CHANA — Rich Melton has spent over 25 years working with the Rochelle Wildlife Conservation Club, and Melton’s interest in the outdoors began decades ago, when he was in high school and the club was just getting off the ground.
Melton is the current president of the club, but he still remembers being dropped off at the grounds by his father for weekend camping trips with his neighbor when he was a boy. For Melton, it was a way for him to enjoy the outdoors, and today he’s working to help people in the Rochelle community and its feeder areas learn and appreciate the outdoors.
“I’m very youth-orientated,” Melton said. “The club was just getting started in the 1950s and I was in high school when my dad used to take me and the neighbor boy out there on the weekends. He’d drop us off at the bridge by the creek and we’d camp out up and down the creek all weekend long.”
The RWCC hosts several events each year to bring members of the community, including children and adults, together. The club puts on monthly Steak Fry events from May through October, with the next Steak Fry taking place on July 14. Reservations for Steak Fry events can be made by calling Larry Watson at 815-562-4589.
“The Steak Fry events are open to the public and you don’t have to be a member,” Melton said. “You can get a 1-pound ribeye steak with all the trimmings for $15… It’s not uncommon for us to serve over 150 people.”
Perhaps the most notable of the RWCC’s annual events are the Kids Fishing Derby in June, the Archery Shoot in September and the Turkey Shoot in November. This year’s Archery Shoot is scheduled for Sept. 1-3 beginning at 8 a.m. each day, while the Turkey Shoot will take place on Nov. 4 at 9 a.m.
“We let the young kids shoot in our archery range for free and the adults pay $10 to shoot a round,” Melton said. “It takes about two hours to walk our course, which consists of about 60 acres of woods… The turkey shoot is probably our biggest event of the year. We give away turkeys, hams and we have all kinds of raffles… It’s a day-long event and we start shooting targets as soon as we get the first 20 people signed up, and we don’t stop until it gets dark.”
The RWCC has many facilities for patrons to use including an archery range, which has targets placed anywhere from 15 to 40 yards away. The RWCC also has a rifle range for members only, which opens at 9 a.m. Monday through Saturday and 11 a.m. on Sunday. The RWCC’s hours are 6 a.m. to 10 p.m. on a daily basis, and club memberships cost $40 per year for all amenities or $90 per year for all amenities plus rifle range access.
The RWCC campgrounds are open to both members and nonmembers, with the cost set at $5 per night per family for members and $10 per night per family for nonmembers. Firewood can be purchased in 20-piece bundles for $10, and nonmembers are only allowed one camping visit per year. Rules for the rustic campgrounds can be found online at www.rochellewildlife.org.
“There’s no running water or electricity but we do have outhouses at each campground and people can go down to our lodge for water,” Melton said. “We have dump sites for campers and we can accommodate probably 40 camp sites.”
The RWCC has a playground for kids only, and patrons can use the club’s sledding hill and shelter during winter conditions. The RWCC also has two lakes available for fishing, with the smaller lake only serving kids under age 12 and the larger 10-acre lake serving adults. Panfish can be caught in the small lake, while bass, catfish, walleye, crappie and more can be reeled in on the large lake. Boat rack rentals (for small boats only) are available for a $25 yearly fee.
“Back in the 1990s some of us talked the board into draining the small lake out and refilling it with panfish,” Melton said. “We made it strictly for kids 12 and under… I tell parents they can put almost anything on a hook with a little bobber, and if they go over 25 minutes without catching a fish, they’re doing something wrong.”
For special occasions, patrons can use the RWCC’s newly-renovated lodge, which seats around 80 people on the inside. The lodge has a full kitchen with two stoves, one refrigerator, air conditioning, restrooms and more. Members can rent the lodge at various rates relative to function and time, and reservations can be made by calling Linda McCray at 815-732-2808.
“We’ve have reunions and graduations at the lodge,” Melton said. “Service groups and businesses will rent it out for the day. It’s a very nice place for people to get outside and enjoy themselves.”
Members of the Rochelle community and its surrounding areas can bring their children to the Rochelle Wildlife Conservation Club later this month to enjoy an afternoon of free fishing fun, great food, raffle prizes and much more.
The 31st Annual Kids Fishing Derby presented by the Northern Illinois Bass Masters has been scheduled for Sunday, June 24 from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. The event will be held at the conservation club, located at 3501 Sweeny Road in Chana. The derby is open to all kids ages 1 through 15, and there is no cost to sign up.
“There are several kids that never get to fish or spend time outside and I think it’s great that every kid who comes to the derby gets to fish,” club volunteer and second vice president Matt Winebaugh said. “It’s absolutely free and we supply the bait… The kids can show up whenever they want, and they can have the option of fishing at our small pond or the lake.”
Volunteers will be scattered around the area to help the kids enjoy their derby fishing experience. While kids have the chance to earn trophies for feats such as biggest catch and the most catches on the afternoon, they will also receive prizes from raffles throughout the day. Giveaways include bicycles, frisbees and much more.
“Nobody leaves without a prize,” said Winebaugh, who has been volunteering at the conservation club for four years. “There are several bicycles we give away every year. Last year we gave away some fishing poles and gift cards.”
Roughly 175 kids participate in the fishing derby on average, and club board member Bob Burgett said the derby has reached attendances of over 300 in the past. Burgett, who has been working with the conservation club for around 20 years, said the fishing derby is a great opportunity for kids to not only learn how to fish, but take up an interest in fishing as well.
“The kids are happy when they catch fish,” Burgett said. “It tickles the heck out of them, regardless if the fish is little or big… The kids come out and have fun, and it doesn’t cost them anything.”