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Tuesday, April 07, 2015
Summit County chapter of Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation celebrates 25th anniversary at annual fundraiser banquet
#Summit County, Colorado.
Jesse Mace and Anton Rainold grew up hunting — Mace in the forests of the Midwest and Rainold in the waterways of Louisiana. Along with camping and other outdoor pursuits, hunting was a big part of family tradition, including strengthening the bond between father and son.
They brought those values to Summit County, where they came into contact with the Summit County chapter of the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation. It didn’t take much for them to get involved with the nationwide nonprofit.
This Saturday, the chapter will be celebrating its 25th anniversary, coming just on the heels of the national organization’s 30th anniversary last year. The fundraising banquet, held every spring, will acknowledge its quarter century birthday with a special auction item — a gold inlaid Marlin .30-30 Winchester firearm.
“It’s one-of-a-kind, which is pretty cool,” Rainold said.
In addition to the special item, the banquet will include the food, games, raffles and auctions that have brought members and wildlife enthusiasts alike back year after year. The money raised will go to the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation’s projects in Summit County, as well as a portion to the national organization.
The foundation itself came into being in 1984, when a handful of hunters in Missoula, Montana, decided that big game animals — namely elk — needed the same treatment as the fowl did through organizations such as Ducks Unlimited and Pheasants Forever.
The group created the foundation to help elk and other wildlife maintain their habitat in a way that any member of the public could take advantage of, from hunters to hikers and campers.
In 1985 they funded their first habitat project on Elk Creek on the Kootenai National Forest near Libby, Montana. Since then, the organization has grown tremendously, with a membership of more than 205,000 spread across 500 chapters in the United States.
The foundation, according to its website, follows a mission of “conserving, restoring and enhancing natural habitats; promoting the sound management of wild elk, which may be hunted or otherwise enjoyed; restoring elk to their native ranges; and educating members and the public about habitat conservation and our hunting heritage.”
In Colorado, the foundation purports to have conserved more than 415,706 acres over the past 30 years in support of its mission.
Donations, and money raised through events like Saturday’s banquet in Summit, go mostly toward projects (90 percent), with a small percentage routed back into administrative costs (6 percent) and fundraising events (4 percent). The Summit County chapter, like most of the foundation’s chapters, is made up entirely of volunteers.
LOCALS TAKING PART
Rainold and Mace, the Summit County co-chairs, are two of those volunteers.
A New Orleans native, Rainold came to the Rocky Mountains for family and “everything else that brings everybody else up here — all the fun things in life,” he said.
Before he’d arrived, the Summit County chapter had a full, thriving membership, but it had eventually dropped off. After seeing a flyer advertising for the committee, Rainold made contact to see if there was anything he could do. Turns out, there was.
“They had nobody else send anything else in, so I was instantly the committee chair,” he said with a laugh. He was a little nervous, he admitted, but stepped up to the challenge and has watched the membership increase each year.
“It’s been growing ever since; it’s been good,” he said.
About three years ago, Mace showed up with another volunteer at an event and became Rainold’s co-chair. Mace had been involved in Ducks Unlimited and Pheasants Forever, two other wildlife-related nonprofits, in Minnesota previously, and was interested in helping the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation in its mission to preserve big game habitat.
“It isn’t just all about hunting,” Mace said of the organization, though both he and his wife are hunters. “A lot of the foundation is about conservation of land for public use.”
In addition to raising money for the national organization, the Summit chapter participates in projects, such as the removal of old barbed wire fences from wildlife habitat. Places they’ve worked in before include nearby Ute Pass and Green Mountain Reservoir.
Rainold said sometimes people have a misconception about hunters and their relationship to the animals they hunt, and the habitat those animals live in. It’s not just about killing something, but about the experience of being out in the wild.
“What’s really neat about archery is that it is truly the best time to be in the woods,” he said. “Because of the fall, early fall — the colors, the weather, and the animals are talking, they’re alive, they’re mating or rutting, as they call it, the elk are especially, they’re alive and bugling and making noise and very active, and it’s just a fun, fun adventurous time in the woods.”
Anyone and everyone is invited to come to the banquet on Saturday, from longtime hunters with stories to share to young children who are just learning the joys of camping and hiking. Raffle and live and silent auction items range from outdoor gear for fishing, camping and hunting to local gift certificates to restaurants.
Last year, around 150 people came and raised $18,000 which Mace equated to conserving or enhancing more than 75 acres of elk habitat. This year, the co-chairs hope to have even more people, which is why they moved their event from the Silverthorne Pavilion to Warren Station in Keystone, a bigger venue. Although people can show up at the door and pay an extra $10 on ticket price, Rainold recommends that people register ahead of time, which saves them a little money and saves him and Mace the difficulty of working out the food situation.
Though some show up in suits and ties, the banquet is a casual affair, said Mace, with a relaxing and friendly atmosphere.
The fundraising goal is “to do better than we did last year,” Mace said with a laugh. More seriously, he said, “Every little bit helps.”
The banquet is the chapter’s biggest fundraiser, and the only event aside from outdoor projects and a booth set up at the Colorado BBQ Challenge in Frisco each June.
“I’d really like to see the younger community get involved, hunting and archery specifically,” Rainold said. “Archery hunting especially has grown so much in the last couple years. That’s our target market. We’re not seeing those people and those faces at the banquet, and we definitely should. They should be aware of what we do and be a part of it. … This is a great call for them to give back to the sport that they’re getting involved with.”