Bringing back the great outdoors

Tom Love spent six years in the Marine Corps and came home relatively unscathed. But for years – and especially recently – Love has come across veterans who weren’t as lucky. So he and his fellow members of Kenady-Hanks Post 59 in Dexter, Mo., decided that those veterans shouldn’t be limited by their injuries –
especially when it comes to enjoying the great outdoors.

The post owns 125 acres in the rural area of Bloomfield, approximately four miles from Dexter. For years, Love’s family has been able to enjoy the acreage, as have other members of the post and their families.

But Love and the post membership had seen enough severely wounded warriors in the area to decide that use of the land needed to be expanded. So they took the acreage, got some help from the community and created the Disabled Veterans Wildlife Facility.

The area, called Gobbler Ridge Farms, is home to turkeys, deer, rabbits, raccoons, squirrels and quail. The plan is for wheelchair-bound disabled veterans to use the land to hunt, fish, take photos and enjoy the area’s wildlife. It’s Love’s hope that wounded warriors will get the same joy out of the area as he and his family have for many years.

"I was lucky to come away from the military without being seriously injured," said Love, 72. "But over the years I’ve become associated with a lot of people who did leave the service injured – many seriously. Seeing these boys come back so injured, it just hurts. We wanted to do something."

The post voted to "lease" the land to Love at no cost, and improvements were made to the acreage. A handicap-accessible cabin for visitors needing to stay overnight was built, as was an elevated deer blind, thanks to donations from a local lumber company. Working with the Missouri Department of Conservation and other local companies, food plots consisting of clover, wheat, beans, corn, milo and chicory have been developed to sustain wildlife in the area.

Individuals and businesses have donated funds and time to get the project going. "When you say, ‘disabled veteran,’ people tend to be more willing to give," Love said.

Donations will continue to help sustain operations, while the post will manage the facility. Guests are expected to arrive in August; because of the severe droughts this season, Love said the facility won’t be ready for hunting until later in the fall.

"We just want to give these guys a chance to get outside and enjoy Mother Nature," Love said. "These guys who used to love being outside before they were injured, you know that’s still on their mind. We want to give them the chance to enjoy that again."

When congratulated for his efforts, Love is quick to deflect credit to the entire post, as well as chastise himself for not doing something sooner. "This is something I should have done a long time ago," he said.

Don’t feel that way, Tom. Instead, you and Post 59 need to take a bow. When you decided to build this facility doesn’t matter. What matters most – and will matter most to the veterans that you’ll help – is that you did it.