One hundred and seven attendees, an all-time high, from 25 different states recently traveled to Branson, Missouri, for the 2016 Summer Habitat Council Retreat. Many of them attended a Habitat Partnership reception the evening before the three-day event in Springfield, Missouri. More than 60 people were at the White River Conference Center, which is part of the world headquarters of Bass Pro Shops, a valued RMEF conservation partner.
|Blake Henning, RMEF vice president of Lands & Conservation|
Day-two began with a four-hour meeting. RMEF staffers presented a financial overview and a mission update including RMEF initiatives, land projects, habitat stewardship work, elk restorations, and hunting heritage outreach and advocacy projects and efforts. HC members asked questions and learned details about upcoming events and opportunities.
“As I go around the country, there’s a culture within RMEF that permeates this organization. It’s salt of the earth people that belong to this group. When Elk Foundation people get together, they make new friends. We have the greatest people in this great country that belong to this organization. It’s God, family and country. We cannot thank you enough. We just love you and thank you from the bottom of our hearts,” said Charlie Decker, RMEF co-founder and Habitat Council co-chair.
|Charlie and Yvonne Decker|
“You are the ambassadors that really make a difference for this organization. You folks have gone above and beyond and done things that really count,” said Bob Munson, RMEF co-founder and Habitat Council co-chair.
“It’s not without sacrifice that you come. You leave your family, friends and some of the responsibilities of home. I think it’s important to recognize you have a vested interested in RMEF. We need to be collectively good stewards of those resources you invested,” said Vicki Munson, RMEF Habitat Council co-chair.
|Bob and Vicki Munson|
“The health of the Elk Foundation is the best it’s ever been—advocacy, membership, membership and politically. Our national presence is huge. We have without question elevated the level of advocacy in DC and in every state around the country. We are asked and do provide input to our congressional leaders, senators, governors and others,” said Chuck Roady, RMEF chairman of the board.
“The board of this organization is different. All of us are volunteers. We all have the heart and the head for this organization. The money you put into this organization is well-spent. The people on the staff have a heart for this organization,” said Philip Barrett, RMEF board member.
In the early evening, HC members left the meeting room and their 15-seat passenger vans behind for four-seat golf carts. Once behind the wheel, the foursomes took part in a 45-minute, two-and-a-half mile trek covering the Top of the Rock Lost Canyon Cave and Nature Trail. Travelers weaved along the small roadway through the natural beauty of the Ozarks, over covered Amish bridges and into caves featuring natural rock formations and waterfalls. One highlighted stop was at a small bar nestled near cascading waterfalls in Lost Canyon Cave.
From there, HC members remained on site but made their way to the End of the Trail All-American Wine Cellar. In addition to a fine meal and plenty of friendly conversation, diners witnessed the sinking sun which led to a breathtaking view from both the reflection pool immediately outside the dining area and beyond to a shimmering Table Rock Lake in the distance. Bagpipes played and a cannon fired into the evening to mark the setting of the sun.
The highlight of every summer retreat is a trip to a RMEF field project. The 2016 gathering was no different. The 10-van convey headed across the state line and into Arkansas’s Buffalo River country. Arkansas Game and Fish Commission biologists gave an update on the local herd numbering 600-700 in size. They also talked about habitat stewardship projects (70 projects since 1998), Chronic Wasting Disease, food plots to minimize conflict with private landowners, other wildlife, hunting regulations, research and various other issues. HC members also looked across the landscape that includes the first-ever RMEF conservation easement in Arkansas established by a HC member.
The departure dinner took place at the Keeter Center at the College of the Ozarks, a non-denominational, tuition-free liberal arts college with an enrollment of approximately 1,400 students that commercially operates both a restaurant and hotel. Students pay no tuition because, despite whatever their educational pursuits, they are required to put in 15 hours a week raising crops, tending animals, working in the kitchen, serving as waiters and waitresses, manning and maintaining 15 hotel suites, marketing their products and services, and carrying out other duties. With an emphasis on Christian values and character, hard work, and financial responsibility, the school proudly dubs itself “Hard Work U.”
One hundred and ten students, including the professor who oversees the Culinary Arts department, manned the kitchen and worked the night of the HC dinner. Every item served as part of the farm-to-table menu was raised on campus. Highlighting the evening was a surprise appearance by “Kenny Rogers” and “Dolly Parton” (aka former HC co-chairs Howard and Nancy Holland) who serenated on-lookers and friends with a lip sync performance that those on hand won’t soon forget.
The 2017 summer retreat will take place in Seattle. Many who attend will also join RMEF founders Bob Munson, Charlie Decker and their wives for the RMEF Founders Alaska Cruise.