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Wetland Program Works

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Published on: Feb. 2, 2009

Tom Mertensmeyer loves to tell the story of how his mom and dad, Nellie and Lawrence, turned part of their 260 acres along the Missouri River bottom in Carroll County into a haven for waterfowl.

They bought the property in 1943, and over the years the hard-working couple made it both their home and business, raising seven kids there and farming the land.

Although Lawrence was a good farmer, he struggled to keep some of his most flood-prone acres in production. “Because they had a tendency to be wet,” Tom said, “we often had to replant those acres and then keep our fingers crossed the rest of the year, hoping it didn’t rain too much.”

In the ’60s, Lawrence found a better use for those wet acres. He was an avid hunter and especially loved duck and goose hunting, so it made sense to him to turn his most flood-prone land into prime waterfowl habitat. On the 8 acres he selected for the project, he pushed up some small berms and made a duck pond.

“Dad also belonged to Ducks Unlimited,” Tom said. “Every spring he would receive a few dozen mallard duck eggs from the organization, and we would hatch them in an incubator or find a chicken that was sitting on eggs and switch them.”

Tom remembered the ducklings having the run of the yard. They flew away each fall, he said, but every spring, like clockwork, ducks would return to lay their eggs in the flower beds, garden, barn, or anywhere they could find a spot to build a nest and hatch a family.

Cancer Strikes

This charming cycle of farming, duck rearing and hunting was interrupted in 1970, when Lawrence succumbed to melanoma cancer. Lawrence’s death left Nellie, at age 52, to operate the farm. Tom says she kept a positive attitude and did what was necessary to keep going.

Over the years, Nellie became more active in her community, and continued running the farm, with local family members sharing the load. Weather fluctuations, however, made her farm income unpredictable and as she grew older it became harder for her to manage the ups and downs. Tom and his brother, Steve, knew they needed to find a way to stabilize Nellie’s farm income so she did not have to worry and could concentrate on her volunteer work.

Finding Solutions

Tom is a retirement planner by profession and said he’s seen the good, the bad and the ugly

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