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Conservationists of the Year

THIS 1,300-FOOT GRASSED WATERWAY PROJECT ON THE LEFEBRVRES' property took roughly two years to complete, and drains approximately 1,300 acres of land -- not all of it belonging to the Lefebvres. The entire project cost over $100,000, with the Lefebvres contributing more than 50 percent of the total funding themselves. "I have no regrets," Randy Lefebvre says.

Though they don't actively farm the 1,000 acres that they own outside Detroit Lakes, Randy and Judy Lefebvre have invested both time and money into being good stewards of the land.

"We rent out 750 acres, and have 50 acres in CRP (the Conservation Reserve Program)," Randy said.

Besides enrolling in CRP, some of the other conservation practices they have implemented include installing five water and sediment control basins, planting food plots for area wildlife, and planting trees as windbreaks.

But it was for this past year's project, to install a 1,300-foot long grassed waterway for erosion and water control, that the Lefebvres earned the 2011 Conservationist of the Year Award from the Becker County Soil & Water Conservation District (SWCD).

The project included installation of a subsurface drain, two water and sediment control basins, turf reinforcement matting, and CRP grass seeding on both sides of the waterway.

Total cost of the project exceeded $100,000, with about 50 percent of that being paid for by the Lefebvres directly. The rest came from funding sources including CRP, state cost share and Ag Best Management Practices (BMP) programs.

The waterway now drains approximately 1,300 acres of surrounding land, though not all of that is owned by the Lefebvres.

Randy believes that the water and sediment control basins -- of which he now has a total of seven on his property -- are one of the best practices implemented by the SWCD and Natural Resource Conservation Service (NRCS).

"Without those sediment basins, the soil would erode and all that dirty water would be pushed out into the waterways," he said. "We'd lose all the topsoil -- which makes the land difficult to farm.

"I haven't found anyone who didn't like it -- it's a win-win all around."

Both Randy and Judy are now retired; in fact, Randy retired from his job with Qwest about a week before work started on the grassed waterway project.

"I worked more hours out there (on the waterway) than I did before I retired," he joked.

The Lefebvres worked closely with NRCS and SWCD technicians on the project for close to two years before it was completed.

"We're proud of it," Randy said.

"It's nice looking now when you drive by there," Judy added.

NRCS technician Jeff Norby said that it's often taken two or three tries for the grass to become firmly established on similar waterway projects -- on this one, however, it looks like they may have succeeded on the first try.

"It was timed perfectly," Randy says.

Though the conditions were wet when they started on the project, it gradually dried out, and they had an extended dry period this summer that helped lessen the potential for erosion on the newly-seeded soil.

"Mother Nature cooperated," Randy said.

The project also included installation of over a mile of subsurface drainage; before the project was completed, the water was capable of passing through that waterway at a rate of 192 cubic feet per second.

"That's a lot of water," Norby said, noting that the Lefebvres' project was the largest that his office had been involved in to date.

"Without Jeff, it wouldn't have happened," Randy Lefebvre said. "I was ready to give up on it a couple of times -- there were too many roadblocks, which became discouraging."

But gradually, as neighboring landowners -- including the Minnesota Department of Transportation -- came on board, the waterway was finally completed.

"The landowners were all cooperative -- they could see it was washed out and needed to be fixed," said Lefebvre.

"It was very much a cooperative project," Norby added.

As for the award, Lefebvre said, "It's an honor."

Nevertheless, he added, recognition was not the point of doing the project.

"I would do it all over again," he said, adding that he believes very strongly in the concept that "we all have an obligation to leave (the land) in better condition than we got it."

The Lefebvres will be honored at a noon luncheon on Tuesday, Dec. 6, as part of the Minnesota Association of Soil & Water Conservation Districts (MASWCD) Annual Conference at the Double Tree Hotel in Bloomington, Minn.

Vicki Gerdes

Staff writer at Detroit Lakes Newspapers for the past 16 years, currently editor of the entertainment and community pages as well as covering city council and the Lake Park-Audubon School Board. Living in DL with my cat, Smokey.

(218) 844-1454