PETERSBURG – This morning, Governor Jack Markell joined DNREC Deputy Secretary David Small, Division of Fish and Wildlife Director David Saveikis and a host of sporting dog club members from around Delmarva and the Mid-Atlantic region to dedicate a new 2,400-square-foot building on the Norman G. Wilder Wildlife Area as the second Ralph D. Kellam Conservation and Recreation Center.
“Beginning today, we will build on the past success of the C&R Center to enhance central Delaware’s reputation for sporting dog trials and training to make our state the destination for birddog trials in this region,” Governor Markell said. “We look forward to welcoming birddog trainers from throughout the Mid-Atlantic and beyond to enjoy this building, the surrounding field trial grounds and all this area has to offer.”
“Today, we honor the storied past of the C&R Center and its founders, including Ralph Kellam, and, with this new building that again bears his name, we also look forward to a bright future of continuing Delaware’s great outdoors tradition of sporting dogs and field trials, and to sharing that tradition throughout the region,” said Secretary Small.
For 60 years, the C&R Center has hosted birddog training and dog trial events, and representatives of some 15 sporting dog clubs from Delaware, Maryland, Pennsylvania, and Virginia who have used the center over the years watched, applauded and reminisced as the ribbon was cut on the new facility.
For more than a century, Delawareans have participated in bobwhite quail hunting and competitive birddog field trials. In the early 20th century, birddog trials were a popular gentlemanly sport that also helped bring food to the table, the latter becoming even more important during the lean years of the Great Depression. The end of the Depression and a plentiful native bird population in Delaware brought an increased interest in upland game hunting and birddog trials that continued through World War II, reaching its heyday from the mid-1940s to the late 1950s.
In 1941, the Delaware Game and Fish Commission – now DNREC’s Division of Fish and Wildlife – signed a 99-year lease with the U.S. Department of Agriculture for the then-2,872-acre Petersburg Game Management Refuge, known today as the Norman G. Wilder Wildlife Area. Soon after, at the request of local sporting dog club members, commissioners agreed to set aside about 150 acres of the preserve for birddog field trials.
One of those club members was Ralph Downing Kellam (1900-1998), a native Virginian and avid outdoorsman who had helped organize field trial clubs in Delaware, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Maryland and Virginia, as well as authoring a column in American Field magazine.
Residing in Claymont and serving as secretary of the Delaware Pointer and Setter Club (the country’s second oldest birddog club, founded in 1909), Kellam led the charge to build a permanent building on the Petersburg preserve. Fundraising as he built, Kellam saw the original Conservation and Recreation Center dedicated on this site in 1954 – and rededicated to bear his name in 1991.
“Known for his energy and enthusiasm, Kellam was a ‘can-do’ individual who took on many tasks for the betterment of the sport,” wrote Barbara Teare, executive director of the Bird Dog Foundation, regarding Kellam’s induction into the National Bird Dog Museum’s Field Trial Hall of Fame in 1999, noting that Kellam “campaigned tirelessly … and worked alongside volunteers to complete the building.”
A dedicated conservationist, Kellam also loved waterfowling and worked for the preservation of waterfowl in Delaware and Maryland through his membership in the Del Bay Retriever Club (second oldest retriever club in the country) and as chairman of Ducks Unlimited (DU), Delaware Chapter. DU honored him with its Conservation Service Award in 1969.
“My father loved sporting dogs, and he would very pleased to know that sporting dogs will continue to train and compete in trials here at the C&R Center, and honored to know this new building once again bears his name,” said Ralph Kellam’s son, Bill Kellam, who helped cut the ribbon on the new building, along with his daughter, Susan Kellam Broussard.
The Ralph D. Kellam C&R Center is available for rental from DNREC’s Division of Fish and Wildlife primarily to sporting dog groups for training and field trials, and for other related or compatible conservation uses. The rustic building includes a large front porch, fireplace, full kitchen and restrooms, with tables and chairs available. For more information on use of the center, please contact the Wildlife Section at 302-739-9912.