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Youth Day draws a huge crowd again

Simon DeBlieck of Alexandria helps out his 6-year-old daughter, Kayla, at the rope-making station as Erica Johnson looks on in the back. The rope-making opportunity, which was hosted by the Boy Scouts of America, was a popular attraction for kids in its first year at the Youth Outdoor Activity Day. (Eric Morken | Echo Press)1 / 5
Alexandria 10-year-old Erica Johnson looks at some furs with her grandpa, Paul Johnson, during Sunday's Youth Outdoor Activity Day. (Eric Morken | Echo Press)2 / 5
Glenwood's John Jenson, 10, takes aim at a target in a pool below him on the ground as she shoots from a platform in a boat at the bowfishing station on Sunday. Fargo native Jalen Johnson served as a volunteer to help kids out at the station. (Eric Morken | Echo Press)3 / 5
Glenwood 10-year-old John Jenson gets a high five from volunteer Jalen Johnson after hitting his mark at the bowfishing station at the Youth Outdoor Activity Day in Alexandria on Sunday. (Eric Morken | Echo Press)4 / 5
A panoramic view of some of the people gathered and activities offered at Sunday's Youth Outdoor Activity Day at the Alexandria Shooting Park. The free event drew more than 1,700 kids. (Eric Morken | Echo Press)5 / 5

Kayla DeBlieck had just gotten done making her own rope at the Alexandria Shooting Park on Sunday afternoon and was ready to hurry on to the next event.

It was down to the last hour of the five-hour Youth Outdoor Activity Day, and there was still so much to do.

“I don’t really like to go fishing, but I really like to just do stuff in nature,” Kayla said. “I like to be in the outdoors so much because I want to explore.”

The 6-year-old from Alexandria came to the right place. This year’s third annual youth day hosted by the Douglas County Pheasants Forever chapter and Viking Sportsmen group had a total of 39 different events for kids to try.

Those range from the entertainment to educational variety. There were staple events like trap and archery shooting, fire building and a shoot/don’t shoot course, geocaching and mock blood trails.

Many are set up to get kids a taste of hunting or fishing, but not all of them. There was a pollinator booth, a chance to build a bird feeder, ATV safety tips and rides and a climbing wall. Many of the parents or grandparents that brought their kids on Sunday were hunters or anglers themselves, but the popular theme was anything that kids can do in the outdoors is time well spent.

“It’s wonderful,” Kayla’s father, Simon, said. “We fish a fair amount. We go up and visit grandparents a lot in Park Rapids, and they have a lake place. We go out on the lake and they go on tubes and fish and swim. We live out in the country, so they do some walking and there’s deer and turkeys wandering around. I’m just glad they want to be outside.”

EVENT GROWS AGAIN

Dean Krebs, president of Douglas County PF, said they registered 1,811 kids on Sunday with a total attendance of more than 3,000, including more than 250 volunteers. That’s more kids participating for the third straight year – from 542 in 2014 and 1,391 last summer.

That’s the goal for the hundreds of businesses and outdoor groups around Alexandria, Minnesota and the country that provide time and financial support to make this an entirely free event that offers food and fun for kids 16 and younger.

“We’re always trying to make sure we have the same or more kids, yet I think the quality of our events went up,” Krebs said. “We had more events this year with a rock climbing wall, butterfly preschool, ATV course. I was telling somebody else that not one of these kids were in front of a screen today. I haven’t seen one screen. No iPads, no Internet, no TV, and they’re having a ball, which is fantastic.”

A DIFFERENT EVENT FOR EVERYONE

Paul and Paulette Johnson of Alexandria were there with three of their grandkids in Ethan, 14, Sidney, 12, and Erica, 10. Hunting and fishing have been a part of the Johnson family for years, but they were blown away by the depth of activities offered in their first time coming to the event.

“Things we’ve never even seen,” Paulette said. “It’s very exciting with all the items, the places they can go and do.”

“I think this is a fantastic program,” Paul added. “I’ve never been out here before. There’s so many kids out here that don’t get exposed to this stuff. I think it’s wonderful.”

Ethan was on a mission to test out his accuracy with throwing a tomahawk. Sidney braided her first rope.

“It was hard,” she said. “You have to spin it really fast, and I was tired at the end, and it was hard to keep going. It’s been really fun, and I’ve gotten to try a lot of things I haven’t tried before.”

Glenwood’s John Jenson, 10, has never been bowfishing, but he’d like to now. He climbed onto the boat that was set up for kids to take aim with a bow and shoot at a target in a small pool on the ground below them.

Jenson hit his mark as a smile came to his face. He was up for trying just about anything, including shooting a muzzleloader for the first time on Sunday morning.

“It was really fun and it kicked back a little, but not much,” John said.

Hunting is already a passion for him. He shot his first wood duck and pheasant last year. This year, he’ll try to get a deer for the first time, and his excitement level is pretty high.

“One out of 10, probably a 25,” he said.

That love for the outdoors has been ingrained in him through a lot of hunts with his father, David.

“He was with me all the time last year, and he’s ready this year,” David said. “I bet he’ll be out with me 90 percent of the time.”

TAKING IT FURTHER

Organizers of the youth day love to hear that, and are taking steps to provide similar opportunities for children who might not get that chance already.

A $24,220 grant that the Viking Sportsmen and Douglas County PF received through the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources Hunter Recruitment and Retention Program for this year’s event helped purchase almost 1,000 prizes that were given away.

That included fishing poles, BB guns and bows for beginners and those with some archery experience.

The grant also came with responsibility to go further than just viewing this as a one-day event. Organizers got adults participating by letting them shoot alongside their kids at the trap and archery ranges as a way to get whole families involved.

The registration process had surveys to track how involved families already are in the outdoors and the interest they would have in getting more involved if opportunities were provided.

A group like the Minnesota Darkhouse and Angling Association already has a mentored spearing day set up for this winter that kids could sign up for on Sunday.

“They come here, they sign up and they’ll take them out on a spearing trip this winter,” Krebs said. “That’s just one example. Each one of these groups, they are going to be keeping track with what connections they’re making with these kids and these families and reporting back to us.”

Krebs was in Minneapolis for a Recruitment, Retention and Reactivation summit on Saturday to learn more about some of the best practices in getting more young people outside.

The goal this year is about more than just hosting a one-day event. It’s about providing a spark and doing what they can to help kids keep or create a passion for the outdoors.

“That’s really the next phase of what we want to do with youth day here is provide the context so families can expand further into some of these activities,” Krebs said. “They try it here, they get their interest and make a connection and then go out and do it with some of these groups that we have here.”

Eric Morken

Eric Morken is the sports and outdoor editor at the Echo Press and Osakis Review newspapers in Douglas County, MN. Follow him on Twitter at echo_sports.

(320) 763-1229
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