Four landowners were recently chosen by the Carlton County Soil and Water Conservation District (SWCD) as the 2018 Carlton County conservation award winners. All four were honored for the unique projects they have accomplished to conserve and protect natural resources on their properties and in their communities.

In addition, all four were also honored for their contributions toward another SWCD goal: education, a key component of SWCD work.

These 2018 winners are Alan and Sharon Finifrock, Outstanding Conservationists; Vicki and Terry Anderson, Pollinator Habitat; Bob Nelson, Urban Forestry; and Steve Risacher, Soil Health Steward. Over coming weeks, the Carlton SWCD will introduce you to these award winners, starting this week with the Finifrocks and their work in forestry management and education.

Alan Finifrock grew up on a dairy farm near the townsite of Nemadji. At a young age, he learned from his parents how to care for and improve the land. One of his earliest experiences was helping his parents to plant 2 acres of red pine and white spruce in remote, low-quality hay fields.

Although Sharon Finifrock spent her early years in Duluth, she also spent a lot of time outdoors, especially after she moved to Barnum at age 14. She vividly remembers her first tree-planting experience on a sixth grade outing to Hartley Field, a day that opened her eyes to the awesome beauty of leaves and nature.

Together, they have accomplished many conservation projects on their properties and in their community. Some of these projects and activities include:

• Helping Alan's parents register their 160-acre farm as a tree farm in 1967;

• Buying his parents' tree farm in the Nemadji area in 1971 and working with a professional forester to develop their first forest stewardship plan;

• Living and working in Alaska for for many years, but still coming "home" to plant trees and work on land improvement projects every summer;

• Planting about 20,000 trees by hand between 1977 and 1996 during their annual tree plantings;

• Working with the USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service in the 1980s to clear aspen patches for wildlife habitat;

• Holding their first timber sale in 1990, harvesting some of the red pine Alan planted with his parents when he was young;

• Purchasing another 120-acre land parcel with lakeshore on the south side of Bear Lake in Barnum;

• Working on buckthorn control activities on their Cloquet property with the SWCD and the Conservation Corps of Minnesota.

That's quite a list! And that's just the highlights of the work accomplished.

Through the years, the Finifrocks have shared most of these outdoor conservation experiences with their children, foster children and grandchildren, as well as other relatives, friends and neighbors. And along the way, everyone learned more about conservation and forestry management, as well as how to thoroughly enjoy and appreciate nature.

Kelly Smith, forestry conservationist with Carlton SWCD, has worked with Alan for many years and admires his dedication to the land.

"Alan promotes woodland management," Smith said. "He realizes that it not only provides environmental benefits, but also provides income, brings family members together, gives rich experiences and leaves a conservation legacy."

Thank you, Alan and Sharon, for your dedication to conservation and education. And congratulations on your well-deserved awards.

Kim Samuelson is Carlton SWCD's elected supervisor for District 4. For more information about forest management and the annual Conservation Awards program, contact Carlton SWCD at 218-384-3891. Find more information about Carlton SWCD on Facebook and at carltonswcd.org.