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Conservationists of the Year

Becker County Coalition of Lake Associations (COLA) officers (from left) Terry Kalil, vice president; Dick Hecock, president; and Barb Halbakken Fischburg, treasurer, were honored that their organization was chosen by the Becker Soil and Water Conservation District as its Conservationists of the Year. They will be honored during the Minnesota Association of Soil and Water Conservation Districts conference in the Twin Cities later this year. Submitted Photo

Every year, the Becker County Soil and Water Conservation District chooses a Conservationist of the Year.

This year, the award went not to an individual but to an organization: The Becker County Coalition of Lake Associations (COLA).

According to SWCD Administrator Brad Grant, the Becker County COLA was chosen for two reasons: Its work in organizing the Aquatic Invasive Species (AIS) Legislative Summit, and for "stepping up to the plate" to co-sponsor the preparation of 21 Lake Protection Plans in Becker County, in cooperation with RMB Labs, the Minnesota Board of Soil and Water Resources and Becker SWCD.

The AIS Legislative Summit was first held in January 2011, and again in 2012. Though many organizations were involved in planning and implementing the summit, "it was originally a COLA initiative," said Dick Hecock, president of Becker County COLA.

In taking a look at AIS prevention strategies, COLA members quickly realized "it was as much a political problem as anything else," Hecock said, which is why they decided they needed to bring state legislators to the table.

"It takes a huge effort to mobilize the Legislature to take action, and I think we've done that to a considerable degree," Hecock added.

"There are many individuals and lake associations within COLA who have lobbied long and hard to get our agenda in front of our legislators and the DNR," he added.

As far as funding the lake protection plans, Hecock said, "water quality monitoring has been an ongoing program with COLA since its inception.

"We encourage all of our member lakes to have monitoring programs in place, and nearly all of them do."

But what the lake protection plans were meant to do, Hecock said, was to "make the connection between monitoring programs and what we call 'taking the next step.'

"We now have 21 lakes in this county that have been assessed, in a fairly sophisticated way, with recommendations for future action," he added.

"The work that COLA has done over the years hasn't gone unnoticed, but with all they've accomplished within the last two years, it seemed like an appropriate time (to recognize them)," Grant said. "They're very deserving."

"I never really thought of myself as a conservationist," admitted Terry Kalil, COLA vice president. "But that's really what this is all about -- making sure lakes and rivers and wetlands are there for future generations to enjoy.

"For me, this is pretty humbling," she added.

"I don't think any of us embarked on this project looking for recognition. But it's something we're passionate about, and will continue to be passionate about."

"Conservation comes in many forms," said COLA Secretary Barb Halbakken Fischburg. "Becker County is so dependent on our lakes, and we've come to realize that it's a resource that needs protection on many levels."

Grant said that the Conservationist of the Year Award will be officially presented to Becker County COLA on Dec. 4, during the Minnesota Association of Soil and Water Conservation Districts (MASWCD) annual conference in Bloomington.

"They'll be recognized with other conservation winners from across the state," he said.

Follow Detroit Lakes Newspapers reporter Vicki Gerdes on Twitter at @VickiLGerdes.

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.

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