchbark canoe and the Ojibwe language.

Some of their members also participate in other groups concerned with Great Lakes fisheries, Asian carp, and the Rogue River watershed. With the Ikes you can be as involved as you want to be, from simply attending dinners, to volunteering, to activist.

This past year, 2010, started with an annual event that is just around the corner again: Winterfest! Last year’s was a lot of fun, with ice-fishing and skating at their pond, archery, making candles over an outdoor fire, cross-country skiing, snow castles, and exploring the beauty of nature in the wintertime, plus a free lunch. On Saturday, Jan. 29, 2011, the Ikes will open their gate to the public again, at 5641 Myers Lake Rd., from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m.

The Ikes hold many events that spread their message to the public. Each year they give two $1,000 scholarships to area seniors pursuing careers in an environmental field. A Conservationist of the Year award is given every year at their annual fundraising banquet. An interesting speaker is found, and many great items are collected for a silent auction, which is their main fundraiser for the year. This year’s banquet will be in March, with a program about salmon in Lake Michigan.

Fishing is dear to the heart of the group, and they have many days devoted to getting children involved. Every Saturday morning in May they open their pond, supplying gear, bait and advice to those who want to give it a try. On Wednesday evenings from mid-June to mid-July, volunteers bring fishing equipment to the dock at Versluis Lake, helping any kids that meet them there.

Bill Skallos and Mary Hefferan help young archers.

During the spring and fall, Ikes president Georgia Donovan and vice president Barb McGuirl have an after-school “Kids’ Nature Club,” where kids play and explore outdoors in an unstructured way. The idea is to allow them to feel at home in nature, become familiar with a piece of land, and treat it with respect.

In other ways, the Ikes are involved with area schools, such as sponsoring Christine Laug’s “Salmon in the Classroom” program at Roguewood Elementary School. Recently the Ikes formed a partnership with the Earthkeepers Magnet at East Rockford Middle School, with Duane DeVries demonstrating how to make rain barrels that capture run-off water to use for gardening. The students will be building and selling their rain barrels this spring to raise money for other projects.

Area Scout groups like to camp on the Ikes’ 39 acres, and Eagle Scout projects have benefited both groups. This fall, Mackie May constructed a bridge over Armstrong Creek.

In addition, various programs and dinners are held at the Ikes’ Conservation Center. Favorites this year were the live “Birds of Prey” and a presentation by Evan Karel, who explained how he made his birchbark canoe and gave a talk about the Ojibwe language. Many members just like to go to walk around and relax.

Salmon in the Classroom” at Roguewood Elementary School is sponsored by the Izaak Walton League.

The Izaak Walton League was begun back in the 1920s and is still dedicated to defending “soil, air, woods, waters and wildlife.” You may see them helping at the Bear Creek Water Festival or handing out information at the Sport or Lakefront Living shows. They can help you with shoreline plantings or attracting beneficial wildlife. It’s a very wide-ranging group, always welcoming new members. Many of you around Rockford may know Bob Stegmeier, a tireless Ike who promotes many good causes and activities. If you’d like to join them, help with a donation, or get information on an event, please call president Georgia Donovan at (616) 773-2850, or membership-chair Ron Waybrant at (616) 361-1422.

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