75 years after its founding, Conservation District continues to preserve the land.

February 29, 2016

By Rob Alway, Editor-in-Chief.

SCOTTVILLE — Last week I attended the annual meeting/banquet of the Mason-Lake Conservation District at the Scottville Optimist Center. The meeting was the celebration of the district’s 75th anniversary and was well attended by what you could call the “who’s who” of the Mason County agricultural community.

I wear a couple different hats and I often wear those hats at the same time at events like this. Most people know me because of the journalist hat that I wear. But, lately another hat that I am wearing is one of farmer. Last year my brothers and I began a hop-growing business on our family’s Amber Township farm. Since I cover many of these events anyway, I have also taken on the role of the “politician” in the business.

However, this event had an additional level of uniqueness. I think we all have certain snapshots in our minds from childhood places. I spent a lot of time at my grandmother’s house on our family farm. I vividly remember her house, the smell, the temperature, the sounds and the decor. You went into Grandma Alway’s house from the back porch. In that little porch, I remember seeing a plaque from the Mason-Lake Soil Conservation District honoring my grandfather, Tom Alway; I believe it was from 1960. I can’t remember what the honor was and as a kid I had no idea what the soil conservation district was. My grandfather died when I was 3-years-old in 1973, so I never got a chance to talk to him. But, I just knew that it must have been a big deal and something my grandmother was proud of since she kept it on display for over 30 years.

A very small hat I wear is one of historian. I love history, mostly local history.

The Mason-Lake Soil Conservation District was founded in 1940 at the end of the Great Depression, and during a time when the “Dust Bowl” of the MidWest occurred. The Dust Bowl was caused by the over-farming of land, causing it to be stripped of nutrients that were necessary for the soil. Just a few decades earlier, the gas-powered tractor became a common piece of equipment on the American farm. The good points of the tractor were also the bad points: it allowed the farmer to become more efficient and to farm much more land.

While Michigan did not experience the Dust Bowl like much of the prairie lands, it was facing almost 100 years of deforestation. This is wear my grandfather came in. He was the reforestation chairman of the district. My grandfather and many others knew in order to sustain the land of Mason and western Lake counties, it was necessary to restore the land.

Seventy-five years later, the Mason-Lake Conservation District (the word soil was recently removed to better reflect the organization’s mission) continues to educate the public about the importance of maintaining healthy lands. It also continues to take action.

The District receives a portion of its funding from the Michigan Agriculture Environmental Assurance Program and the county boards of commissioners from both Mason and Lake counties. The District also receives various grants to be used for specific programs.

This is a service that not only impacts farmers but impacts every single person in Mason and Lake counties. While the District is probably best known for its work with agriculture, it is  also actively working to restore river banks on the Pere Marquette River and the shoreline of Lake Michigan.

Attending this meeting was an honor, especially since I attended with other representatives of my family. I think my grandfather would be proud that we continue to be part of the Mason County farming community and continue to help be part of making sure future generations also can enjoy this beautiful land we call home.

I also want to say congratulations to the recipients of special honors from the meeting. Julia Johnson received the Conservationist of the Year award. Her involvement with AFFEW (A few friends of the environment) for almost 30 years has meant teaching us how to be stewards of the land.

The Conservation District’s Legends Awards went to Bob Thurow and Ed Malkowski. Bob is the patriarch of Riverton Township’s Thurow Farms and Ed is a retired educator and one of the most respected beekeepers around. I have crossed paths with both of them. I went to school with Bob’s children: Chris, Greg and Jill while my dad graduated with Bob. Ed, on the other hand, was my middle school principal who encouraged me to pursue my passion for writing and journalism. Later, he became my next door neighbor in Scottville.

Congratulations to all who received such honors. Again, we hope to continue your legacies.

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