NEW RICHMOND -- While social distancing might be making some pastimes and entertainment difficult to enjoy in urban settings, it is the reason most folks have flocked to cabins and lakes in the north woods for generations.
A new opportunity to enjoy the solitude, beauty and wildlife the outdoors has to offer right outside New Richmond came available to birders, hunters and other outdoor enthusiasts this month at the Erickson Waterfowl Production Area just north of the city off Wisconsin Highway 64.
Staff members from the St. Croix Wetlands Management District of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service worked with volunteers from the Friends of the St. Croix Wetlands Management District and Star Prairie Fish and Game to construct a new bird blind off the forest west parking lot off 145th Street.
The National Fish and Wildlife Foundation provided a $15,000 grant to get the project started covering the cost of the blind and much of the dirt work. In addition to all of the volunteer labor, other donors to the project who provided either financial or material donations included Star Prairie Fish and Game, Lake County Landscaping, Bradley Blinds, New Richmond Tree Service. and the friends group.
In the tried and true tradition of volunteer projects, USFWS biologist Chris Trosen and Friends volunteer Warren Irle started with a basic concept.
“We’re no engineers, but it had to be done right, so we put our heads together and kind of jotted down what would work, how it would work, more of a matchbook plan. We do have some experience but we mostly worked by the seat of our pants. We knew it had to meet certain specifications, it had to be secure and it had to be wheelchair accessible,” Irle said.
Much of the construction and pre-assembly of the decking took place in the well equipped private hangar of Larry Dorau and was then moved to the site.
You do not need to be a certified engineer or construction professional to work on a project like this. Good intentions, a set of hand tools, perseverance and a sense of humor usually do the trick.
“It’s been just a good community project. A lot of people were involved,” Trosen said.
Trosen acknowledged that the state wetlands permitting process did lend some guidance to the project in terms of construction requirements:
“We didn’t want to put things down that were permanent. We needed to build it so that parts can be moved in or out to match water conditions year to year,"
The idea to build the blind was inspired by calls Bridget Olson, St. Croix Wetlands Management District project leader, received from hunters who use wheelchairs asking about access to USFWS properties for pheasant and waterfowl hunting.
“We thought, you know what, it’s probably time we do that as our population ages and we start thinking about folks that have mobility challenges,” said Olson.
The Erickson WPA was a perfect location for the first blind.
“This was a potato farm in my day. Andy Ukasik farmed potatoes here. It’s got lighter soils. They used to call him Potatoe Andy. The farm sat just over there,” said Irle pointing up the hill.
“This site is unique. The old farm site that got leveled about 20 years ago. The slope was there, so we didn’t have to do a lot of grading. A lot of our wetlands are down in big bowls so making them accessible for folks with mobility challenges can take some work,” Trosen said.
The site will require a few finishing touches and new signage, but Olson expects it to be ready by the time bird hunting begins this fall.
“The idea right now is it will be open year-round to basically anybody who wants to use it. If people want to bird watch or do photography or just sit out here and enjoy the environment -- you can reserve it. Folks that have mobility challenges can reserve it during the hunting season. We’ll keep a calendar at our office and take peoples’ names and phone numbers. Probably around Sept. 1, we’ll start taking reservations. When people call, we’ll take their information and tell yes or no it’s open. But then if there is no one here by 9 a.m. then it would be considered open and it’s first come first serve that day,” Olson said.
Olson hopes the new blind will encourage local residents to take advantage of Erickson WPA and realize there are 43 additional USFWS properties all within easy driving or biking distance of the city.