Wyatt Helmbrecht is 11-years old from New York Mills. He comes from a family with an active background in hunting but there were so many other things the family wanted to take part in at the Alexandria Shooting Park on Sunday.
Wyatt and his mother, Jessica, helped wrap a mallard hen house in the opening hour of the Youth Outdoor Activity Day as they were part of a flurry of kids and adults who got to the shooting park right when the gates opened at 10 a.m. The Helmbrechts made the more than hour-long drive to Alexandria just to be there.
“It’s to introduce him more to the outdoor activities and let him know what’s available out there,” Jessica said. “It’s not just sitting home on an Xbox. Just so he knows what kind of things are out there -- fishing, hunting, wildlife, what the conservation officers do. What the DNR does, so he knows there are rules and regulations out there and things change all the time. It’s nice he gets caught up on all that stuff, especially since he’s getting to that age where he can hunt. It’s just nice to get out for the day.”
Wyatt said he was excited to shoot a muzzleloader and a bow on Sunday. Lillyana Clobes, 8-years old from Farwell, was eager to try the rock climbing wall. She was there early in the day with her dad, Mike, as they jumped around from activity to activity.
“I wanted to show her the other options she can do outside other than hunting specifically,” Mike said of bringing Lillyana. “There’s shotgun, there’s archery, there’s fishing. There’s a broad spectrum out there for her to do. I think that’s very important for kids growing up.”
This was the seventh time the Alexandria Viking Sportsmen and Douglas County Pheasants Forever groups have hosted the Youth Outdoor Activity Day, which is an entirely free event for families that runs from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. The 2020 Youth Day was canceled due to the pandemic, but this year’s event again had about 40 outdoor activities for kids to try.
Those events feature almost anything a kid would want to do outside. There’s ATV rides, bike trails, outdoor cooking, campfire making, catching trout from a pond, geocaching...the list goes on and on.
“It’s not just hunting outdoors,” Jessica Helmbrecht said. “It’s rock climbing, it’s hiking, it’s walking the trails in your state parks and looking at different things, the wildlife, the tracks. (Wyatt) is involved in Boy Scouts too, so he gets some of that. But the way it is here, it’s just a completely different experience all around.”
Families had nearly perfect weather to enjoy. Thunderstorms rolled through the Alexandria area much of Saturday, but it was sunny with temperatures in the 70s throughout all of Sunday.
Organizers were preparing for more than 2,000 kids, and they are confident they reached that mark. Official numbers are not available due to the event website crashing, but Alexandria’s Dean Krebs, who is part of the Youth Outdoor Activity Day committee, said based on bag counts, t-shirt giveaways and those who were pre-registered, he’s confident they had about 2,000 kids and approximately 1,400-1,500 adults take part.
“It’s another testament to the fact that people are really hungry for outdoor education, outdoor activities,” Krebs said. “They want to do these things.”
The day requires so many hands helping out, and people from all over stepped up. Krebs said nearly 350 volunteers showed up on Sunday. Local and out-of-area Outdoor groups and other organizations help financially and with people power in terms of running the activities.
“It just went so smoothly, and that’s really because of all the volunteers that we had,” Krebs said. “Everyone is so professional, and everybody is having such a good time. It was just so smooth where we didn’t have any issues. That’s just awesome when you have an event of that size.”
It’s one of the biggest youth-outdoor centered events in the country, and Sunday’s turnout was a signal of how much the community has embraced this opportunity to spend a full day outdoors.
“It’s a blessing to have something this big around our area instead of having to go down to the Twin Cities or travel further for it,” Mike Clobes said. “We have all these vendors who travel here to put this on for the kids.”
Many of the activities had free giveaways to remove a barrier in getting the kids back outdoors after the day is done. Most families left with arms full of things like fishing pulls, BB guns, youth bows, binoculars and other projects they helped build.
Organizers started this event in 2014 with the hope that it would help ignite a curiosity and enjoyment in the outdoors for more kids. But the ultimate goal is to have that spark turn into an active involvement for these kids long after the day is done.
“We’re very fortunate to be able to get some of this equipment in kids’ hands to remove a hurdle for them partaking in those activities after they leave our event,” Krebs said. “The kids love it. They’re going around and getting different things -- not only fishing poles. There’s binoculars to get them outside to look at birds or look at deer. Build a bird feeder so they can see the birds coming in. There’s BB guns and bows and arrows. We really want kids to do this after our event. Our event is just step one in a long process.”