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submitted photo This sign marks one of the several properties purchased over the years by the Round Lake Sportsman's Club.

Round Lake Sportsman's Club still making difference

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WORTHINGTON -- Even though the Round Lake Sportsman's Club doesn't have the same numbers and financial backing of some of the larger clubs, that doesn't mean it isn't making an impact.

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The Round Lake Sportsman's Club has done numerous projects locally since its inception.

"It was mainly that we started the Round Lake Sportsman's Club back in the '40s and '50s," said club president Bryce Wendling. "Then it was dormant for a while with no activity. Then we restarted it back up in the '70s, which mainly we started to put in an aeration system in Round Lake. That's what was our initial fundraising, and everything was done to put in the aeration system, which we still operate one now. Plus we have one in Indian Lake."

The aeration system on Round Lake was installed in 1981 with a total cost of $20,000. A year later, a system was installed on Indian Lake.

"It mainly is our ongoing project of maintaining the aeration systems and trying to keep the lake from freezing out," Wendling said. "We do all the garbage pickup around Round Lake. We do the north, south and east side garbage pickup, which we maintain. Plus, we did a dock when they initially did the east-side access."

The numbers in the club are about the same as they were when it first started.

"Back then, it was right around 100. I think we still run currently at 100-plus members," Wendling said.

Fundraisers

Each year, the club hosts a fundraiser to support the ongoing projects.

"The major fundraiser that we do is the Horned Trout Tournament," Wendling said. "This one coming up will be the 34th year for that fundraiser. We have that out on the east side of Round Lake."

A "world renowned" tournament, people flock to the event.

"The last couple years, we've been around 170 or 180 in the tournament that fish," Wendling said. "We figure a crowd anywhere from 300 to 500 people. That is our major fundraiser, especially for operating the aeration system. You have to have the electricity, plus the main thing is the insurance part, which we have to go ahead and have that and be bonded to go ahead and get our permit to operate it."

The tournament started as a pure Horned Trout -- or bullhead -- tournament, but has evolved over the years.

"It's mainly a bullhead tournament, the way it was initially started," Wendling said. "Now, when we do that, we open it up to any fish. Anything that swims can go in to win the tournament. But the original everything was still based around the bullhead."

The tournament is annually the third weekend in July.

Projects

While the club isn't able to make large land purchases for habitat reasons, it has been involved in a couple different land deals.

"Being a smaller club, we don't have the money and the backing to do a lot of land acquisitions with what it takes for price per acre anymore," Wendling said. "Now it's just the huge clubs like Pheasants Forever that have the funding out there to be able to go in and pay the amount that they need for it before it gets turned over to the state."

The club has one piece of land by Illinois Lake and was part of a larger group purchase for a tract near the state line.

The group has planted trees in parks and prairie grasses and wildflowers on school property.

Its big projects, however, involve the lake.

"We do the aeration system, and we pick up the litter, and we do lake cleanup," Wendling said. "We have land acquisition and other funding that we do to maintain and increase habitat for pheasants and animals and everything else in the area.

"We've done wood duck houses. We've helped with the high school shooting club."

They have been active as of late, as well.

"We put in a new grate and dam on the east side of Round Lake. That was probably about four years ago," Wendling explained.

Benefits

With a club like the Round Lake Sportsman's Club, they are able to concentrate on local needs.

"You still have to have the smaller sportsman's clubs that will maintain and keep everything going," Wendling said. "For us, we're trying to take care of the two area lakes that we have, plus all the cleanup. Everything that we do is just local.

"If we didn't have it, you'd just figure that Round Lake or the lakes around here wouldn't have the aeration system in it, and it would be frozen out during the winter. You wouldn't have the fishing or the people who would enjoy the area lakes."

Wendling has been involved in the club for years and sees it as a necessity for the area.

"It started back when I was just out of high school. I started out as a member and then I was vice president for 10 years or so," he said. "I've been president for the last 25 or so."

The club has maintained members throughout the years, but is always looking for more help.

"The main thing right now, it's coming up with people and the membership that has the time to help out," Wendling said. "It's one thing to be able to have the members pay their dues, but you need the ones who will be there to do the work that you need."

Saving the habitat has been important to Wendling and the club.

"Us as a club, what we're here for is you just have to have habitat so you can have either the bird or the fish that you try to maintain," Wendling said.

And they are planning to keep going in the future.

"Hopefully, we'll be able to keep the club operating and being able to maintain and operate our systems and look at new projects out there that would be needed in our area," Wendling said. "Whether it's being involved in the lakes or looking at helping out with habitat with the area farmers."

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