Teaching a certified hunter’s safety course that includes archery and treestand safety is one of the association’s youth-oriented projects.
Teaching a certified hunter’s safety course that includes archery and treestand safety is one of the association’s youth-oriented projects.
UNIQUE is the right word to describe the Three Lakes Fish & Wildlife Improvement Association, one of the few truly local nonprofit conservation organizations in Wisconsin.

Few would guess that a community with a little more than 2,000 residents could support a full-fledged nonprofit that raises tens of thousands of dollars each year in the name of conservation, youth education, habitat work and the enhancement of facilities used by hunters and anglers.

It’s one of the only community groups to be part of a conservation story series that Wisconsin Outdoors magazine published a few years back, because there are not many statewide.

Local groups take on a lot of tasks, but not many groups are responsible for such a wide array of projects. Three Lakes Fish & Wildlife handles hunter safety, fish stocking, fishing cribs, boat landing improvements, game trail mowing, waterfowl pond construction, lake aeration at Maple Lake, college scholarships, numerous habitat projects and various events that promote family fishing.

The scribbler was pondering all that during the association’s annual Wild Game Feed last month, where a guy who’s not familiar with broadcast media ended up emceeing the event for the second year in a row.

It’s only appropriate that a game feed would be the group’s biggest fundraiser of the year, and it is mostly the board members who cook and serve up the pheasant, venison, elk, wild turkey, quail, alligator and a couple of domestic dishes such as ham or cod each year.

The founders who came up with the idea and formed the organization in 1990 deserve all the credit. I joined the board of directors late in the game and still work with some 20 others to keep the engines running.

While many organizations are aging and unable to recruit from younger generations, this conservation group has a lot of young blood on its board — which suggests it will be around for many decades to come.

There is amazing community support for Three Lakes Fish & Wildlife and after 28 years, the projects and programs accomplished by the group speak for themselves.

Just take a look at the wildlife display at Three Lakes High School, one of the most diverse wildlife mount collections found anywhere in Wisconsin. The project was the perfect blend between youth education and natural resources — both key to the organization’s charter.

The group raises funds for some good causes, but it also gives back, especially to youths. Every March, the group hosts a 40-team Youth Basketball Tournament for boys and girls in grades five through eight and in August, they promote family fishing with a Free Kids Fishing Day event on Maple Lake near downtown.

The group has taken Maple Lake under its wing, making improvements to the fisheries, panfishing pier, boat landing, public beach and lake survival. An aerator runs virtually every year to keep winter oxygen levels high enough to support the fisheries.

When it comes to placing piers, paving or dredging out sand and debris from area boat landings, Three Lakes Fish & Wildlife is on top of things. Ditto for providing trained instructors to run hunter safety courses for local youths, not to mention a bunch of free food and drink for participants and their parents.

Another unique trait of the organization is that it doesn’t sell or promote memberships to raise money, but instead raises funds with a couple of annual events. Dozens of volunteers who aren’t board members help those events run smoothly.

As a 501(c)(3) nonprofit, Three Lakes Fish & Wildlife does accept donations of cash, services and merchandise. And all donations are tax-deductible in accordance with federal rules.

The organization has been overseen by dozens of hardworking board members over the years, but pretty much only three presidents have taken the reins for any significant amount of time: Pete Lawonn, Jim Bollmann and currently, Chris Blicharz.

One of the group’s latest beneficiaries is the Wounded Warrior project in the North Woods, which they donate to because it gives veterans and their families a chance to vacation, fish and just escape the rigors of life in Wisconsin’s lake country.

The board is currently studying more ways to improve the fish habitat and water quality in Maple Lake, which feeds into the Chain. The possibilities include the placement of more woody debris for aquatic insects and fish, and more aeration to boost natural processes that clean up oxygen-robbing muck.

And they just donated $1,000 to help purchase 3D archery targets for students at Three Lakes and Sugar Camp elementary schools, part of the physical education and outdoor pursuits curriculum.

The board is hoping to work with the Three Lakes School District in coming months on a multipurpose facility for the shooting sports, biking, cross-country skiing and other outdoor sports.

That being said, I guess you never know what type of project Three Lakes Fish & Wildlife will take on next. But you can bet it will have something to do with fish, wildlife or youth education.

I can’t think of a better place — in a town blessed with so many natural resources — for a conservation organization to thrive.

This is the town that promotes itself as the gateway to the Chequamegon-Nicolet National Forest. It harbors 20 of the 28 lakes that create the world’s largest chain of inland, freshwater lakes. There are many other lakes, trout steams and industrial forests as well.

It’s a paradise for sportsmen and -women, a place where Wisconsin’s outdoor heritage is vital to the tourism industry and the lifestyle of its residents and its visitors.

There is definitely a natural resources legacy to protect here for future generations and there’s a group in Three Lakes that has a handle on doing just that.