Maine Game Warden Eric Blanchard works mapping land on Greenwood Mountain Road in Hebron, Maine, on Wednesday, Nov. 1, 2017. Blanchard was working on property where Karen Wrentzel, 34, was allegedly shot and killed by a hunter on Oct. 28, 2017 Credit: John Holyoke

WINSLOW, Maine — After winning the Maine Warden Service’s top award on Friday, Eric Blanchard didn’t have to think long when asked why he first decided to join the organization in the first place.

“This guy right here,” he said, proudly pointing to his father, Bruce, who had traveled to Winslow for the service’s annual awards ceremony.

“We started off hunting and fishing when I was 8 years old,” Blanchard said. “This just combines my love of law enforcement with hunting and fishing. My family, my family, my brother, it’s what we do: Hunting and fishing.”

Most of the state’s wardens were present for the awards ceremony at the Winslow VFW hall. Blanchard, who graduated from Brewer High School in 1989 and Eastern Kentucky University of 1993, began his law enforcement as a police officer in Concord, N.H. He spent four years there before becoming a warden in 1999. He has worked three districts, all in York County, since then, and lives in Wells with his wife Elizabeth and daughter Logan.

Among Blanchard’s projects: Helping to ensure the success of the Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife’s piping plover law enforcement program since 2007, writing and managing Maine Warden Service Outdoor Heritage Fund grants, and managing the service’s forensic mapping team.

Blanchard is also working toward a degree in mechanical engineering while working full time.

Col. Joel Wilkinson, the chief of the Maine Warden Service, said that within three years, roughly 40 percent of the sworn wardens now serving will be eligible to retire, making this an important time of transition for the service that is celebrating 138 years in existence.

And as conflict with other law enforcement officers around the country sometimes boil to the surface, he cautioned the assembled wardens to remain above the fray.

“Be calm in the chaos,” Wilkinson said.

Gov. Paul R. LePage attended the beginning of the ceremony and delivered prepared remarks. LePage said that during his seven years in office, the number of visitors to the state has increased from 32 million a year to 44 million. Part of the reason for that, he said, was the job that the Maine Warden Service does in protecting the state’s natural resources.

“You are a small force, but you get it done, each and every day since the 1880s,” LePage said.

Retired Warden Lt. John Crabtree, who was named the Maine Warden Service Association “Legendary Warden,” had this piece of advice for those who still serve.

“Every once in awhile, reach up and feel that piece of metal on your chest,” he said, referring to the badges that wardens wear. “And remember how fortunate you are to wear it.”

Winners of other awards during Friday’s awards ceremony.

K9 Search and Rescue of the Year

Warden Kevin Pelkey and K9 Badger (posthumously), for finding a lost teenager near Umbasooskus Lake.

K9 Criminal Case of the Year

Cpl. Dave Chabot and K9 Ruby, for solving an illegal discharge of a firearm case.

Exemplary Service Awards

Retired Warden Pilot Gary Dumond for his role in the search for an overdue fisherman; Warden Sgt. Bruce Loring, Warden Tony Gray, Warden Bob Johansen, Warden Rick Ouellette, Warden Kyle Hladik, Warden Jeremy Kemp and Warden Cpl. Mike Joy for their dive team actions while searching for overdue fishermen who were found dead; Warden Tony Gray for his investigation of a hunting-related fatality in Hebron and other cases; Warden James Gushee for stopping a suicide in progress while on duty; Warden Scott Martin for his help in finding a missing boy; Warden Joe Bailey for his actions in investigating a fatal ATV accident; Warden Will Shuman for using outside-the-box tactics to catch violators on a closed smelt run; Warden Cpl. Dave Chabot for his work on many cases, including several with his K9 Ruby; Warden Jonathan Parker, Warden Will Shuman and Warden Jared Herrick for discovering and investigating commercial bait violations; Warden Evan Franklin for finding a missing woman in Down East Maine; Warden Andrew Smart for his response to an Operation Game Thief complaint on a Unity stream; Warden Doug Kulis, Warden Joe Lefebvre and Warden Mark Merrifield for their response to an Operation Game Thief complaint that helped them catch two hunters who had killed a total of eight deer; Warden Paul Mason for a deer-baiting investigation; Warden Jim Davis for uncovering a deer snaring operation that he’d first investigated 20 years ago; Warden Bob Decker, for his investigation of a horse that had been shot; Warden Jeremy Judd and Warden Neal Wykes for their investigation of a canoe fatality and a subsequent police boat crash; Warden John Carter for his efforts catching intentional violators in Hancock County.

Meritorious Service Awards

Warden Alan Dudley, for finding a drowning victim in the Aroostook River and diving in to drag him to shore in an attempt to save him.

Operation Game Thief Guardian Award: Lt. Tom Ward

Operation Game Thief Guardian Cup Award: Maine Warden Service Shooting Team

Maine Warden Service Association Merit Award: Paul Reynolds, Scott Brown and Family

MWSA Legendary Warden: Retired Lt. John Crabtree

Commissioner’s print: Warden Mike boyer, on his last day in uniform after more than 36 years

Supervisor of the year: Sgt. Jason Luce

Colonel’s Award: Chandler Woodcock

Warden of the Year: Eric Blanchard

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John Holyoke

John Holyoke has been enjoying himself in Maine's great outdoors since he was a kid. He spent 28 years working for the BDN, including 19 years as the paper's outdoors columnist or outdoors editor. While...