A tribute to Meger

Dedication of WMA to honor wildlife artist

Photo by Jenny Kirk The late James Meger, who contributed significantly to habitat preservation and conservation efforts in Minnesota, is pictured while exhibiting a variety of his artwork at Farm Fest in 2007. Meger’s legacy will continue as a wildlife management area is being dedicated in his name on Friday.

MARSHALL — Wildlife artist James Meger left an amazing legacy behind when he died six years ago. On Friday, many of those who knew Meger will gather together — paying tribute to him for all that he did for wildlife habit conservation in Minnesota and beyond — for the James Meger Memorial Wildlife Management Area dedication.

“We’re very excited to finally bring this project to a close,” said Ron Prorok, treasurer of Lyon County Pheasants Forever (LCPF). “It’s been a long time coming — we’ve been working on it for five years — so we’re ready for the big unveiling. It’s a fitting tribute to James Meger.”

The Meger WMA dedication is being held in conjunction with the 2017 Governor’s Pheasant Hunting Opener that is slated to take place on Saturday in Marshall. Along with Minnesota Gov. Mark Dayton and Lt. Gov. Tina Smith, other state dignitaries are expected to be in attendance at the dedication.

“I know a lot of people — especially the sportsmen groups — are hoping for photo ops with the governor,” Prorok said. “It’s a huge thing. It adds a lot of class to it.”

Meger, known to many as one of the greatest wildlife artists of his generation, went above and beyond to not only share his artwork but also to contribute to land conservation and preservation. The nationally-known artist created hundreds of wildlife prints during his career, including six Pheasants Forever Prints of the Year — more than any other artist — and both the Minnesota Duck Stamp and Pheasant Stamp.

“We utilize those prints at each banquet to raffle off,” Prorok said. “We’ve raised thousands and thousands through his artwork — and not just for us — other chapters used his artwork to raise even more money. He enjoyed doing it and it had a really good effect on the area, and the whole state really.”

According to a recent news release, Meger’s work has raised upward of $5 million for Pheasants Forever and Ducks Unlimited chapters and habitat and conservation efforts for other organizations over the past 20 years.

“A lot of the prints he did were from memories of when he was hunting around the Minneota area,” said Al Dale, a 20-year board member for LCPF and a 13-year board member for the National Wild Turkey Federation (NWTF). “In a lot of his paintings, there are homesteads that are still there today.”

Dale said he met James Meger at the Tracy Sportsmen’s Show many years ago, noting that he was extremely amiable and could also personalize his paintings for his customers.

“He’d talk to anyone who came up to him,” Dale said. “And if you had a print you liked and it didn’t have the dog you liked, he’d paint that dog out of there and paint the dog you wanted in there. Then he’d date it and give it to you.”

Meger started off painting ducks and other waterfowl, gradually adding pheasants, deer, wolves, bears, elk, moose, eagles, dogs and much more. At one point — much like his mentor, Les Kouba — Meger began hiding little critters in his artwork occasionally. Eventually, Meger became known as the artist who paints “more than meets the eye.”

“He did prints of all kinds of animals,” Dale said. “He liked to hide animals in his prints, too. He’d make you find them.”

Dale was the one who initiated the WMA project shortly after Meger died in 2011.

“I got to thinking about it one night when I couldn’t sleep,” Dale said. “(Meger) has helped Pheasants Forever out tremendously, so how can we honor this guy? I thought the WMA would be an awesome idea.”

Dale said he brought the idea to the attention of some of his friends, who also thought it was a good plan.

“So then we brought it to the board at the next meeting,” he said. “We ran it by the (LCPF) board and they thought it was an awesome idea, so we formed a subcommittee and went to work on it.”

Former LCPF President Nick Simonson contacted Meger’s family, wife Laurene and daughter Elise, to make sure they’d be on board as well.

“We knew about his passing and had talked about doing something,” Prorok said. “Al had no trouble selling it because it was a great idea. And a lot of people got behind it, so it worked out really well.”

The parameters for the project were that the land had to be within 30 mile of Minnesota — Meger’s hometown area — and be at least 100 acres.

“We considered a lot of different parcels but they weren’t quite the right fit,” Dale said. “A realtor actually had the land (that was eventually purchased) listed and brought it to our attention. We got ahold of the state Pheasants Forever chapter, who got an appraisal, and we went from there.”

Along with LCPF members, Dale is quick to credit the two Yellow Medicine Pheasants Forever chapters, the Minnesota DNR and many other organizations, clubs and individuals for pitching in to help complete the project in Meger’s honor.

“I had a lot of help,” Dale said. “It was a huge project, so it’s a credit to everyone.”

Prorok agreed, noting that it was a “team effort.”

“Part of the problem was finding a place that was close to Minneota, where he grew up, and finding the right property in the right area,” he said. “We basically had to get our ducks in a row. It’s been a long process, but we got it done.”

The James Meger Memorial WMA consists of two tracts of land totaling 315 acres near Taunton — roughly 10 miles from where Meger grew up. Thanks to the contributions of the many conservation groups, sportsmen’s clubs and private donors, Legacy grant funds through the Lessard-Sams Outdoor Heritage Council were leveraged to secure the tracts and improve habitat on them in an effort to create ideal places for game species such as deer, turkey and pheasants, along with songbirds, pollinators and other wildlife.

“We had a lot of generous donations, including from a lot of area sportsmen’s clubs,” Prorok said. “There were also seven or eight Pheasants Forever chapters from around the state that donated as well. And the majority of the property was paid through the Legacy grant.”

Once the land was purchased, improvements began to take place.

“We did a big trash clean-up and then planted native grasses and wildflowers — the DNR helped the Pheasants Forever chapters with that,” Prorok said. “Then this spring, the Wild Turkey Federation planted over a thousand trees and shrubs. We’ve been working on it for a long time, so it’s in really good shape now.”

A large stone monolith is waiting to be uncovered during the dedication ceremony. Not only will the marker serve as recognition for Meger, it will also share the names of donors and contributing conservation groups.

“All the people who donated at least $500 got their name etched into it,” Dale said. “There’s two different levels — $500 to $999 and then $1,000 and up. People can still donate.”

In addition to honoring Meger, those involved hope the new WMA encourages future generations to continue the tradition of hunting, especially since southwest Minnesota is known for its quality pheasant hunting.

Between agriculture and other developments, significant amounts of land suitable for hunting have disappeared over the years. But avid hunters, conservation groups and people like Meger have helped to restore some of those acres.

Between the 37 Walk-In Access areas (nearly 3,000 acres), 20 waterfowl production areas (about 3,700 acres) and 132 wildlife management areas (roughly 24,400 acres), there are now more than 31,000 acres of hunting land within 25 miles of Marshall. In Lyon County alone, there are 47 wildlife management areas, totaling more than 11,000 acres.

“This will be the first season that (the James Meger Memorial WMA) will be open for the public, so that’s pretty neat,” Prorok said. “It’s really exciting.”

The pubic is welcome to attend the James Meger Memorial Wildlife Management Area dedication, which will begin at 4 p.m. Friday. The dedication site will be on the southern tract of the WMA located just west of the intersection of County roads 11 and 17, 3-½ miles north of Taunton.