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A gift and a challenge

Saturday, a Pierce County sportsman's club accepted a man's challenge to preserve and protect 141 acres and the mile-long stretch of trout stream that flows through it.

About 150 people gathered at noon to celebrate the donation from the estate of Herbert P. Koch, formerly of Hastings, Minn., to the Eau Galle-Rush River Sportsman's Club.

"We just feel it's the most beautiful land we could possibly be in," said Koch's niece, Patty Stoneberg, Hastings. Her uncle died three years ago this month, giving seven people 15 years and the charge to find a group to accept the land for a park.

The family also gave the club 25 signs to identify the area as "Koch Family Lands" and $2,500 to help develop a fishing area for persons with handicaps.

Herbert P. Koch bought the land, along the Rush River in the Town of El Paso, more than 30 years ago for his mother Rose.

According to his family, Koch chose the site--which includes woods, open fields and rocky bluffs--for its beauty and natural setting. As time went by, the house was never built, and Koch decided to protect the land from development.

"Uncle Bud" never married and had no children, said nephew Herb M. Koch. "Nieces, nephews and friends are left to carry on his legacy."

"It was the whole family that made this possible," said Herb M.

While Stoneberg of Hastings and her husband Mark did most of the work in arranging the transfer, other family members had a vote in choosing the sportsman's club.

Herb M. said the group will keep the land natural, preserve it and "allow Uncle Bud's legacy to continue for generations to come."

In June 2006, the sportsman's club learned the Koch trust was looking for a local non-profit group to permanently preserve the land and contacted family members.

She and her husband and another pair checked out possible organizations and came up with the same recommendation, said Stoneberg.

"Since then, (members of the club) have seemed like family," she said. "They have been watching over the land. They are the right people."

The sportsman's club, which has worked with several other stream restoration projects, has already planted 600 shrubs on the property, said President Arby Linder.

He said the club plans to leave the property in its natural state and restore its native habitat.