By AMY OBERLIN | The Herald Republican

FREMONT, Ind. (AP) — Twenty years ago, some students from area schools joined members of Ducks Unlimited at Marsh Lake to learn a little bit about ducks.

The tradition of Duck Day continued at Trine State Recreation Area, sponsored by Delta Waterfowl and funded by the Christel DeHaan Family Foundation.

“This is the first year I can remember that it didn’t rain,” said Bill Dick of Delta Waterfowl, whose duck identification program was one of seven stations in a sun-dappled prairie. Dick has been helping at Duck Day for many years, as has Ken Goeckel, who got involved during the second Duck Day, which moved from Marsh Lake to Cedar Swamp.

It was held at Cedar Swamp for a number of years, bringing in middle school children from the county’s four districts. Volunteers set up at the swamp and a field area, accessible only by a long grassy path that wrapped around a wetlands. Students were transported on flatbed trailers pulled by tractors and four-wheelers.

“We had trucks, buses, everything stuck back there,” said Dick. Derek Craig of Delta Waterfowl remembers a time the students got so muddy the inside of the buses needed hosed down after they returned to the schools.

Dick said the Trine location is easier to maneuver and better for the students. The event was also held at Pokagon State Park for several years, and park manager Ted Bohman suggested the new Trine State Recreation Area, an addition to Pokagon.

About 230 seventh graders from Angola Middle School attended on Thursday and Friday, around 80 students from Fremont and Hamilton schools were there. Friday, members of the Angola High School Future Farmers of America helped out, as they had a day off school due to teacher in-service activities. Freshman FFA member Hannah McCutcheon said she was enjoying the day in the pleasant fall weather.

Other volunteers this year included the Northeast Indiana Solid Waste District, Steuben County Soil and Water Conservation District, Steuben County 4-H, Indiana Conservation Officers, Pokagon naturalist Marie Laudeman and local members of Delta Waterfowl.

Dick said he enjoys sharing his 50 years of duck hunting with the children. He brings mounted ducks, some more than 40 years old, into the weather for the youths to view and touch. Each year, he said, a few feathers loosen and the mounts show signs of use.

“That’s what you’ve got them for, to enjoy them with the kids,” said Dick.

He told the youths a story about a duck he shot in 1973 on Hamilton Lake. It had a band, badly worn, that he sent to the Indiana Department of Natural Resources. DNR officials identified the duck as a male that had been banded at 2 years old in New York, in 1968. Dick had a wire ring filled with various bands from birds he’s shot over the years. Though a million birds a year are banded, 200,000 of them waterfowl and another 150,000 geese, only about 1 percent of the bands are recovered. “That’s a special prize,” said Dick.

He said Duck Day is a great opportunity provided to the youths by local hunter Keith DeHaan and his family’s foundation. He said DeHaan does a lot for the community and youths. But some year, Dick said, he might just take some time off from his duck ID station.

“Twenty years, I’ve done this, or more, and I’ve never been around to all the stations,” he said.

This year’s stations included Goeckel showing the youths one of the Duck Day classics: how to build a wood duck box.

“He taught us how to use a drill,” said Skylar Ashbrook of Fremont Middle School. Wood duck boxes are hung in swamps to encourage nesting by the species.

Other stations include trapping, retriever dog, swamp zoo, water quality and recycling. The water quality station got a flashy upgrade this year, said Craig, and was well received by the children.

“Every year, we are trying to find something we can improve upon,” he said.

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Source: The Herald Republican

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Information from: Herald Republican, http://www.heraldrepublicanonline.com/