Wichita-area waterfowlers have new opportunities this season thanks to Delta staff and volunteers
By Kyle Wintersteen
Delta Waterfowl is unrivaled in its ability and eagerness to fight for everyday duck hunters from small towns throughout North America. Whether there’s a threat to your local hunting area or an opportunity to expand hunter access, The Duck Hunters Organization is your champion. However, often it takes a passionate Delta volunteer or member — someone such as Chad Dawson, founding chairman of the Second Split Chapter of Delta Waterfowl in Wichita, Kansas — to alert the organization to matters that might fly under the radar.
About five years ago, Dawson was searching for new places to hunt ducks across the sprawling — and largely privately owned — plains of south-central Kansas. He thought he’d hit the jackpot when he discovered a public duck blind on a prime stretch of water advertised on the Harvey County East Park’s website. But he learned the site hadn’t been updated, and the blind was no more.
“That was a bummer,” Dawson recalled. “I wanted to have a conversation with Harvey County about restoring the blind, but I put it on the back burner because I was just one guy, one voice. Then in September of 2016, we formed a Delta Waterfowl chapter, which offered legitimacy and clout.”
Dawson apprised Garrett Trentham, Delta’s regional events director for Kansas and Missouri, of the situation.
“We started digging into it immediately and set up a meeting with Kass Miller, director of Harvey County Parks,” Trentham said. “We learned that hunters used to buy daily-use permits for the blind, but the program ended when the revenue failed to cover the cost of insurance.”
Miller is supportive of hunting, so the Second Split Chapter proposed that its Waterfowl Heritage Funds — monies raised at local Delta Waterfowl event banquets — could pay the insurance and reinstate the blind. But Trentham had a gut feeling there was far greater opportunity to expand duck hunting access at East Park, which sits about 25 miles north of Wichita and offers 1,300 acres, including a large creek and 314-acre lake drawing abundant waterfowl. So he consulted Joel Brice, Delta vice president of waterfowl and hunter recruitment programs.
“Everything changed when Joel and his contacts in the Central Flyway entered the picture,” Trentham said. “Joel (Brice) felt that Kansas might be able to cover the insurance cost, so he got in touch with Charles Cope, a district wildlife biologist for the Kansas Department of Wildlife, Parks and Tourism.”
Cope proposed enrolling East Park in the state’s new Walk-In Hunting Access program, which would cover the high cost of insurance and allow the Second Split Chapter to invest in not just one, but several new duck blinds. Over the next year, Cope, Trentham, Dawson and new Second Split Chapter chairman David Kirchner identified potential blind sites and outlined an all-new opportunity at the park: archery deer hunting.
Armed with a detailed proposal, Cope and Delta staff and volunteers appeared before the Harvey County Parks Board, which voted unanimously to open hunting. Then came the final hurdle: The Harvey County commissioners scheduled a vote on Aug. 13, 2018, to determine the fate of hunting at East Park. Brice sent a letter expressing Delta’s support for the proposition, and Cope, Trentham and the Second Split Chapter attended the hearing.
In the end, by a vote of 2-1, Kansas waterfowlers and archery hunters suddenly had new, quality opportunities for the coming season.
“This wouldn’t be near the success that it is without the expertise of Delta staff, and how they maneuvered to maximize our impact,” Dawson said. “We would’ve been content with just sponsoring a single blind, so it feels pretty darn good to have opened up a little over a mile of shoreline for local waterfowlers who may have no other opportunities. It’s great to see tangible payoffs from all the volunteer hours that we put in raising money at our banquets and working with Harvey County.”
The Second Split Chapter will initially construct four blinds, each equipped for four hunters and a dog, in time for duck season on Oct. 27. An additional, ADA-accessible blind is planned for 2019.
“I’m extremely proud of what our Second Split Chapter volunteers pulled off,” Trentham said. “As I always preach to Delta members, when you hear of a loss of hunting access, let us know. The Duck Hunters Organization is here to help you get it turned around.”
Kyle Wintersteen is managing editor of Delta Waterfowl magazine.