Elk antlers from Zumwalt bring $10,000 to fair

<p>Wallowa County youths showing off their haul of discarded bull elk antlers on Zumwalt Prairie Preserve of The Nature Conservancy are, left to right, Alyssa Finifrock, Alex Finifrock, Sara Finifrock, Matthew Beck, Claire Beck and Caelyn Beck.</p>

A haul of 1,275 pounds of shed bull elk antlers is hard to imagine.

But that’s how many antlers were collected on The Nature Conservancy’s Zumwalt Prairie Preserve this year by about 20 youths, their families and other volunteers.

The antlers were sold for $9,800 to antler buyer Craig Drokes of Droke’s A-Typical Art, who contributed an extra $200, for a $10,000 donation to the Wallowa County Fair Board to improve the fairgrounds.

The biggest set of antlers have been mounted and will be auctioned off – along with the lambs, steers and hogs – at Saturday’s 4-H/FFA Livestock Auction, which will conclude the 2013 Wallowa County Fair.

“It was like a big Easter egg hunt,” said John Vanderzanden, one of those who spearheaded the project. “It was one of the coolest things I’ve every seen, all those kids having fun picking up antlers on an Easter egg hunt. … It was great to see and be part of.”

Vanderzanden has been helping guide hunters – winners of The Nature Conservency’s owner preference tags it gives away to local organizations – for several years, as has fellow project partner Chad Dotson. Together the pair conceived the youth project and unusual fundraiser with a few others, and eventually involved about 40 volunteers. Among them were Dale Dotson, who has mounted the auction rack, and Jesse Micka who stored them during the collection. Also part of the project was Justin Jones of The Nature Conservancy.

At least one parent, and sometimes younger siblings, went out with the youths, most of them in middle or high school, on each of several collecting trips between mid-March and mid-June. Adult volunteers without the kids gathered antlers in some of the more rugged places of Zumwalt.

This year was a pilot program, and Vanderzanden and his fellow organizers hope to continue the project next year. A former Enterprise FFA member, he said that the fairgrounds was selected as the recipient of the $10,000 raised because it involves so many local kids.

Vanderzanden thanked all the volunteers and especially The Nature Conservancy for its generous access to the property. “Otherwise, we couldn’t do it.”

Antler buyer Craig Drokes – who makes chandeliers, tables and lamps out of some of the antlers and has a buyer for antlers he can use – said this was the largest single purchase of antlers he’s made. He estimates he buys about 18,000 pounds a year. “It’s a neat project, and I was happy to be part of it,” he said.

While bidding on 4-H and FFA market animals at the 6 p.m. livestock auction at the fairgrounds Saturday, keep an eye out for a chance to buy that trophy bull elk rack.

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