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Celebrating a Century of Conservation
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Face Painting

Big Stone National Wildlife refuge Celebrates the 100th Year Anniverary of the Refuge System in a Big Way

In celebration of the 100th year anniversary of the National Wildlife Refuge System (NWRS), Big Stone NWR and the Bonanza Environmental Education Center hosted a large-scale public outreach event at the Refuge on June 14th. The event was named "Prairie Day Centennial Celebration 2003". An estimated 400 people joined in to celebrate the 100th anniversary and participate in a day of fun and conservation education activities.

The day's events began with an early morning canoe trip down a scenic portion of the Minnesota River that winds through the Refuge. Approximately 35 canoeist were led down the river by Mayti Sundheim (Director of the Bonanza Environmental Center and Board Member of the Clean Up the Upper River Environment Organization), who served as the guide for trip. During their trip, Mayti informed the participants about water quality issues associated with the river and also provided them with general information about stream ecology.

Kids making plaster animal tracks
An opening ceremony that included speeches from Refuge Manager Brett Wehrle and, esteemed local author and public speaker Brent Olson (author of "Lay of the Land" and "Notes from a Peasant") about the NWR System and the conservation of natural resources during the past 100 years preceded the initiation of the day's activities. Minnesota State Representative Aaron Peterson was also "on hand" and spoke about the northern tallgrass prairie ecosystem and other local conservation issues. The ceremony concluded with the dedication of the Gary "Ike" Christensen Memorial Centennial Garden, which was established just prior to the event at the Refuge's Headquarters. The garden, which contains twenty different species of native prairie flowers, was established with funding donated by the Christensen family in memory of Ike, who was tragically killed at young age while moose hunting. The Christensen family donated funding to the Refuge in Ike's memory because of his love and respect for it and conservation. Retired Big Stone NWR employee and Uncle of the deceased, Norman "Butch" Christensen dedicated the garden with an emotional message about Ike and his love for wildlife conservation.

From 11:00 A.M. to 4:00 P.M., the event's participants enjoyed a wide variety activities. There were twenty-four different activities located at the either Refuge's Headquarters or along the Auto Tour Route available for the participants. Activities located at the Headquarters, included environmental exhibits, painting/sculpture demonstrations, and youth activities (face painting with animal designs, plaster casting of animal tracks, native grass rubbings, etc). Two food vendors were stationed at the Headquarters throughout the day to provide bison burgers and other food items to the crowd. Also, the Clover Valley Hoe Down Band, provided live bluegrass music for the participant's entertainment.

MN State Repreentation Aaron Peterson addresses the crowd at the opening ceremony.
Event participant's were allowed to take a self-guided tour along Refuge's Auto Tour Route throughout the afternoon, where they could stop and participate in twelve different activities. These activities included environmental education seminars, such as Wetland Ecology, Native Plant Identification, Bird Banding Techniques, Fisheries Ecology, Fire Ecology and Management, and Prairie Chicken Ecology that were provided by Minnesota Department of Natural Resources and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service employees. Other activities included horse drawn wagon rides through the prairie, a pioneer days re-enactment, and archery training/shooting for youths. Also, visitors enjoyed viewing the Big Stone NWR bison herd that was recently released within a reconstructed prairie along the Auto Tour Route, while learning about the use of bison by Native Americans from Harold Moore of the Bonanza Education Center.

The event was a huge success. Numerous of the event's participants commented on how much they enjoyed the day and appreciated the quality of the environmental education and other activities provided for them. Partners in the event included: Minnesota Department of Natural Resources, Bonanza Environmental Education Center, Minnkota Archers, Lac Qui Parle and Big Stone Counties Soil and Water Management Districts, Yellow Bank Clean Water Partnership, Morning Sky Nurseries, Big Stone Arts Council, Ducks Unlimited, Ortonville Cub Scout Troop 144, and Clean Up the Upper River Environment.

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