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Morken: Outdoor groups finding it harder to get volunteers since banquets, other events like Youth Outdoor Activity Day set for Aug. 29 have returned

Organizers for the Youth Outdoor Activity Day at the Alexandria Shooting Park are preparing for nearly 2,500 kids this year for the Aug. 29 event, but it's been more difficult to find the nearly 250-275 volunteers that help pull this day off.

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Alexandria’s Joey Jackson tries a s’more that he made over a fire at the Youth Outdoor Activity Day on Aug. 25, 2019 with some help from his grandma, Sandy. This year's Youth Day is set for Aug. 29 at the Alexandria Shooting Park from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. again. Organizers are planning for nearly 2,500 kids, which requires between 250-275 volunteers to help run. (Eric Morken / Alexandria Echo Press)

The Youth Outdoor Activity Day at the Alexandria Shooting Park has been a model of success as a one-day event that gives kids an opportunity to try their hand in the different kinds of fun there is to be had outside.

Youth Day -- an all free day for kids and their families that offers food and nearly 40 outdoor activities -- has grown from hosting 542 kids during its first year in 2014 to bringing in more than 2,000 in 2018 and 2019 . It has drawn national attention as a blueprint that other organizations could follow across the country while being featured on Randy Newberg’s Hunt Talk Podcast in an episode on April 19, 2020.

Youth Day is hosted by the Alexandria Viking Sportsmen and Douglas County Pheasants Forever, but it’s an undertaking that requires many hands on deck. Local, state and national businesses and organizations have provided financial support to keep it free for families.

Then there’s the many outdoor groups and volunteers required to pull it off. Alexandria’s Dean Krebs, who is on the board of directors for Pheasants Forever, Viking Sportsmen and the Youth Outdoor Activity Day committee, said it takes between 250-275 volunteers to make Youth Day happen efficiently.

There are always some challenges with getting volunteers, but Krebs said it really was not that hard to get cooperation from many as Youth Outdoor Activity Day grew. This has been an event that people generally want to be a part of when they see the kind of fun kids have each year. To an extent, that has changed this summer.

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Lucy Moeller of Alexandria looks up as she climbs the climbing wall at the Youth Outdoor Activity Day on Aug. 25, 2019. The 2019 youth day hosted more than 2,100 kids and their families where they could take part in nearly 40 outdoor-related activities, as well as bring home information and gear that could help them stay more involved in the outdoors. (Eric Morken / Alexandria Echo Press)

“We’ve had five groups that have had to pull out because of a lack of volunteers,” Krebs said of this year’s Youth Outdoor Activity Day set for Aug. 29 from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. at the Alex Shooting Park. “They weren’t all local groups, but in addition to that, we have had groups say, ‘We can be there, but we need you to provide us some volunteers as well.’ Traditionally we’ve had to do that for a couple groups, but not at this level.”

Krebs is confident that Youth Day will have enough people helping out to make this a great event for families again. There is still a big list of activities that range from hunting and fishing-related to ATV rides, rock climbing and camping.

“Youth Day is going to look very similar to what it has in the past, with a few activities that we’ve added,” Krebs said. “Luckily, with the groups that backed out, we’ve filled most of those with new groups. That’s very encouraging that we’ve gotten other people to step up.”

On Aug. 17 as I was thinking about this column, I got a text from my father-in-law, Mike Schaffran of Wood Lake. Their local sportsmen’s group was canceling their banquet set for September and moving it to the spring after already losing their 2020 spring banquet.

“They give a reason?” I asked. “No help to prepare during summer,” Mike responded.

Krebs was quick to say it is not just Youth Outdoor Activity Day where groups are finding it hard to get volunteers involved. It’s an uptick he’s noticed especially in the last year as COVID-19 restrictions have loosened more and banquets and other fundraisers have started up again.

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“Just talking with other conservation groups in the area, we’ve kind of noticed a similar trend that has happened to all of us,” Krebs said. “It just seems volunteerism for conservation-minded groups, and maybe other groups too. I’m sure it probably is. It just seems to be down this year.”

