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Bonner County Sportsmen Association celebrates 90 years

| April 16, 2024 1:00 AM

The Bonner County Sportsmen Association — which works to improve and enhance fish and wildlife habitats as well as protect fishing and hunting in the Idaho Panhandle — is celebrating its 90th year in North Idaho.

Members of the association are commemorating almost 100 years by revisiting milestones to highlight how far the organization has come, from as far back as when the “association” was merely just a few locals interested in area fish and wildlife.

In August 1919, the Pend d’Oreille Fish and Game Protective Association developed from a small group of people to an official organization. In 1920, the devotees of the rod and gun club met and formed the nucleus for the sportsmen’s group that North Idaho knows today. They would vote for Earl Farmin as their first president.

The name of the organization officially changed to the Bonner County Sportsmen Association 90 years ago, in 1934. The motto of the group would later become, “Protector of woods and wildlife.”

“Today, we are told, they are the oldest sportsmen association in the state of Idaho,” said association member Kathy Konek. “Many of you know the association for the yearly Gun ‘n Horn Show in March, or may think they are just a bunch of people who like to shoot things, but they are so much more than that.”

In 1936, Konek said the group was instrumental in placing 50 elk at Trestle Creek, brought in by train from the Yellowstone area. In 1940 and 1941, they purchased 100,000 Kamloops eggs from Kaslo, B.C. to be planted in Lake Pend Orielle. In 1942, they helped bring in Lake Rainbow and Cutthroat, she added.

Starting in the 1940s, the sportsmen began running the LPO fishing derbies. They worked on planting fingerlings in mountain lakes, supported studies of the effects of dams on the lake, and in 1967, built the outdoor shooting range on Baldy Mountain, Konek said.

The Sportsmen Association became the first group in Idaho to join the “Adopt a Wetland” program by adopting the Pack River Delta. Konek said the group has been instrumental in saving the fish hatchery on Lake Shore Drive and helped turn it into a learning center, visited by all 5th graders in the county.

In 1986, the city of Sandpoint offered the sportsmen the old rifle range on Lake Street for a small fee. The Sportsmen upgraded the building and now it is used as their meeting area and for Hunter’s Education. Konek said that with generous grants from the Friends of the NRA and work done by members, upgrades to the range area have taken place in the last few years. The range is now open to the public during the winter on certain days.

But there is so much more to the sportsmen than a shooting range, she said.

“The Bonner County Sportsmen actively support the Idaho Fish and Game, Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation, Baldy Mountain Shooting Range, Friends of the NRA, Toys for Tots, Bonner County Food Bank and so many more,” Konek said. “They offer yearly scholarships to citizens of the county that are seeking higher education and sponsor a young person to attend a weekly summer camp offered by the Idaho Conservation Officers. With volunteer work, the Wildlife Center was built at the fairgrounds as an educational center and is maintained and staffed by the sportsmen.”

Sportsman Association meetings are the first Thursday of each month, September through May, at 7 p.m. at the Leo Hadley Range on Lake St.

“This time was set in 1960 and has not waivered for the past 64 years,” Konek added.

In celebration of the association’s 90th year, members will be having a potluck dinner at the Wildlife Center on May 2 at 5 p.m.  for current and past members. The association will provide burgers, hotdogs and soda. Attendees are encouraged to bring other dishes to share.