By GAIL OBER, LACONIA DAILY SUN
GILFORD — It was a full house Thursday evening as many of the members of the Belknap County Sportsman Club sat at long tables covered in white while waiting for the annual chicken dinner to begin.
Beginning in 1931, the club has moved once, from closer to the airport, to where they are now on Lily Pond Road, and has seen a steadily growing membership, and today boasts just over 400 members.
Dedicated to teaching proper hunting, fishing, archery and outdoor-survival techniques to the many youths and young adults in the area, for the first time in its existence, the club faces the real possibility that it may have to close.
For years, the Sportsmen's Club has been leasing the property from the Laconia Airport for $100 a year, which has allowed the club to give about $30,000 over its existence to local scholarship funds as well as teach all of the aforementioned skills and techniques to area youths.
With the lease ending in June of next year, it is the club members' desire to purchase the land from the airport, but that's going to take some money said Herb Ainsworth, who takes care of publicity for the club. They are currently awaiting an assessment of the land's value and purchase price.
The annual chicken barbecue is but one of the events held annual for members, that include the New Year's Game Supper, hosting two annual fishing derbies, and sponsoring a scholarship for students who want to study conservation or related studies like forestry and ecology. The club also keeps its members up to date on the latest state hunting and fishing laws.
Gilford's Bob Landry, a retired Laconia firefighter, has been a member in some form since he was a child in the 1960s.
"My father was a member," Landry recalled Thursday, saying he learned much about firearms safety and hunting skills from his dad and through the club.
After he and his wife, Karin, returned to New Hampshire from California, he rejoined and has been a member since then.
"It's important to preserve a way of life that New Hampshire people are historically used to," said Karin Landry, who said now that her husband is retired, she may take up shooting and archery again.
"It's encouraging to belong to a group that promotes firearm safety and stands strong for the Second Amendment," said Bob.
On the other hand, member Stan Rogers, who has a second home in Gilford, just joined the club this year.
Rogers, who likes pistol shooting, said he likes the idea of nice shooting ranges that are outdoors.
"There aren't many areas where people can go and shoot any more," he said.
Barry and Virginia Lehneman, also of Gilford, have been members for at least 20 years and are very proud of the contributions the sportsman club has made to "the kids."
"Especially the two fishing derbies," said Barry. "We also have hunter education and a nice bow-and-arrow course."
The Lehnermans are active in the Belknap Mountain Range and are very concerned with ecology and the conservation of the areas natural resources and beauty.
He said they also sent three women to the Barry Conservation Camp in Berlin for their Becoming an Outdoor Woman program.
Club members and their guest gather at the Belknap County Sportsman Club Thursday night for their annual chicken dinner. (Gail Ober/Laconia Daily Sun)
There are four separate shooting ranges at the Belknap County Sportsman Club as well as an archery course built through the woods. (Gail Ober/Laconia Daily Sun)
(Courtesy Frank Ross)