Morenci Sportsmen's Club celebrates 50th 8.05.09

Written by David Green.

By DAVID GREEN

Members of the Morenci Sportsmen’s Club often talked about the need for a clubhouse back in the late 1950s.

Two local groups—the Seneca Sportsmen’s Club and the Morenci Conservation Club—merged a decade earlier and membership was growing.sportsmen.festival.jpg

Members met at the Powers’ house east of Gorham Street for trap shooting, but the group turned to Morenci’s Teen Inn for monthly meetings. They had no place to call their own.

On Feb. 20, 1959, club members gathered to talk about buying land for a future club house and shooting range. The first step was to approach Richard R. Carryl to see if he would sell some property northeast of town along Mulberry Road.

A deal was worked out with Carryl and at a special meeting April 16, members voted to buy 18 acres. They assessed themselves $5 each to help fund the down payment on the property.

They also planned their first smelt fry—a tradition that never took a break through the club’s first 50 years.

Members set to work on plans to remodel a barn for a clubhouse and to construct a range for trap shooting and archery, plus a picnic area. There was even talk about creating a golf driving range and a children’s play area. Right from the start, they looked at their future club as a place for the entire family to go.

The property was mostly open farm land, but there were a few trees growing along Silver Creek that wound its way through the land.

Rather than submit to a drainage project through the county, the group decided to do the work on its own. The first step was to move 23 trees. Two of them were moved very carefully—one with a dove nest and another with a nest full of robins.

Concrete picnic tables were constructed, trees were planted, and the membership grew. In fact, the Morenci Sportsmen’s Club, Inc., received an award for the best membership increase in the state.

The mortgage on the property was burned in a ceremony Aug. 7, 1969, but six years later the old clubhouse burned and fund-raising efforts were directed to paying for the new facility that was soon constructed.

The wild game supper became an annual event starting in the early 1980s. An additional seven acres of land was bought, and in 1994, an addition was constructed to enlarge the clubhouse. This made way for an indoor archery range.

Through the years, there’s been shooting of trap, skeet, clays and muzzleloaders. In the 1990s, outdoor archery began.

But don’t think only about hunting when the Sportsmen’s Club is mentioned, said member John Hanawalt.

“We work to promote our fishing and hunting heritage, but we also work for wetland preservation and for those who like to go out and watch butterflies,” he said. “We’ve got members who don’t even hunt.

“It’s not just hunting and fishing. We’re trying to keep the land for future generations.”

The club buys the Michigan United Conservation Clubs’ Tracks magazine for fifth and sixth grade students in Morenci, Sand Creek and Waldron.

“It shows what life is all about,” Hanawalt said. “It urges children to get outside and enjoy the outdoors.”

He knows it’s a valuable resource. The club has received letters of thanks from teachers and students over the years.

Club members have moved toward serving the public more by supporting the Rex Riley Scholarship effort and starting their own scholarship administered through the Morenci Education Foundation.

They direct funds to Hospice, the American Cancer Society, the Morenci ambulance service, etc., and have given money to help families who have lost possessions through a fire.

Scholarships are given to area children to attend summer camp at Cedar Lake and the group continues to rent their facility for social events.

With the 50th anniversary celebration scheduled Saturday, Hanawalt says he and other members look forward to many more years of serving the public, saving wild lands and enjoying the camaraderie of fellow sportsmen.

• Everyone in the area is welcome to join in with club members at the celebration this weekend. The annual Kids Day program begins at 10 a.m. Saturday, offering a variety of fun and educational activities at no cost.

In the evening, a family dance with a live band is planned.

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