Wallum Lake Rod and Gun Club targets conservation

Wallum Lake Rod and Gun Club targets conservation

Annual Field Day this Sunday

BURRILLVILLE - Over the past two years, members of Wallum Lake Rod and Gun Club, the sportsmen's haven on Brook Road in Harrisville, have taken aim at more than just the dozens of targets that mark the 220-acre property.

The club has turned its focus to conservation, using time-tested methods to increase wildlife and enhance the health of the land.

"What we're doing is beneficial and it's working, no question," said Lucien Benoit, chairman of the club's conservation committee.

With planned planting, cutting and building, the club has embarked on an ambitious program to improve wildlife habitat. Undesirable autumn olive and bittersweet are being removed along eight acres of field perimeters to allow more favorable growth of oak, cherry and blueberry species. Lime has been applied to the fields to reduce soil toxicity and mixtures of canola, clover, sorghum, millet, buckwheat, high energy corn and sunflowers have been planted.

"It is green forage for the browsing animals and the seeds will be on the ground for the birds to pick up throughout the winter season, and it provides good dense coverage for their protection from hawks and owls and things like that," explained Benoit.

It's all part of an effort to restore balance to the land, done in cooperation the USDA's Natural Resource and Conservation Service. As a member of NRCS, the club files quarterly reports on sightings of animals, from turtles to bats, while the service provides detailed instruction on approved conservation methods, such as delayed mowing and creating brush piles.

"There's rationale behind the process," said Benoit. "It's not just arbitrary."

Benoit was chosen for the role as head of the committee after club members learned of his success with a similar project on his own land in Maine. An avid hunter, Benoit learned he could increase his chance of spotting wildlife in the dense woods by clearing pathways. He became acquainted with NRCS and began using their recommendations, which are now being applied at the Burrillville club, where the significant acreage extends to the state border of Massachusetts.

"They have excellent literature describing the specific practices we're performing," said Benoit. "Any homeowner who wants to replicate what we're doing, anyone with six or eight acres, can do this on their own."

Pollinator plants, like bearberry, ninebarks, blackeyed susans, grey dogwood and American cranberry, have taken root across the club's open fields.

"Pollinator species are to please the bees, the hummingbirds and the butterflies, and of course they play a valuable role in pollinating the crops," said Benoit.

Mini apple orchards, intended exclusively for the enjoyment of the club's animal population, have begun to bear fruit. Members will also be constructing and placing a total of 40 bird houses, from duck boxes, to bat and owl homes. For animals and birds that nest and raise their young on the ground, a total of 40 brush piles will be constructed to serve as shelter from predators and the elements.

Sometimes, the club members have learned, conservation is just about knowing when to leave things as they are. Snag trees, or fallen trees which amount to dead wood on the property, are left lying on the ground for species to occupy. Fields remained unmowed until Aug. 1, to avoid injury or disturbance of young birds and animals. The process of delayed mowing also allows seed crops to mature.

"If you cut grass every week, it never comes to seed," said Benoit.

At other times, disturbing the environment can be a good thing. During "clear cuts," conservation efforts call for completely clearing a section of the land.

"Wildlife cannot survive in a totally mature forest," said Benoit. "There's no food source, and without sunlight, seedlings can't take hold." The methods create land with variation in height and growth, to accommodate all kinds of wildlife. The property, Benoit estimated, has 50 different species of wildlife. In addition to deer, club property has woodchucks, coyotes, raccoons, turtles, frogs, snakes, turkeys, red and silver foxes, and many bird species, including hawks and owls.

With the exception of state parks, few facilities in the area can offer as much opportunity for wildlife viewing.

Wallum Lake has around 400 members, and is still accepting more. The club is open to those with interest in wildlife observation, photography, firearm safety and marksmanship, including "junior" members, and the only requirement is the passing of a BCI check.

After a brief training/safety assessment, members can shoot rifles, pistols and shotguns at the facility. Inexperienced shooters are encouraged to take lessons with one of the club's certified instructors, and attend the annual safety class, held in collaboration with the Department of Environmental Management. Members also gain access to all of the club's facilities including the clubhouse, trails for hiking, and areas for fishing, archery, hunting, skeet, trap and five-stand targets. The club has around 10 shooting ranges, and area for ATVs and snowmobiles.

"The emphasis is always on safety," said Benoit.

The initial annual membership fee is around $450, but "after that it's reduced considerably," said Benoit. Family and couples memberships are available and the annual cost can often be paid with "sweat equity."

"We value their hours as much as their dollars," said Benoit.

The club holds the annual state championship trap shoot and the facility is used by the Department of Corrections to train officers.

Locals will have the chance to view the club, enjoy fun activities and food, and even try their hand at shooting at the Wallum Lake's annual Field Day on Sunday, Sept. 8., from 10 a.m. to dusk. The free event at the club at 200 Brook Road in Harrisville will include live music by The Gale County Band, a martial art demonstration, paintball, and a hunting dog field trial. For kids, the club will offer fishing, wagon rides, a rock climbing wall, a pie eating contest, archery and a balloon and turkey shoot. Adults can try out skeet, trap, rifle and pistol shooting and archery.

The club will hold several raffles and vendors will sell crafts, sporting goods and artwork, including pieces made by a champion chainsaw tree carver from Maine. The carver will also be on hand all day, cutting a massive 6-foot by 24-inch pine log into the shape of a bear. At the end of the day there will be a raffle for the carving.

For refreshments, guest will be treated to a game tasting and a food court will serve clam chowder and clamcakes, sausage and peppers, lobster rolls, pulled pork, rotisserie beef, doughboys, hotdogs, hamburgers, french fries, onion rings, pie and popcorn.

For more information about the event, or to learn more about membership, call 401-568-7171.