(Owatonna, MN) — Oct. 10th, 2023 — The public is invited to attend a celebration of new public hunting land in Steele County at 4:30 p.m. on Friday, Oct. 13, as part of the 2023 Minnesota Governor’s Pheasant Hunting Opener. The ceremony celebrates approximately 40 acres added to Somerset Wildlife Management Area, located southwest of Owatonna.
The ceremony will include comments from local dignitaries, conservationists, Minnesota Department of Natural Resources Commissioner Sarah Strommen, Explore Minnesota Director Lauren Bennett McGinty and other local leaders.
“As many fellow hunters will agree, it’s hard to beat fall on the prairies of southern Minnesota and I’m excited about the outdoor opportunities this addition to the Somerset Wildlife Management Area will provide throughout the year,” said DNR Commissioner Sarah Strommen. “I’m grateful to the people and partners who help conserve and steward these lands for the benefit of Minnesotans and visitors alike.”
Bisected by the Straight River, Somerset WMA was an early part of Minnesota’s suite of public lands, dating back to the “Save the Wetlands” Program of the 1950s in Minnesota. It was created in 1957 and dubbed “WMA #157.” It was later named for a nearby township. Somerset WMA has grown to more than 400 acres thanks to work from local groups. Acquisition and habitat work has continued over the years because of groups like Minnesota Pheasants, Inc., the Izaak Walton League, Pheasants Forever, Wild Turkey Federation and Ducks Unlimited.
“We’re fortunate to have so many groups come together to benefit conservation lands,” said Glenda Smith, the director of conventions and tourism for Visit Owatonna. “We appreciate the recreational opportunities provided by special places like Somerset WMA”
Somerset WMA is known for its diverse habitat and resulting diversity of species. Somerset WMA protects a natural floodplain, oxbow wetlands and lowland hardwoods near the confluence of Turtle Creek and the Straight River. Further upland, it has oaks, grasslands and brushland that provide habitat for deer, small game, pheasants and turkeys among other species.
“The benefit of this land goes beyond wildlife habitat and recreational hunting and fishing,” Owatonna Area Wildlife Manager Jeanine Vorland said. “Somerset WMA provides natural floodplain along the Straight River and Turtle Creek and helps maintain water quality in Steele County. We’re very fortunate for the conservation-minded leaders who established the ‘Save the Wetlands’ program and subsequent programs like the Reinvest In Minnesota and Outdoor Heritage Funds to protect sensitive areas like Somerset WMA.”
The parcel is located southwest of Owatonna in Steele County. The wildlife management area has limited parking, so members of the public are strongly encouraged to use bussing that is provided at the Steele County Fairgrounds. Bus routes will begin at 3:45 that day.
The celebration is part of the 2023 Minnesota Governor’s Pheasant Hunting Opener. Gov. Walz leads the weekend festivities, which feature many hunting, recreational and travel opportunities Owatonna has to offer visitors.
As the Steele County seat, Owatonna is situated at the junction of Interstate 35 and U.S. Highway 14 and has a population of 26,402. Steele County has strong ties to agriculture and has a skilled and diverse workforce thanks to a high concentration of manufacturing jobs. Steele County also outpaces the nation in the percentage of finance and insurance jobs.
Explore Minnesota and the Minnesota DNR are assisting Visit Owatonna in planning the event.