Al Smith Watershed Stewardship Award Winners


2017 Winner: Mahlon Dunkel

Mahlon Dunkel was born in 1924.  Losing his parents early in life, his childhood was spent with grandparents and other relatives in LaGrange County.  He has spent his life building a legacy of appreciation for natural resources and agriculture.  He was instrumental in starting university extension services, the 4-H program, and the county soil & water conservation district in LaGrange County from their very beginnings.  A lifelong farmer and longtime employee of Indiana Farm Bureau, Mahlon has served as an ambassador for conservation wherever he has gone, and to whomever he has come in contact.  More recently, as a member of Pheasants Forever Chapter 592, Mahlon has served as one of the primary movers of the Chapter’s wildlife habitat establishment crew, donating literally hundreds of hours operating equipment at controlled burns, warm season grass and tree plantings and other habitat establishment efforts.

Mahlon still lives on his 200-acre eastern LaGrange County farm.  Although others do the farm work these days, Mahlon oversees operations on a regular basis, taking at least one spin around the farm on his John Deere Gator daily.  He insists that tenant farmers practice conservation tillage, crop rotation, and erosion control practices on his property.  He has installed extensive areas of wildlife habitat, supported the installation of a lake sewage treatment plant for nearby Fish and Royer Lakes on property that he formerly owned and farmed.  He has constructed ponds, installed numerous bird houses for many species, and practiced integrated pest management on his farm long before that was a common practice.  Surface water on the Dunkel farm is protected with filter strips and grassed waterways.  Mahlon practices what he preaches.

2016 Winner: Gene Lightner 

Gene has spent many years working hard to protect and enhance the Elkhart River. He has served as a Director on the Board of the Elkhart River Restoration Association for several years, representing the upper reaches of the Elkhart River in Noble County. More to come...

2015 Winner: Marcy Colclough 

Known to many as the "Queen of Green", Marcy Colclough has been working tirelessly on clean water efforts in the St. Joe River Watershed (SJRW) for over 15 years. Her passion for natural resources protection and improvement has been the driving force behind a number of watershed projects. She has been involved in developing watershed management plans throughout the SJRW and her energy has been instrumental in bringing groups together to implement those plans.

Marcy has played a lead role in all of the major projects accomplished by the Friends of the St. Joe River Association since 2007. She was largely responsible for the success of the Wetland Partnership Project, the Agricultural Water Enhancement Program, the SJRW Fish Migration Barrier Inventory and more recently the Regional Conservation Partnership Program.  These projects have not only been important for achieving conservation in the watershed, they have been critical in allowing the Friends of the St. Joe River Association to play a supportive role to its partners.

2014 Winner: Scott King

There is one name associated with conservation efforts surrounding McCoy Creek, a coldwater tributary to the St. Joseph River. That name is Scott King. King, a long-time resident of Buchanan, MI, was presented with the 2014 “Al Smith Watershed Stewardship Award” at the 7th Annual Watershed Council meeting hosted by the Friends of the St. Joe River (FotSJR). This prestigious award honors volunteers and conservation professionals who work in all or part of the 15 counties in Indiana or Michigan that drain to the St. Joseph River. The award, named in honor of FotSJR founder Al Smith, represents individuals that go above and beyond the call of duty in maintaining a healthy St. Joseph River Watershed. The unique handmade award which is in the shape of the St. Joseph River Watershed will be on display after May 14 at the Buchanan Public Library, 128 E Front St, Buchanan, MI.

This year, the call for nominations for the award resulted in a surprise and an easy decision for the FotSJR Board of Directors. All nominations received named Scott King for his tireless efforts to protect and improve McCoy Creek.

King, an avid fisherman, has been the principal and sometimes sole organizer of annual clean-up events for not only McCoy Creek, but also the St. Joseph River from the Niles dam to the Berrien Springs dam. He has recruited Boy Scouts, fishermen, high school students and local residents to participate. King explained, “"What we're trying to do is restore the stream so it's great for the trout and salmon to live and the ducks and the wildlife around it to not have to eat and survive in a lot of garbage."

King has recently gone beyond river clean-ups by leading the development of a collaborative, watershed approach to a problem in the City of Buchanan. The problem began when the water supply to the historic Pears Mill in downtown Buchanan began to decrease to the point where it could no longer operate the waterwheel. King worked with the City and the Historical Preservation Society to devise a solution that would not only supply water to the historic mill, but also protect the cold water of McCoy Creek. His determination, positive attitude, ability to work with partners and his strong but non-confrontational manor led to substantial improvements to the creek. Improvements included the removal of a small dam that blocked fish passage from the St. Joseph River, the removal of a shallow pond that threatened the coldwater status of the creek, the restoration of streambanks to improve habitat and water quality, and the addition of in-stream structure to improve fish habitat. The creek is now more aesthetically pleasing, supporting fish and wildlife, while also providing a supply of water to operate the waterwheel of the 1857 Pears Mill in downtown Buchanan so it can once again grind corn for the benefit of the public, local history and student educational programs.

