The success of the Youth Outdoor Activity Day at the Alexandria Shooting Park the past two summers has caught the attention of people well outside of Douglas County.
That was evident by the statewide media that covered it last August, and the 1,391 kids who took part after 542 kids participated in the inaugural event in 2014. The free, five-hour event that is scheduled for August 28 of this year has become an example of how to give kids a taste of what the outdoors has to offer.
The hope, of course, is that taking part in the activities that day can spark an interest in the outdoors that kids want to pursue further. Event organizers believe it can, and the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources agrees.
It’s through the state DNR’s Angler and Hunter Recruitment and Retention Grant Program that Douglas County Pheasants Forever and the Viking Sportsmen recently received a $24,220 grant to go toward the activity day.
“I was actually walking through the airport when I found out and was just like, ‘Holy cow,'” Douglas County PF president Dean Krebs said. “This will make our event so much better than it already is, and it’s already a great event. It’s just going to add to it and make those people be able to go through stations so much quicker and have more kids experience more things.”
The Youth Outdoor Activity Day gives boys and girls of all ages the chance to participate in about 30 outdoor activities at the local shooting park. Fishing, hunting, camping — nearly anything one can think of to do outside is available to try with the help of volunteers from almost every outdoor group and organization around the area.
Krebs said they were one of seven out of 35 applicants who received a grant after going through a step-by-step application process.
“It required a lot of research into the whole recruitment and retention process,” Krebs said. “The grant really focused on the stages of that … so getting these kids involved beyond just our event. The reason that they gave it to us is they really thought we had a unique event, and we’re obviously so big with 1,400 kids last year and growing that we’re touching a lot of people with this.”
Krebs added that how the money is spent is very prescribed. Part of that is making sure the event flows well to allow kids to partake in as many events as possible. Organizers are also trying to figure out the best way to give away equipment to kids who need it in an attempt to give them the opportunity to stay active in the outdoors after they leave the park that day.
“We had some big lines that we want to make sure people can get through our stations,” Krebs said. “We’re going to increase the capacity of the stations. We’re going to use it for buying, for example, in archery — bows and targets, 3D targets. We’re going to buy some bow fishing targets; that type of stuff. Then we’re going to do some giveaways for equipment for kids who don’t have the equipment. We’re going to be giving away bows and arrows, BB guns and fishing equipment to kids that need it.”
Krebs said they will be prepared to have more than 2,000 kids on hand at this year’s event. The grant makes that all the more possible.
“One of the key pieces is we want to make sure that it always stays free,” Krebs said. “That’s a really important thing is we want this to touch a lot of kids’ lives and let them experience different things that we can do in the outdoors and doing it free. This allows us to really expand our stations and yet not charge for anything.”
The activity day was simply an idea that seemed worth pursuing a couple years ago. Now it’s one of the top outdoor youth-related events in the state.
“It exceeded our expectations,” Krebs said. “The first year we had 542 kids and we had planned for 400. The next year, we had 1,391 kids. I think we planned for 1,200. It’s a tribute to our community; the organizations that help put this on. There’s a lot of organizations out there that have a little piece of this. Everyone has come together, and there’s a need for it. That’s the big thing is there’s so much interest in this thing. It really blew us away how many kids are desperate for an opportunity to do these outdoor activities.”