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Trail named after Rochester Ikes’ longest-serving member

November 27, 2018

George Poch is not a man who likes to be fussed over.

So there was embarrassment and fluster but also perhaps quiet pride on a gray Saturday afternoon, when people gathered at the Izaak Walton Wetlands on Salem Road to dedicate the trail there to Poch.

Poch, 83, has served in the Rochester chapter of the Izaak Walton League for half a century. Members are called “Ikes” for short. As its longest-serving member, Poch (pronounced Polk) speaks from personal experience when he says there were many, many people who helped make the 27-acre wetlands a flourishing eco-retreat.

“I don’t want to say it’s all about me,” Poch said.

Still, many were convinced that Poch deserves credit for his lifetime dedication to the environment.

Through the years, numerous Mayo Clinic and Rochester luminaries were members of Izaak Walton, including future Supreme Court Justice Harry Blackmun and Dr. Paul Zollman.

When membership flagged and the organization declined, Poch was a steadfast, sometimes lone pillar of support. Now with the chapter in the midst of a resurgence, Poch’s work and his link to the group’s past are being celebrated.

“He has a personal connection to the past,” said Randy Roenigk, the group’s vice president. “He stuck it out through the down times. And he’s just as active with the new people as he was with the old ones.”

To walk along the newly named, mile-long George Poch loop is to find oneself immersed in nature and “separate from the world,” Roenigk said.

It has a viewing stand for bird-watching. An assortment of trees, including butternut, hackberry and white pine, grace the path. The trail also wends its way around a series of man-made ponds.

But it didn’t start out that way. When the Mayo family sold the land to Izaak Walton in the 1950s – for one dollar, legend has it – the parcel was used for cattle grazing.

Through a combination of planning, projects and nature’s force, the area evolved.

Early members such as Malcolm Dockerty saw the potential of building ponds to attract waterfowl. The Minnesota Department of Natural Resources helped with the planning and the financing.

The Boy Scouts chipped in by developing and maintaining the trail. Nature did its bit. Trees of various species migrated in.

The one constant through the years has been Poch, a soil scientist whose supervision and care for the wetlands made him a contributor to its thriving state.

“He is an inspiration. He is a quiet, humble man,” said Julie Roenigk, also an Ikes’s member.

In the last several years, a new generation of Ikes is taking a more active stewardship in maintaining the wetlands for people’s enjoyment. The entryway to the trail, once overgrown with brush, has been cleared. The trail is easier to traverse. A bridge has been repaired. It’s also easier to get to the bird-viewing stand.

A cedar wood sign made by Mike Ewing that proclaims, “The George Poch Nature Trail,” now stands at the trail’s entryway.

“I don’t mind,” Poch said when asked about it. “I didn’t intend for this to be. I’d rather see the focus on the wetlands. George Poch will be totally forgotten. The more important thing is what’s going to be here when people walk it.”

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