TROUT RUN - Tuesday was a sad day for Steve Berger, president of the Wild Game Feeders Association.
"After 52 years ... we have got to the point where we can financially no longer go on," Berger said that evening. "We dissolved the organization tonight."
The game feeders sold memberships to hunting clubs and individuals who were wildlife lovers. In return, each member received up to a bushel-and-a-half of corn that they used to fill feeders in the woods. Hungry deer, turkeys and other animals then had an extra source of food during the snowy winter months.
"What ended us was the price of corn and the economy over the last 10 years," Berger said. "A lack of participation didn't help."
The association was founded by Berger's grandfather, Paul Berger Sr., in the winter of 1959-60. He was spurred to action after he found seven or eight dead turkeys on Steam Valley Mountain.
That first year, a few hundred people joined the group. It grew over the years, at first.
"We went from 1,600 members 10 years ago to just over 600 this past year," Berger said. "That's a drastic drop."
For 15 years, the association has depended on a core group of 15 active members.
"I've been president for 15 years now," Berger said. "I've been involved with it probably since the day I was born. I remember dragging bags of corn up Steam Valley Mountain, following my grandfather. I think I was in kindergarten."
The group held its last corn distribution this past January and February in Trout Run.
"We usually start setting up for next year at this time, buying the corn ..." he said. "I want to thank the public for 52 years. If it wasn't for them, the people who came up there in those nasty ice storms, who waded through 12 inches of snow (to put out corn for animals) ... those are the people that we're gonna miss."
Over the years, the corn distribution turned into a family event.
Berger said he'll miss "the Saturday mornings at Trout Run, the families coming to get their corn. That's the biggest sadness."
Through the 1960s, the association worked with the state Game Commission, helping the agency by doing habitat cutting and aiding with their own corn feeding program.
In recent years, though, the commission has begun establishing new laws that frown upon feeding wildlife, Berger said.
"People started shying away from it.
"But," he emphasized, "that has nothing to do with why we're dissolving."
The primary reason boils down to money - a massive increase in the price of corn coupled with faltering membership fees.
"What really hurt us is, eight or nine years ago, when the price of corn went through the roof. It pretty much wiped us out," he said.
Corn cost about $60 a ton 10 years ago, Berger said.
"Right now, the current market price at the auction in Dewart is between $180 to $225 per ton," he added.
The association bought its corn from local farmers but paid the going market price.
Along with an increase in expenses, the group saw a decrease in members.
"A lot of the sales we lost were people from out-of-state or out-of-town who went to the hunting camps around here. A lot of hunting camps are empty now."
A few years ago, the association sold turkey calls to commemorate its 45th anniversary. A few thousand dollars provided a temporary cushion.
As the seven-member board of directors began to realize how desperate the situation was, "we put the word out to many people and we talked to several gas companies," Berger said. "Nobody wanted to offer any financial donations at all.
"I know the economy's tough," he said. "Last year ... it was a rough year. We got by, by the skin of our teeth. This year, we can't."
The old corn cribs that the association has used either will be destroyed or given to those who own the land on which they sit. A corn elevator used to fill the cribs will be sold.
"We are debt-free," Berger said. "Our remaining money - which is not very much - we are going to donate to the Lycoming Creek Anglers Club. They do a lot of functions for kids. The same people who supported us support that club, so it is a good thing for us to give it to them."
Nevertheless, Berger wishes that things could have been different for the Wild Game Feeders Association.
"It's a sad day. We've been around for a long time," he said. "We hate to see it go, but we did everything we could to keep it going."