King’s continued dedication to the stewardship of McCoy Creek is admirable and his energy will not stop with the recent stream restoration. King is already working with the City of Buchanan to add woody structure at the confluence of McCoy Creek and the St. Joseph River to provide habitat for fish and aquatic life, proving his efforts in conservation are never at rest.


2013 Winner: Dona Hunter

Long-time Lagrange resident and retired conservationist Dona Hunter was named the 2013 recipient of the Al Smith Watershed Stewardship Award at the 6th Annual Watershed Council meeting hosted by the Friends of the St. Joe River (FotSJR) on March 18th in Sturgis, Michigan. In an emotional exchange, Hunter accepted the award from FotSJR Board President Matt Meersman, as 85 in attendance applauded in appreciation.

Hunter retired from the LaGrange County Soil and Water Conservation District in April 2012 after working for the District nearly 27 years. She served as District Coordinator (department head) for most of that time. In her time of service, Dona helped the District to develop and carry out a nationally recognized and award winning program of environmental education, elevating concern for natural resources conservation to a county wide priority.

Current LaGrange Conservation District administrator Martin Franke nominated his former boss for the award, which was established by the FotSJR Board of Directors in 2012 to honor individuals who display a passion for the health of the watershed. The award is named in honor of FotSJR founder Al Smith who worked tirelessly to improve the St. Joseph River. According to Franke, “Hunter helped to spearhead and maintain a multimillion dollar grant program for watershed planning and management, including significant installation of best management practices within the rural, agricultural LaGrange County community. This resulted in statistically substantiated improvement in surface and subsurface water quality, and a marked reduction in erosion and sedimentation in the LaGrange County area.”

In an email to Meersman the day following the ceremony, Hunter expressed the honor she felt as the award’s recipient, stating “It is hard for me to accept the award for just myself, because of the many people in LaGrange County who have worked along with me to begin seeing an improvement in the water quality here. I have such great respect for so many people who are working diligently to improve and protect the water quality in the St. Joseph River and to be honored with this award means more to me than I can ever express.”

In addition to her work with the Conservation District, Dona has served in various positions with the Indiana Association of Soil and Water Conservation Districts, the St. Joseph River Basin Commission, the northern Indiana Envirothon Committee, the Wood-Land-Lakes RC&D Education Committee, the Board of the Northern Indiana Conservation Camp, and as board secretary for the Friends of the St. Joe Association. Over the years she also served on various interagency committees and task forces focusing on environmental and conservation concerns and challenges. “Dona spent a quarter century pouring all her energy into efforts to conserve natural resources, raise public awareness, and improve the environment in the St. Joseph River Basin,” Franke summarized.

2012 Winner: Bob Owens

Bob Owens is a true champion of the St. Joe River and has actively supported the Friends of the St. Joe River Association (FotSJR) since the organization was founded. Bob has been a lead organizer of one of the largest river clean-up events on the St. Joseph River for 17 years. He promotes the FotSJR at the event by displaying a large banner and encouraging clean-up participants to join as members.

Bob has paddled the entire length of the St. Joe River (210 miles) several times. He shares stories about the people he met along the way and it is obvious they learned as much from him as he did from them. Although his navigation of the entire main branch of the river is impressive, his ultimate goal is even more impressive. He is determined to paddle every mile of every navigable tributary of the St. Joe River. For Bob, a navigable stream simply means there is enough water to float a canoe, never mind the brush and tree fall that blocks passage around every bend.

At almost 80 years old, Bob is still working on his goal. His knowledge of the entire St. Joseph River Watershed is amazing and he enjoys sharing it with others. He was there beside Al and Margaret in the beginning and he is still there today cleaning up the river and helping others appreciate the truly wonderful water resources in the St. Joseph River Watershed.


Mahlon Dunkel


 

Marcy Colclough

 

 Scott King

Scott King

 

Dona Hunter (Left) with Matt Meersman (Right)


Bob Owens

Bob Owens (Left) with Matt Meersman (Right)

Friends of the St. Joe River Association, Inc.                                                                                                          
P.O. Box 1794
South Bend, Indiana 46634

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