Ridgeway WPA Adds Acres to Western Minnesota Habitat Corridor
By Casey Sill
As we take the time to celebrate our four-legged hunting partners this month, it’s also important to celebrate the habitat that allows them to do what they love. Watching our dogs work is one of the most rewarding parts of hunting, but without access to quality habitat we’d all be stuck at home being driven mad by cooped up setters, pointers and labs.
As our dogs grow up and then grow old, there’s comfort in a familiar piece of property. The same stand of swampy cattails that a puppy stumbles through dragging a check chord can hold his final rooster over a decade later.
These lands tell the stories of our dog’s lives long after they’re gone. A good retrieve here, a bad miss there. In the passing of time, land can remain a constant — and what a wonderful way to remember the creatures who bring so much joy to our lives, but never seems to be here for as long as we’d like.
Habitat is a conduit for memories, and this month we’d like to celebrate some recent projects that’ll allow public land hunters to make those memories for decades to come. The next property we’re highlighting is Ridgeway Waterfowl Production Area near Alexandria, Minnesota.
Ridgeway WPA is named for the beach line of ancient Lake Agassiz, which is still visible on the property’s western side.
“We want to connect these WPAs and other management areas, so we have a whole series of properties along critical habitat lanes.”
The glacial lake expanded and retreated as temperatures shifted between 10-13,000 years ago, it’s total reach spanning from Western Minnesota to far northern Manitoba. As its waters receded for the final time, the lake left behind odd geographic features, including the raised shoreline and “glacial ridge” that gives the property its name.
Ridgeway sits just southwest of Fergus Falls, Minnesota in Otter Tail County, and is at the northwest tip of a network of WPAs that dot the lakes and sloughs between Fergus Falls and Alexandria. Two new tracts have recently added an additional 300 acres to the property, which now totals over 1,200 acres.
“This property is part of what we call a corridor,” said Tony Rondeau, a retired US Fish and Wildlife waterfowl expert who’s been involved with Otter Tail County Pheasants Forever for over 30 years. “We want to connect these WPAs and other management areas, so we have a whole series of properties along critical habitat lanes.”
Ridgeway and the surrounding area holds essential nesting habitat for waterfowl and upland birds, including prairie chickens, but it’s also important cover for countless other birds, pollinators and species of concern. The property has grown exponentially since the first acquisition — the two most recent additions, the Swenson and Kotts tracts, added 160 and 157 acres to the property, respectively.
Otter Tail County Pheasants Forever paved the way for Ridgeway and other projects in the Fergus Falls area. The chapter was founded in 1985, as they grew they began investing a significant portion of their time and money on land acquisition. They focused specifically on the area south and west of Fergus Falls, and made Ridgeway one of their main priorities.
“Partnership is the standard in the habitat world. If you don’t have a partner, nothing is going to work.”
“Without the direct involvement of the Otter Tail County Pheasants Forever chapter and their committee of volunteers, Pheasants Forever likely wouldn’t have been able to deliver these acres,” said Matthew Christensen, Pheasants Forever and Quail Forever’s field services manager. “The chapter had the relationships, the patience and the foresight to see what an opportunity this area held. Thanks to them it’s now open for anyone to use and enjoy, and will be for generations to come. We couldn’t have done it without them.”
Rondeau deflects that praise efficiently, and said Ridgeway WPA is a perfect example of how solid partnerships can impact public access and habitat management.
“It takes a catalyst like Pheasants Forever to accomplish projects like Ridgeway, but it also takes partnerships,” he said. “Partnership is the standard in the habitat world. If you don’t have a partner, nothing is going to work.”
The Ridgeway WPA project received major support from the Outdoor Heritage Fund and the Fergus Falls Fish and Game Club, as well as numerous other local Pheasants Forever chapters.
Rondeau has watched the property grow over time, and has seen its impact on waterfowl and upland birds firsthand. He hunts it regularly, and said every time he pulls in the parking lot he feels proud of Otter Tail County Pheasants Forever.
“There’s a lot of satisfaction when you sit back and look at that property, knowing you had a hand in helping put it together,” he said. “But mine was a very small hand. There were so many wonderful people and organizations who helped make this project a reality, and I’m incredibly proud to be associated with them.”
Become a member or make a donation on behalf of your favorite dog breed during our Bird Dogs for Habitat campaign!
Not only do you get all the perks of celebrating your bird dog and your collective commitment to conservation, your contribution counts in the race to this year's most beloved bird dog breed. Every dollar donated equals a vote, and every week during the month of May our generous sponsors will be giving away fantastic prizes to those who participate. All contributions will support our wildlife habitat conservation mission — and the places where you and your bird dog love to roam — because good bird habitat is good bird dog habitat!