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Thursday, Aug. 28, 2014

Veterans' safe haven flourishing

Sunday, March 30, 2014

(Photo)
Purchase these photos at www.dailystatesman.com NOREEN HYSLOP photos-nhyslop@dailystatesman.com Below is the observation and hunting blind located at the Disabled Veterans Facility southwest of Bloomfield. Above are participants in one of last fall's Ladies Rabbit Hunts sponsored by the Dept. of Conservation at the farm. Additions and improvements continue at the facility, which hosts disabled veterans for a day or a night's stay to enjoy the wildlife and the solitude at Gobbler Ridge Farm, now available for area disabled veterans. [Order this photo]
By NOREEN HYSLOP

Managing Editor

BLOOMFIELD, Mo. -- It's been nearly two years since the concept of making available a haven in the wilderness for disabled veterans became a reality in Stoddard County.

When Tom Love and Alan Hedrick turned over a 125-acre tract of land southwest of Bloomfield in May 2012 to the Kenady-Hanks American Legion for the purpose of providing that safe haven, they couldn't have imagine how the facility would flouish and how many disabled veterans would find solace in the surroundings of Gobbler Ridge Farms.

"We've had just short of 100 veterans utilize the facility for a number of different purposes," says Love. "Some visited just to view the abundance of wildlife. Some toured the farm in SUVs. Some came for meetings. It's been a big success, and we are grateful to a number of people who continue to make the facility thrive."

On the property of Gobbler Ridge there stands a rustic cabin. Since the designation of a Disabled Veterans Facility, the facility has gone through a transition of establishing all possible areas as handicapped equipped. Doors have been widened. Bunks have been redesigned for handicap use. Assist rails have been installed in the restroom, wheelchair ramps have been put into place on two sides of the cabin, and the front walk is now equipped with a handrail.

One of the early priorities in preparing the land for visiting disabled veterans in 2012 was to construct a spacious elevated blind that would be suitable not only from which to hunt, but also to photograph wildlife on the farm. Today the handicapped accessible blind is fully insulated with sliding windows, carpet, heat, a padded shooting rail, binoculars and even spotting scopes.

"The blind is perhaps the biggest draw to the facility," Love attests. "It provides our veterans with an opportunity to put aside any problems they might have and enjoy the solitude of the rural setting, and with nearly all the comforts of home while observing wildlife at its finest."

Three acres of wildlife plots were established on the farm in 2013. That effort has proven to be highly beneficial for viewing deer, turkey and other wildlife from the blind.

"For those veterans who do not require much assistance, we've put in three portable hunting and viewing blinds also," Love says.

Also utilizing the Gobbler Farm facility over the past two years has been the Missouri Department of Conservation. Two Ladies Rabbit Hunts have taken place on the grounds through the MDC, and two deer hunts for youth in the area.

"We've had nine disabled veterans come to the facility to hunt. Six deer have been harvested as a result of those hunts," explains Love.

So impressive is the facility that it recently drew a visit by the country's head of the American Legion organization. American Legion National Commander Dan Dellinger paid a visit to the facility in the fall of 2013 and expressed his appreciation to all who had a part in making the farm the success that it is.

The current efforts on the farm are supported largely by individual donations, for which Love says he is grateful.

"We couldn't have continued to do what we have over the past couple of years without the generosity of so many, and each of those donations is truly appreciated."

Their work has only begun.

American Legion members and other volunteers continue to improve the Disabled Veterans Facility with ongoing projects. Under construction currently is a wheelchair accessible fishing dock that should be completed in the next month. The dock will have an area for shade and lounging as well as for fishing.

Considerable work on the farm's walking trails has been completed, with further work underway for veterans who prefer to hike their way through the paths.

"A picnic area near the observation blind has been cleared for use by the visiting veterans," notes Love, "but we do not have a table or a fire pit installed there yet."

Part of the task since the majority of the major projects at the farm are complete or nearing completion is the general upkeep at Gobbler Ridge.

"There is a continuing need for help with the food plots, maintenance of the cabin and the roads," Love explains. "And we can always use help with the mowing and preparing meals for the veterans. The volunteers at Gobbler Ridge are primarily veterans themselves -- and families of veterans -- whose efforts over the past two years have culminated with home away from home for the area's disabled veterans. Those who have entered under the "Gobbler Ridge Farms" archway over the gravel lane leading to the safe haven express over and over their gratitude for having such a place available to them. While some have come to hunt on the property, many others have come to enjoy a guided tour of the property, to hear the running of the beagles during a rabbit hunt, or to simply watch Mother Nature and God's handiwork at its best.

Anyone interested in securing a visit to the Disabled Veterans Facility at Gobbler Ridge Farms is encouraged to contact Tom Love at 573-820-0802 or James Adams of Kenady-Hanks American Legion Post 59 at 573-421-3660. Donations to support the project may be sent to Kenady-Hanks American Legion Post 59, P.O. Box 446, Dexter, MO 63841. Checks should be made payable to DAV Fund.


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