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All the outdoors has to offer

Seven-year-old Morgan Baker of Osakis is exactly who the Douglas County Pheasants Forever and Viking Sportsmen groups were hoping to reach during the first-ever youth outdoor activity day at the Alexandria Shooting Park.

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Osakis’ Morgan Baker gets a little help shooting a bow for the first time from Carl Colburn of Prairie Archery in Parkers Prairie during the youth outdoor activity day at the Alexandria Shooting Park on Sunday afternoon. (Eric Morken/Echo Press)

Seven-year-old Morgan Baker of Osakis is exactly who the Douglas County Pheasants Forever and Viking Sportsmen groups were hoping to reach during the first-ever youth outdoor activity day at the Alexandria Shooting Park.

Baker doesn’t hunt. Her dad, Kyle Baker, doesn’t either. But there Morgan was with her dad on Sunday as she pulled back a youth bow and took aim at a target with a little help from Carl Colburn of Prairie Archery in Parkers Prairie.
Morgan was all smiles as she left the archery course to return to her dad’s side. From there, it was on to one of the other 30-plus activities that were available to kids ages 16 and younger in a day that ended with a show put on by exhibition shooter Trent Leichleiter.
“My father-in-law got me into shooting guns a little bit but I haven’t taken hunting up as a hobby yet,” Kyle Baker said. [I brought her] just to introduce her to some stuff. I didn’t really have anyone introduce me to this until my father-in-law.”
Giving kids the chance to enjoy everything the outdoors has to offer was the focus of a collective group in the Alexandria area that helped pull the event together. Douglas County PF and the Viking Sportsmen called on other groups and businesses to help out financially and with hands-on-help at each activity. Around 35 organizations stepped up to create a day that was completely free for kids and their families to enjoy.
“We just wanted to really get the kids off the couch, away from the iPads, the computers and the televisions and get them out and actively engaged in the outdoors,” Douglas County PF president Dean Krebs said. “It’s just a healthy activity that they can do with their parents and be physically fit. We wanted to make an effort in this community to do that because there really isn’t anything like this.”
The number of participants was more than the organizers could have imagined for the first time. Krebs said the number of kids registered was 542 with a little more than 1,000 people total on hand.
“That vastly exceeded our expectations,” Krebs said.
Mary Kuhnau of Browerville came with her 14-year-old son, Donavan Decker. Donovan has deer hunted with his dad using a rifle, but he got an opportunity to shoot a muzzleloader on Sunday.
“It was such a wide variety of activities,” Kuhnau said. “We just thought it would be fun to try archery and some of the stuff that he hasn’t tried before. His dad deer hunts, and he’s always done that but maybe he would be interested in turkey hunting or duck hunting. Here, they can try it. That was the allure of today.”
It’s what families said made this event unique. Getting youths involved in the outdoors has been a focus of outdoor groups for years, but this day was centered on creating new opportunities for even the most experienced outdoorsmen.
Kids who weren’t comfortable shooting a gun could pick from a host of activities that had nothing to do with hunting. There were shelter and campfire building demonstrations, geocaching, orienteering, casting clinics and a tomahawk throwing course.
Kids could cook their own food over an open fire or walk through a course designed to teach them when it was safe to shoot and when it wasn’t. Every event was done with the purpose of not only introducing kids to the outdoors, but how to enjoy the outdoors safely and responsibly.
“Even the experienced outdoor kids, they can find something new here that they’ve never done before,” Krebs said. “We really wanted to have a broad base of activities and we are very fortunate we had a lot of support from the local community and the sportsmen’s groups to come out and put these various activities on.”
Scott Scholl of Alexandria brought his son, Blake, and daughter, Chloe, to take in all the fun. Chloe, 8, and Blake, 6, took turns at the casting clinic as they tried to pitch a bobber at the end of their line into a hula hoop in the grass.
Scott, an avid angler and hunter himself, coached them through some early troubles before they started to get the hang of it. Chloe and Blake have been introduced to the outdoors at home, but Scott said Sunday’s activities included experiences that kids can’t always get from their parents.
“It’s a great event to bring the kids to so they can try a bunch of things in the outdoors that they might not get in everyday life,” Scott said. “To explore everything from fishing to hunting. Both kids shot a gun for the first time, threw an ax for the first time. It’s just a great experience for all the kids.”
The chance to see Chloe so at ease in an outdoor setting was especially fun for Scott. She was one of many young ladies enjoying the day with a lot of moms also there to share the experience with their kids.
“It’s so much fun to see your daughter partake in it and be able to feel good about handling a gun or a fishing pole and just having that experience,” Scott said. “It’s pretty unique to see other people’s daughters out here with their dads or their moms and just enjoying the great outdoors. I can’t wait to introduce it to my kids more and more and this gives them a little taste to keep them coming back.”
That’s ultimately the reason for a day like Sunday. The hope for those involved is that it’s just a start in what becomes a lifelong passion for the kids. That’s why so many were willing to help make this happen for the first time and why Krebs believes it won’t be the last of its kind in the area.
“There’s a lot of work that goes into this on behalf of Pheasants Forever and Vikings Sportsmen,” Krebs said. “Those two groups have to agree that, yes, this is worth doing again. But really I don’t think there’s going to be a problem with that. We exceeded our expectations so much. I really think we’re going to do this again every year. It’s going to be an annual event.”

Eric Morken is a sports and outdoor editor at the Echo Press Newspaper in Alexandria, Minnesota, a property of the Forum News Service. Morken covers a variety of stories throughout the Douglas County area, as well as statewide outdoor issues.
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