Youth Outdoor Activity Day: More smiles, more record numbers
The Youth Outdoor Activity Day in Alexandria has grown every year it’s been in existence, and nothing changed on Sunday at the local shooting park.
After drawing 2,180 kids for the fourth annual event in 2017, a total of 2,212 kids registered on Sunday. Along with parents and volunteers, 4,050 total people took advantage of the entirely free event hosted by the Viking Sportsmen and Douglas County Pheasants Forever that gives kids countless opportunities to experience outdoor activities.
“I was pleasantly surprised, given that the weather was threatening all day,” youth day organizer Dean Krebs said. “We probably had a few people who stayed home just due to that, so I was pleasantly surprised.”
The rain that threatened held off all six hours of the event as cloudy skies and a slight breeze made for some comfortable temperatures.
This year’s event had 47 stations for kids to take part in centered around food and fun without having to spend a dime. The outdoor stations ran the gamut from hunting and fishing themed to an ATV course, rock climbing wall, campfire building, orienteering, mountain biking and more.
Kids take part in those and also go home with an armful of free materials to help them stay involved in the outdoors through products like fishing poles, bows and arrows and BB-guns.
Steve Friedlein is the challenge course coordinator through the Prairie Woods Environmental Learning Center out of Spicer, which provided the rock climbing wall at the youth day. The non-profit organization is at events almost every weekend in the summer, and Friedlein said the youth day in Alexandria keeps them as busy as anything they bring the wall to.
“We’ll have 1,300-some kids climb the wall today,” Friedlein said. “We start at 10 and we don’t stop before four. This is a good environment to be in, for sure. It’s an endless amount of kids all day, and what’s cool is a lot of them have never climbed before. This introduces people to it, and hopefully they take the next step, just like with all the other activities here.”
The opportunities to introduce kids to different things is what makes this day so unique to so many. Kevin and Jessica Rankl of Alexandria brought their 3-year-old son, Caleb, and his 5-year-old brother, Sam. Caleb laid down in a duck blind that was run by the local Chain of Lakes Ducks Unlimited group as volunteer Alan Telander talked him through a flock of ducks coming into the decoys. Telander threw open the blind doors and Caleb sat up with a smile on his face to toss a few tennis balls at the imaginary birds.
“There’s a lot of people out there who wouldn’t go to an event if they have to pay for it,” Kevin said. “Here, it’s free and they can interact with other kids out here. See what other kids are doing. The younger you can get kids involved in this stuff, the more they want to do it when they’re older.”
That’s ultimately the hope - that many of these kids become passionate about the outdoors. While there are no guarantees that happens, it’s well worth the investment for volunteers like Telander who spend their day working with the kids. In total, Krebs said youth day requires nearly 300 volunteers to make happen.
“I hope they get to experience this for real some day,” Telander said. “Maybe this will pique their interest and they’ll say, ‘Hey, I want to go out and get in a layout blind.’ Or do some more shooting or bow hunting, fishing. The opportunities out here are endless for something to grab their attention.”
Alexandria’s Kyle and Laura Goraczkowski brought their 2.5-year-old son, Alex, and 4.5-year-old, Ali. At Alex's age, he might not be able to take part in all of the activities yet, but there are things to do to help foster an appreciation for the outdoors that his parents hope he develops.
“We want him to be more aware of the different activities there are to do outside,” Laura said. “It’s awesome. There’s a lot of organizations that put a lot of work into all the outdoor activities. We really like to expose our kids to that. That’s how we live our lives is doing stuff outdoors, so the different options are amazing.”
The Goraczkowskis have the Youth Outdoor Activity Day marked on their calendar months in advance each year. They wouldn’t miss it, and they can mark it on their calendar again for 2019 after another record turnout this year.
“The last Sunday in August is our day,” Krebs said. “It’s amazing how our community has come together for this. So many different organizations doing different activities. It’s amazing.”