Prairie Pothole Day designed to encourage generations of out of doors fanatics in west central Minnesota – West Central Tribune

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NEW LONDON — Families and outdoor enthusiasts from across west-central Minnesota flocked to Stoney Ridgey Farm near New London on Saturday, September 10 to participate in the 39th annual Prairie Pothole Day.

The event, hosted by friends and volunteers from the Prairie Pothole Conservation Association, helps raise money for conservation efforts in the surrounding communities.

“This year would have been the 40th year,” said Tom Hanson, 61, president of the conservation group, but the group opted not to host the event in 2020 due to the pandemic.

Tents scattered around the Stoney Ridge Farm site near State Highway 9 and US Highway 71 northwest of New London are hosting various conservation and recreation exhibits during Prairie Pothole Day on Saturday, September 10, 2022 outdoors.

Dale Morin/West Central Tribune

Prairie Pothole Day is designed to inspire Minnesota families to spend a day outdoors and learning about sports and conservation through activities and exhibits. Admission has always been free, and various raffles are held throughout the day to raise money for conservation efforts.

Despite the event’s long history, the Prairie Pothole Conservation Association is preparing for a new period in its life.

According to Hanson, the club was born out of necessity. The group was formerly a chapter of the now defunct Minnesota Waterfowl Association, which disbanded in 2019. Hanson said the association is still looking for other conservation groups to work with.

“We are still in our infancy in getting our name out there in different areas,” he said.

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Children use their harnesses to descend from the climbing wall during Prairie Pothole Day on Saturday, September 10, 2022 at Stoney Ridge Farm northwest of New London.

Dale Morin/West Central Tribune

Despite the new uncertainty, the association has been able to maintain Woodie Camp, an outdoor summer camp for children at the Prairie Wetlands Learning Center in Fergus Falls. Hanson said a large portion of the day’s earnings will go toward this camp, as well as the construction and maintenance of wooden duck houses that the group undertakes throughout the year.

Hanson said Prairie Pothole Day raised approximately $15,000 in 2021 and, based on the day’s turnout, expects a similar fundraising outcome in 2022. The event attracts thousands of people each year, and Hanson appreciated attendance in 2022 to over 5,000 people.

Roger Strand, 86, who owns Stoney Ridge Farm near New London, has been involved with Prairie Pothole Day from the start. According to Strand, it grew out of a group of outdoor enthusiasts who wanted to host an event similar to Game Fair, another annual outdoor and conservation event.

“I said if we do this…we can hold it at my place.” Strang said. “The rules would be that there is no entry and all children’s events are free.”

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Cattails and reeds help camouflage wood duck shelters near the lake at Stoney Ridge Farm northwest of New London as photographed on Saturday, September 10, 2022 during Prairie Pothole Day.

Dale Morin/West Central Tribune

A permanent location like Stoney Ridge Farm has allowed generations of people to come to the event to help build a whole community of outdoor enthusiasts.

“We cannot exist without this property,” Hanson said. “(Beach) opens up the whole (territory) to us and says, ‘Do what you have to do.’ We turn around and if we see a lead or something we want to do differently, we take him out, show him and he’s like, ‘Yeah, do it.'”

Strand said the vision for Prairie Pothole Day is a family-centric event.

“It starts when they’re about that age,” he said, pointing to a small child playing with wood ducks and wood duck shelters in the sandbox across from his display stand. “Then as they get older they start volunteering here and running around the property doing the chores and now we have third generation committee members and nobody makes a dime. They’re all volunteers.”

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A pair of wood duck shelters are located at the brush line at Stoney Ridge Farm, off State Highway 9 and US Highway 71 northwest of New London, as photographed on Saturday, September 10, 2022 during Prairie Pothole Day.

Dale Morin/West Central Tribune

The Strand property is a remarkable venue for an outdoor event. There are surrounding lakes, rolling hills where shooting ranges have been set up. In densely forested areas there is a scout camp and other activities including an archery course. Strand’s uniquely designed wooden duck shelters characterize the entire area.

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In preparation for Prairie Pothole Day on September 10, 2022, a series of shooting ranges will be set up at Stoney Ridge Farm northwest of New London.

Dale Morin/West Central Tribune

“It’s incredible,” said Hanson. “When we are out here in early August we see deer, ducks, swans, turkeys, squirrels (and) numerous other birds. It’s just a wildlife habitat out here.”

The 40th annual Prairie Pothole Day is slated for September 9, 2023, and organizers have plenty to consider in the coming year.

“There’s a lot of different ideas being talked about,” Hanson said. “Essentially we have a core group of exhibitors each year, but we want to expand that and bring in different types of outdoor activities that just say ‘Wow!’ will do.”

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As visitors head back to their cars, a sign reading “Thank you, see you next year on Saturday September 9th” invites them to Prairie Pothole Day in 2023.

Dale Morin/West Central Tribune