Habitat & Conservation  |  09/26/2023

Private Donation Bolsters Build a Wildlife Area Project in South Dakota

Nicole Stengle and her father after a late-season pheasant hunt.

Q&A with Nicole Stengle, who contributed $150,000 to Stanley County Property

The Heart of the Build a Wildlife Area program, like so much of Pheasants Forever’s mission, lies in grassroots support.

Local, volunteer support comes in many different shapes and sizes throughout the organization, from political advocacy to mentorship and everything in between. But with a program like Build a Wildlife Area, you a can see it — touch it, run your fingers through the end results of genuine, actionable, community support for habitat. New acres ready for boot prints, protected in perpetuity and open to the public. Nothing could mean more to bird hunters across the country, whether they’re from South Dakota or South Carolina.

As Pheasants Forever and Quail Forever celebrate Build a Wildlife Area week, the organization would like to highlight Nicole Stengle, who has recently championed this grassroots model with a $150,000 donation to the Frozen Man Creek Game Production Area in central South Dakota.

Stengle grew up in Pierre, South Dakota. She now lives in Cleveland, Ohio, where she’s the director for safety and regulatory compliance at Sherwin-Williams Paint Company.

Aerial view of Frozen Man Creek Game Production Area.

The Frozen Man Creek Game Production Area Addition is a 560-acre permanent protection project that builds upon an already extensive corridor of habitat in Stanley County, South Dakota. The property sits west of the state capital of Pierre, and is home to pheasants, sharp-tail grouse and deer.

Last week, Pheasants Forever sat down with Stengle to talk about her history with the outdoors and her motivation to make this contribution.

PF: Let’s start with just a little bit of your history with bird hunting and the outdoors in general. Did you grow up a pheasant hunter?

Stengle: I did. Both my parents grew up in South Dakota and moved to Watertown after getting married. That’s where the family’s passion for hunting and fishing really came to be. Shortly after I was born, we moved to Pierre, where I spent my entire childhood. Growing up in that area, we talk about the pheasant opener like it’s a holiday. You don’t plan a party or a wedding that weekend because everybody goes hunting. I remember pop up tables and folding chairs in that old farmhouse as far as the eye could see. Everybody brings a pie or another dish, the kids are running around the yard — it’s always been a great memory of fellowship for me.

PF: You briefly mentioned your father as being a major influence on your passion for the outdoors. Tell me more about him and the time you spent together growing up.

Stengle: I loved hunting with my dad so much, and we both loved being out there together. The sound of the wind through the trees and the grass, the sound of a rooster getting up. All our passions were very similar. When I was young, we didn’t have much money, so we didn’t have any land or access of our own. Every Friday night, dad would wait for the phone to ring because he knew it would be someone inviting us to go hunting. Once we got older, he did end up getting a place about 45 minutes from Watertown, and I finally got to see my dad in a position where he could host. Where he could say, “come with us,” and create that fellowship on his own. That time became some of the happiest memories I have with my dad.

PF: You continued to hunt with your father as an adult, even when your career took you far away from South Dakota, until his death in February 2019. What did it feel like to hunt without him for the first time after he passed?

Stengle: It was awful. It’s just different. Even now when we get together, there’s an emptiness in the room. I miss hunting because I would always go with my dad. So, I don’t really get out much anymore. He’s really a big reason why we wanted to donate and give back. Like I said, when we were little, we didn’t have any money to buy land or access, so I wanted to give back now that I’m able to.

PF: Tell me a little more about that process. When did the idea for this donation first come up?

Stengle: One of my best friends who lives in the area mentioned something about this piece of property outside of Pierre, and I thought, “well I think we could probably do something to help out with that.” My friend mentioned it to Jake Hanson, who works for Pheasants Forever in that area, and it just snowballed from there. It was a perfect scenario. The previous owners wanted to keep it in its current state, and because of my dad, I wanted to give people access. Give people a place to run their dogs and hunt that’s protected. And I also want to help keep the pheasant populations high for my state, because it helps with everything - tourism dollars, water quality, habitat, everything.

PF: You’ve yet to actually see this property. What will it feel like to stand in the dirt for the first time and look at nearly 600-acres of habitat that you helped make possible?

Stengle: We didn’t bury my dad because we don’t need to visit a gravesite. I don’t need to look at a headstone. A graveyard is just not my dad. So, this was our way to remember him, and how we’re able to leave a legacy. It’s hard to say what it will feel like to see the property for the first time, but it will be a special moment. My dad really put others before himself his whole life, and I think this is another testament to that. I’m just so glad to be able to give back to the state that means so much to our family.

The Frozen Man Creek addition was completed with the help of the South Dakota Game, Fish and Parks, as well as numerous other partners including the Pierre/Ft. Pierre Chapter of Pheasants Forever, the Black Hills Chapter of Pheasants Forever, the Okobojo Creek Chapter of Pheasants Forever, the Yankton Chapter of Pheasants Forever, High Plains Wildlife and additional private donors.

Now through September 29th, your contribution to the Build a Wildlife Area program will be leveraged x20, plus when you donate $33 or more you'll receive a FREE 10oz YETI 'Public Land Creator' Lowball.

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