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June 13, 2013 9:42 am

‘It’s a pretty good bunch we got’

Written by Gib Mathers

Friends lend a neighborly fence-fixin’ hand to assist elk near Wapiti

Wintering elk find the barbed wire fence in the foothills southeast of Wapiti a lot more to their liking, thanks to efforts by Wyoming Disabled Hunters Inc. and volunteers.

A lot of fence was repaired around the Ballinger Wilderness Retreat a few miles southeast of Wapiti as the crow flies. The occasion was the 18th annual appreciation day for Wyoming Disabled Hunters, Inc. Saturday, hosted by members Merlyn and Virginia Ballinger of Powell.

The day consisted of repairs around the place, food and fellowship.

Clips mounted on fence posts allowed volunteers to lower all barbed wire strands to the bottom wire or raise it back up in a matter of seconds per post.

“It’s the slickest thing I’ve ever seen,” said Tim Good, Wyoming Disabled Hunter’s treasurer.

With only the bottom strand in place, elk can easily circumvent the fence without injury or entanglement, Good said.

Like rolling waves of thick grass, the foothills resembled a stockgrower’s heaven, but wildlife like it too.

Around 150 to 200 elk wintered on the Ballinger, Bureau of Land Management and state land this year. Ballinger graze cattle there in the fall.

When they pulled the cattle out in late fall, they lowered the fence to make it easier for elk to cross the range and thus survive the winter, said Merlyn Ballinger.

Wildlife belong to the public and Ballinger said he feels an obligation to those animals. So he makes the fence as safe for wildlife as possible.

Around noon, several dozen people squeezed into the Ballinger cabin to grab a buffet lunch. From there, they moseyed outside to eat it on a lawn shaded by pine trees. Reminiscent of a lunch break during an old-fashioned barn raising, there were tables, chairs, dogs and kids enjoying a bite and each others’ company.

Prime rib was on the menu for supper. Virginia Ballinger reckoned about 50 people enjoyed it that evening.

Club members, neighbors and other volunteers come every year to help with repairs. Many of the same friends return year after year.

“It’s a pretty good bunch we got,” Merlyn Ballinger said.

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