Krebs feels it likely has something to do with the impact of the pandemic. Maybe more people are taking part in gatherings that they missed in 2020. Maybe there are some that still don’t want to be around big crowds. And perhaps others enjoyed the more free time they had with close family or as an individual.


"At one time, I counted there were 12 or 13 different banquets each year here in the Alexandria area that are sportsmen related...I’m not speaking bad about the other organizations either, but because we have so many different groups in this area, it’s hard to get enough people focused and helping out with more than one group."

- Alexandria's Mark Nohre, Region 7 Director for the Minnesota Deer Hunters Association


Many are certainly back to being busy again, but that was always the case pre-pandemic. Maybe getting out of that routine of volunteering has had a lasting impact.

“I’m sure there’s a multitude of reasons why people can’t make it,” Krebs said. “For years and years and years you recruit these people. You get them coming to meetings and then all of a sudden you stop, and it’s hard to get people back.”

Alexandria’s Mark Nohre is the Region 7 director and longtime active member of the Minnesota Deer Hunters Association. He has a good core group of members who help with their banquet each year, but getting new people to help out is a problem.

Getting young adults involved between the ages of 20-40 is especially difficult for groups. Krebs noted that this is the demographic who would stand to benefit the most with their families if more local projects could get off the ground.

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“As our membership gets older, we see people fall away, and sadly we lose people too,” Nohre said. “We’re trying to come up with a way to get people involved again. I’m also the chairperson for membership for the state for MDHA too. We’re trying to come up with ways to get people to join and step up. It’s hard. It’s not easy.”

My personal theory is that we could do a better job of working together on outdoor issues if we joined forces more instead of breaking up into smaller segments. Youth Outdoor Activity Day is a great example of this where people from all different passions ranging from hunting, fishing, hiking, canoeing, climbing, camping, etc., come together to make a great event.

People are inundated with options in what they can support. Turkeys, deer, elk, waterfowl, local, state and national chapters -- every one of them pulls people in different directions. Every one is more effective the more active members they have, but they’re often trying to pull the same people from the same segment of the population.

“To be honest, this area right here has the most different variety of sportsmen’s groups,” Nohre said. “I talk to MDHA members all over the state. Yeah, they have MDHA and Pheasants Forever and maybe a Ducks Unlimited chapter and a (National Wild Turkey Federation) chapter, and that’s it.

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Lukas Trampusch of Nelson lets out a laugh after Nate Albrecht of the Minnesota Safari Club helps him hit his target with a crossbow on Aug. 25, 2019 at the Youth Outdoor Activity Day in Alexandria. (Eric Morken / Alexandria Echo Press)

“At one time, I counted there were 12 or 13 different banquets each year here in the Alexandria area that are sportsmen related. They have two or three, and you see the involvement with their membership of those MDHA chapters, they get more people involved with their activities such as collecting deer hides and doing their banquets. I’m not speaking bad about the other organizations either, but because we have so many different groups in this area, it’s hard to get enough people focused and helping out with more than one group.”

Krebs said they have a lot of ideas for projects they would like to do locally. An archery range in Alexandria, a women’s shooting event and teaching firearms safety to more kids are a few examples of things that likely won’t come to fruition without more help.

“When we lose people for whatever reason, and some people have great reasons, that just puts more work on the volunteers who are still there,” Krebs said. “It just gets harder to do the events we do already. It would be fun to do some of the other things that we have all these great ideas for. We just need some people to step up and help us out. A lot of times it doesn’t take a lot. We just need someone to take one little piece of it off our plate. That helps immensely.”

Youth Outdoor Activity Day Information

When: Aug. 29, 2021 from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.

Where: Alexandria Shooting Park, (6533 County Road 87 SE)

Registration: Families should register their kids for this year’s Youth Outdoor Activity Day by visiting https://youthoutdooractivityday.org/ .

That is also where those looking to help out can donate or volunteer their time by signing up.

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Eric Morken / Alexandria Echo Press

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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