DU festival to highlight its conservation efforts

By Dan Hansen Correspondent

Oshkosh, Wis. — For more than six decades, Ducks Unlimited has
been leading the way in waterfowl and wetlands conservation across
North America. Through fund-raisers and other events conducted by
its hundreds of chapters, Ducks Unlimited has helped to conserve
nearly 170,000 acres in the past 12 months, surpassing its
conservation goals for the year.

According to one prominent DU official, however, the event that
affords the most positive exposure for Ducks Unlimited and its
conservation efforts is the Wisconsin Great Outdoors Festival.

“One of the key benefits to Ducks Unlimited is name
recognition,” said DU senior vice president Lon Knoedler, of
Kenosha. “The festival exposes our organization to many more people
than we could reach through our normal fund-raising.”

Knoedler, a longtime volunteer who has served as Wisconsin state
chairman for DU and is now the senior vice president for the region
that encompasses Wisconsin and Illinois, said the festival also
helps energize current DU members.

“The Conservation Village shows them a lot of what Ducks
Unlimited is out there doing,” he said. “We can also talk to a lot
of people about our various conservation projects and answer their
questions.”

He noted that many people join DU or renew their memberships at
the annual festival. At last year’s festival, DU signed up more
than 800 new members.

“We also have many corporate partners who provide valuable
assistance with our work, and the festival provides an opportunity
to showcase their products and services,” he said.

This year – Aug. 25-27 – the eighth Ducks Unlimited Great
Outdoors Festival will be held at the EAA Convention Grounds in
Oshkosh. The first festivals were held in Memphis, Tenn. Similar
events also were tried in Richmond, Va. The Virginia festival never
became well established because of weather issues.

“One year they experienced severe storms and another year the
weather was dangerously hot,” Knoedler said.

The Memphis event continues, but has been scaled down due to a
shortage of volunteers.

“Several of the activities still take place, but it’s no longer
called the Great Outdoors Festival,” he said. “Many of the early
workers were supported by area businesses; the majority weren’t
coming from the true volunteer ranks.”

Knoedler and his wife are actively involved in the Oshkosh
event.

“My dear bride has been a member of the steering committee ever
since the festival’s inception. I’ve worked every festival and
intend to be there again for the entire time this year,” he
said.

“The strength of Wisconsin’s festival has been the wonderful
support we’ve had from DU volunteers across the states,” Knoedler
said. “I’m aware of volunteers who’ve come from Minnesota, Iowa,
Massachusetts, Illinois, Indiana, and Michigan to help run the
festival.”

He also gives credit to the people who attend the Oshkosh
festival.

“We’re outdoors people in Wisconsin – one of the areas in the
country that strongly supports a hunting and fishing tradition,
being outdoors, and enjoying Mother Nature,” Knoedler said. “We’re
a destination for outdoor recreation, not a state that people just
pass through.”

Another reason for the success of the Oshkosh festival is its
location – the sprawling EAA Convention grounds, just off U.S. Hwy.
41, on the city’s south side.

“It’s been tremendous to work with the folks at EAA, and the
facilities they already have there make it so much easier,”
Knoedler said. “In this state or any other state, how many
facilities like that exist? The large amount of land and the large
buildings we’re able to use make it very easy for exhibitors and
families to take part in the festival. The villages are well laid
out and it’s easy to get around.”

He acknowledged that like many sportsmen’s groups and other
conservation organizations, DU also believes that it’s critical to
the future of hunting, fishing, and other outdoor pursuits to get
new people – especially youth and women – involved.

“The Great Outdoors Festival is a great place to introduce them
to a wide range of outdoor activities,” Knoedler said. “I look at
the activities that we’re promoting as lifelong activities. There’s
some time in everybody’s life, often a lot sooner than later, when
they no longer feel like participating in soccer matches or other
types of competitive sports. At virtually any age, people can be
out fishing or hunting.

“I would encourage everyone to find the time to come and to
participate in the many activities available,” Knoedler said. “You
will find it to be time well spent.”

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