The trails are cleaned off and well marked, the cabins neatly arranged and the food plots so green and full of crops that deer and turkey are easy to see. Rabbits are everywhere and there are dozens of species of birds, nesting throughout.
The gravel swimming beach is shaded and the swimming-hole inviting. Kayaks and canoes rest there on the creek where kids can learn to paddle and actually kayak up the creek to view an 1880’s iron bridge from below.
We have a bunch of kids coming to the Panther Creek Youth Retreat next week. There are big thickets of ripening blackberries that I have mowed around, and snipped away the berryless branches so the ones with the berries are easy to get to. I think they are going to pick a bucketful and go down to the gravel bar next to the swimming hole some evening and make blackberry cobbler in a Dutch oven.
I want to see kids enjoy themselves here, but I also hope they will learn a little about conservation and nature and a world rapidly becoming foreign to those who live where television and computers rule.
Considering the fact that we just began working on this project last September, I am awfully pleased that so much has been done and there is so much there for kids that want to come. There is so much they can learn here that contradicts what this awful world teaches them in a land of concrete, pavement and a lust for money.
This project for kids without fathers and underprivileged kids is free to any group or church that wants to bring them. We even help with the groceries.
On this land along Panther Creek and the ridges above it, our wildlife management does not include making any money whatsoever. No one is ever going to profit from this place in dollars and cents. But, oh, what rewards can be found there for those who long for quality above quantity.
I have big timber all right, but it will be here long after I am gone. There will be no contracts with logging companies which butcher the forests as is being done today on much of our public conservation areas. And we will not clear the rich creek bottom fields and thickets to create acres and acres of lifeless ground, so that some tenant farmer can take a bundle to the bank and give us a cut of it.
It is hard to explain how happy I am when I am there all by myself, working on wildlife food plots or nature trails or a new photographers platform I am trying to make. Just me and an old Farmall Cub tractor made the same year I was born.
It gets me a long way from the television newscasts which tell us that the future is bleak for this country. The news at this secluded and remote little spot is that the blackberries aren’t quite ripe, and that a new fawn is visiting the mineral lick at dusk. The news is… three turkeys roosted last night in the big white oak beside one of the cabins and there are fresh bobcat tracks in the sand down by the boat launch.
I have a covey of quail on the hillside that numbered 18 in February and I believe I can triple that number this fall. The secret is what old-time biologists called “edge and interspersion,” smaller sections of diverse crops and native plant life, brush piles and nesting cover, escape cover, winter food and summer travel lanes. To me, wildlife management should include all wildlife, not just deer and turkey. That means flying squirrels and pileated woodpeckers and foxes are valuable, too.
Only a couple of miles from this little wildlife management area of mine is a state owned Conservation area they call “Birdsong”. There are no ‘bird songs’ to be heard there – no birds. It is big fields of uninterrupted cropland to be harvested this fall. Last year four of us hunted it for two hours with several beagles and didn’t jump one rabbit. A former manager of the area said recently that his main responsibility was widening all the gates so that the tenant farmer could move larger tractors and equipment. Recently a row of small trees there were poisoned to make more room for crops to be harvested this fall, leaving barren ground where nothing can live.
There’s not much edge or interspersion in such a place, nor birds and rabbits. I’d love to have you come and visit the two places to see how little wildlife there is at one, and how much there is at the other.
We are hoping to complete two projects at Panther Creek before this year ends. First there’s a trout pool 20 feet by 10 feet, four feet deep, fed by the constant flow of cold artesian spring water which will flow in and flow out. I can do much of the rock-work and cement work myself but would welcome any help from a few professionals and would gladly pay them for their expertise.
Secondly, we have an old pond that will not hold water and, if I can find the right bull-dozer operator, we want to level it and make a flat sports field for softball, soccer etc. Kids will love such a field. Trouble is, it is too small a project for most heavy equipment operators who don’t want to get involved in half-day projects. We have the money to pay for this, if there is someone with an old dozer who can get it here and level out the ground with it.
Be sure and check my website next week to see photos of the kids visit this week. It is found on the computer at larrydablemontoutdoors.blogspot.com. The youth retreat project is free to disadvantaged or underprivileged children brought for a day or several days. Remember that its purpose is to teach and create an appreciation for a natural and secluded world.
Any church or organization that works with such kids can arrange a visit by calling me, and I and some other naturalists who work with me will come to help if desired. I think we have enough bunk beds in our lodge and two cabins to take care of 20 kids or more.
For all those who have helped us in any fashion, or for those who want to see this project, we are planning another fish fry there on the third Saturday of October. We have a new big dining hall and plenty of room. If you can come and join us you are going to get to see what we have accomplished and enjoy a great fish fry at the same time. But please let me know if you are coming. I need to know how many fish to catch in September. Call 417/777-5227 and put your name on the list with my executive secretary, Ms Wiggins.
We have increased her pay to more than three dollars an hour and Ms. Wiggins has tried valiantly to be nicer to folks. But I have said before that callers need to realize she isn’t the sharpest needle in the pine tree, so to speak. Her carbuncle is healing nicely though (therefore her disposition improving nicely as well). But please don’t ask her where it was.
You might ought to just ask for me. Or you can write to me at Box 22, Bolivar, MO 65613 or email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
And if you are a writer with a good fall story, you should type it and send it to me for my Lightnin’ Ridge Outdoor Magazine’s fall edition because we still have room for a good story or two.