The Youth Outdoor Activity Day at the Alexandria Shooting Park has grown in participants in each of its first four years of existence. That's why organizers are planning even bigger and better things again this year.
The fifth annual youth day is set for Sunday, Aug. 26, from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. at the shooting park. The day is an entirely free event hosted by Douglas County Pheasants Forever and the Viking Sportsmen.
There will be more than 40 outdoor activities for kids to take part in that include things like trap shooting and archery, shelter building, goose calling, ATV rides and fire building. If it involves the outdoors, chances are there's an event for kids to take part in.
Last year's Youth Outdoor Activity Day drew 2,180 kids ages 16 and younger. This year, organizers are planning for 2,500 kids and an additional 2,000 adults, which includes volunteers.
"The fact it's growing like this just reinforces the need for an event like this," youth day organizer and Douglas County PF president Dean Krebs said. "It's just been amazing the support we've gotten from the Douglas County Area. Now we're even getting state and national organizations. Cub Foods and Cabelas, Scheels and Walmart and Purina, they're all contributing to our event."
Providing a free day for thousands of people to enjoy happens because of the buy-in from a lot of businesses and outdoor groups who believe in the mission of this event and getting kids outside. Locally, Mid-Minnesota Federal Credit Union and Geneva Capital are the event's platinum sponsors.
The support helps not only get kids through the gates for free. It also makes it possible to send them home with something to further foster an interest in the outdoors.
Krebs said there will likely be more giveaways than the event has ever had. Tools like waterfowl calls, rods and reels, butterfly nets, BB guns, bows and arrows and birdhouses.
"Number one, we have the business community, which has really stepped up," Krebs said. "Number two, we have the outdoor groups that have really stepped up to make this event possible. Then the volunteers. We're going to have about 300 volunteers there."
Kids can come and get hands-on learning centered around hunting, fishing, camping and other outdoor recreation opportunities. Or they can just explore.
Bosek Fisheries out of Garfield is expanding their "What's in our Lakes?" exhibit that they have had at the youth day in the past. This allows children to see native fish up close and handle things like frogs and turtles.
The number of people willing to help put the youth day together has grown with the participation. The inaugural event in 2014 drew 542 kids. That more than doubled to almost 1,400 the next year and then to 1,811 in 2016.
Reaching more than 2,000 kids last year was something organizers never knew would be possible a few years ago. That's why the success of this event, and all who help make it possible, isn't lost on them.
"It's gratifying, but (we're) also proud of our community because it is embraced by so many people here," Krebs said. "It's not just one group of people. Our groups are so diverse from Girl Scouts to an outfitter in Ely to Cabelas to Runestone Electric. These groups are not necessarily all after the same thing in terms of a specific thing, but they're all after the same basic mission of getting kids off the couch and getting them involved in outdoor activities."