Volunteer Rene Schoff poses with a battery-powered Stihl power trimmer, part of the Sore Losers Raffle.
Volunteer Rene Schoff poses with a battery-powered Stihl power trimmer, part of the Sore Losers Raffle.
The Three Lakes Fish & Wildlife Improvement Association kicked off a year of local projects with its 29th annual Wild Game Feed last Saturday night, an event that drew more than 170 people to the Reiter Center.

The annual fundraiser, the nonprofit organization’s largest of the year, has helped the conservation group complete numerous local projects since its inception in 1990.

Chris Blicharz, president, said it was one of the largest crowds ever for an evening of dining, socializing and raffles, raising thousands of dollars for community-based work in youth education and natural resources.

“It was once again an incredible turnout, including some new faces,” said Blich­arz. “We are blessed to have many generous business owners and individuals who support the cause of conservation.”

Blicharz said the group continues to focus on local projects that include fish stocking, crib placement, boat landing upkeep, college scholarships for natural resources students, hunter’s safety instruction, wildlife habitat and a school wildlife display that rivals any in Wisconsin.

“Our newest project is providing support for the Three Lakes High School trap team, the Clay Crackers,” he said. “We donated more than $5,000 worth of high-quality shotguns to the team this year, and team members were a big part of the volunteer crew that put on the game feed.”

Blicharz said the board of directors has talked of supporting the team and school district as they construct and equip a new trap-shooting range on Highway A in Sugar Camp. That project is still in its infancy.

On the subject of fish and wildlife habitat, he said the group is working with the Three Lakes Waterfront Association on a “fish sticks” program that will place more trees and woody debris into the chain.

“The permit process and startup of that project has taken a year or two, but the goal is to get more trees and branches along our shorelines to boost habitat for aquatic insects, fish and wildlife,” he said. “The Waterfront Association has been taking the lead on this endeavor.”

For several years now, Three Lakes Fish & Wildlife has donated to the Wounded Warrior program, which helps veterans and their families by providing a free fishing-related vacation in the North Woods. They also sponsor an annual Free Kids Fishing Day.

Last year, the group donated more than $1,000 to the Three Lakes and Sugar Camp schools for the purchase of archery targets, including some 3D targets of deer, turkeys and other animals.

“One of our newest endeavors is an ambitious, long-term project to improve water quality, habitat and the general health of Maple Lake near downtown Three Lakes,” he said.

Maple Lake has been adopted by the organization for boat landing, panfishing pier, winter aeration, fish stocking and beach work in the past.

He said studies show that improved oxygen levels will allow the lake’s aquatic insects and organisms to devour the nutrient-rich muck, something that is currently harming water quality in Maple.

Blicharz said they will also work toward improving the amount of woody debris in shallow areas where they will benefit aquatic insects and fish.

Last week’s game feed attendees dined on venison stroganoff, bourbon elk, venison meatloaf, pheasant roll-ups, bacon-wrapped wild turkey, smoked brisket, deep-fried fish and dozens of hors d’oeuvres including stuffed mushrooms, smoked wild turkey and creamed pheasant.

He said many of the raffle prizes were donated by businesses and other conservation-minded organizations, including a kayak from the Headwaters Chapter of Muskies Inc. McNaughton Correctional Institute donated a Harley Rocker made of oak and cherry in the facility’s woodworking shop.

“We are a 501(c)(3) nonprofit that spends all of its money locally, and that really brings out the generosity in people who want to see conservation and enhanced natural resources,” said Blicharz.

The wildlife habitat proj­ects include trail clearing and mowing in the Chequamegon-Nicolet National Forest, which promotes the growth of clover and other important food for ruffed grouse, deer and other species. It also aids hunters in making the walking trails accessible.

Past presidents Pete Lawonn and Jim Bollmann still serve on the 25-member board of directors.

“We couldn’t have gone 29 years or accomplished so much in the way of local proj­ects without the support of our major donors, the game feed attendees and a great group of volunteer directors,” said Lawonn. “We started this organization because we wanted to keep locally raised conservation funds in the community, where they do the most good. And that’s what we’ve done and continue to do.”

True to its conservation mission, Three Lakes Fish & Wildlife offers a college scholarship each year to a local student who is studying in a natural resources field and meets other performance requirements.

The group also sponsors a youth basketball tournament for boys and girls from fifth through eighth grade each March. This year’s event drew 40 teams from across central and northern Wisconsin, as well as the Upper Peninsula of Michigan.

Blicharz said one way they promote the sport of fishing and especially family fishing is by sponsoring a Free Kids Fishing Day each year on the second Saturday in August.

“It’s our way of giving back to the community, providing a day of fishing, eating and camaraderie to Three Lakes youth, their parents and quite often, grandparents,” he said. “We take them out on pontoons to catch fish on Maple Lake. We cook brats, hamburgers, hot dogs, fries and deep-fried sweet corn all day long.”

Three Lakes Fish & Wildlife has been recognized as one of the largest and most active local conservation organizations in the North Woods and all of Wisconsin.