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WELCOME to the Official Blog of the 2012 Master National Hunting Test, October 18-28, brought to you by the Retriever News and written by Tina Styan & Gwen Jones. We hope you enjoy these daily updates on the 2012 Master National, held this year in and around Demopolis, Alabama.

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Tuesday, August 7, 2012

Field of Dreams: The Barnett Lawley Field Trial Area, Greensboro, Alabama

Field of Dreams: The Barnett Lawley Field Trial Area, Greensboro, Alabama
   
In 1940, the Alabama Department of Corrections purchased 4,610 acres of rural property in Greensboro, Alabama. The State Cattle Ranch as it was called back then was to supply the entire Department of Corrections with beef to feed the inmate population.
   
In 1956, Charles Farquhar, Jr. was named the warden of the Cattle Ranch. In 1968 the Cattle Ranch opened a catfish production operation and eventually built 35 ponds on approximately 400 acres.  In 1982, the “Cattle Ranch” was renamed the Charles Farquhar State Cattle Ranch. In the late 80’s and early 90’s some Retriever and Bird Dog Field Trials were being held on the Cattle Ranch property. All field trials ceased after October 23, 1994, when Warden Farquhar and his wife were murdered by an inmate.
   
In February of 1995, George “Sonny” Free was appointed as the warden of the Cattle Ranch. Warden Free was a longtime “bird dog man.” In 1997 two things happened for the retriever community to gain access to the Cattle Ranch again. First, Warden Free was given a Labrador puppy by Bill and Cleo Watson, owners of Gator Point Kennels. Secondly, the local hunt test club president approached Warden Free about running a hunt test on the property.
   
Warden Free faced a lot of political issues, before finally obtaining authorization from the Commissioner of the Department of Corrections to hold Field Trials on the grounds again.
       
About 2007, the Alabama Department of Corrections was looking for ways to raise some capitol to help with the Department’s financial issues. One proposal was to sell most of the land acquired by the Cattle Ranch through an auction or to a private individual. When word of the proposed sale of the Cattle Ranch became public, many people in the retriever community became active in trying to preserve the Cattle Ranch.
   
In April of 2008, the Forever Wild Land Trust purchased 2,031 acres of the Cattle Ranch and since that date has purchased an additional 1,311 acres. Also, Warden Free retired from his job with the State of Alabama, but continued to be active with Retriever Field Trials.
   
The Forever Wild Land Trust program was established in 1992 by a constitutional amendment to the Alabama Constitution to provide for the purchase of public recreation lands. Since its inception, the Forever Wild program has purchased approximately 227,573 acres of land for general recreation, nature preserves, and additional wildlife management areas and state parks.
   
Soon after the Forever Wild Land Trust purchased the Cattle Ranch, the name was changed to the Barnett Lawley Field Trial Area in honor of the former Commission of the Department of Conservation and Natural Resource who was very instrumental in the acquisition of the property by the Forever Wildlife Trust. The Barnett Lawley Field Trial Area is owned by the State of Alabama and managed by the Forever Wild Conservation Trust, which is part of the State of Alabama Parks System. For more information about the Forever Wild program, go to www.foreverwild.com.

   
It wasn’t long after the Forever Wild purchase that members of various sporting dog field trial clubs began to offer their insight and suggestions as to how the area could be made into a premiere trial area of national significance. Meetings were held and schedules developed to support the first year of retriever and upland dog trial events. The early events were a tremendous success and the word rapidly spread of the areas improved condition and the State’s interest in supporting this unique recreational activity.
   
The real credit for making all of this work has hinged on the hard work of two State employees who have made this project have a positive start. “Chris Smith and Bill Mason has worked tirelessly to adapt the complex interests and resources into a working model that is flourishing in West Alabama,” said State Lands Director Patty Powell. While they have had the benefit of a number of skilled land stewards helping them along in the process, their passion for sporting dogs and the potential to create such a unique program in Alabama has honed their interest in making this area something truly special.
   
While the former State owned penal farm still produces a little hay and a few fish, the real crop has been the economic harvest for local communities like Greensboro and Demopolis. Tourism in the areas are on the rise in part as a result of the travel and lodging associated with those who love to attend Field Trial or Hunt Test events that have now found a permanent home on the Forever Wild lands in Hale County, Alabama. A recent economic impact study reflects that Field Trials have had an economic impact of 1.8 million dollars in the area in the last year.
   
The Master National Retriever Club has selected the Black Warrior Retriever Club of Alabama to host the 2012 Master National Event. The event will occur in October of 2012 and 902 dogs have qualified for this year’s event.
   
Currently, there are 8 licensed Field Trials held on the area and 7 sanctioned hunt tests for a total of 15 retriever events annually. Several other breed of sporting dog clubs including bird dogs, beagles, and fox hounds host events on the grounds; however, by far the retriever groups are the largest users of the property. This area is also open for training for a small fee. These grounds receive minimal state funding with the majority of funding for maintenance and upkeep coming from field trial events that are held on the grounds through the year.

The North Alabama Retriever Club, The Montgomery Retriever Club, and The Black Warrior Retriever Club have come together to form an alliance to fund the remodeling of at one existing pond and other property modifications. The Clubs have raised money through different methods to fund the pond reclamation project. The Memphis Retriever Club and Atlanta Retriever Club made contributions, as well as over 100 individual field trailers and Hunt Test competitors to complete Phase I of the project. Phase II of the projects is projected to be completed by the end of 2012. The Clubs applied to the PRTA for a grant and are proud to announce that they have been awarded $3,000 toward the second phase of the project. Anyone interested in making a tax-deductible donation can sent it to Forever Wild-Pond Fund, c/o Mike Crow, P.O. Box 4160, Montgomery, Alabama 36103-4160.
   
There is still some work to be done on making improvements to the property and the State of Alabama and the Forever Wild Land Trust are very committed in making this area the premier Field Trial area of the country.

Written by Mike Crow, President of the Montgomery Retriever Club, with contributions from George “Sonny” Free, David Kress, Chad Wilson, The Alabama Department of Corrections and The Forever Wild websites.

 


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