Those who came to the Youth Outdoor Activity Day over the first five years of its existence were dealt a pretty good hand as it pertained to the weather.
Last year’s event was a little windy and cool, but the day stayed dry and a record 2,212 kids took part in this all-free event at the Alexandria Shooting Park that is hosted by the Viking Sportsmen and Douglas County Pheasants Forever in Alexandria.
Outdoor groups, businesses, organizations and individuals help pull this together every last Sunday in August. Rain finally put a damper on the event, but not even that could keep people away. The 2019 Youth Outdoor Activity Day still drew 2,105 kids who enjoyed as much of the day as they could with their friends and families.
“I think 2,105 this year was far more impressive than 2,212 last year, given the forecast we faced,” Douglas County Pheasant Forever and Viking Sportsmen member Dean Krebs said. “The forecast was for rain. It did rain, and I’m sure there was a lot of people who stayed home just based on the forecast.”
The event stayed dry for about the first two hours before a drizzle turned into a steady rain after 12:30 p.m. Activities are set up to run from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.
The indoor dining area was packed around the noon hour as families took advantage of the free lunch provided to them. The hope for many was to be able to head back out after eating, but the rain kept persisting.
“We had some people go in to have lunch, but then when it was really raining, they stopped and left,” Krebs said. “We ended up closing about an hour or so early.”
Jessica Bremseth of Alexandria was there at the start of youth day with her three kids, 8-year-old Elise, 5-year-old Owen and 3-year-old Isaac. All three of them worked on building their own bird houses before moving on to the next activity.
“It’s the experience of doing things together as a family,” Jessica said. “The sponsors are very, very important in things like this, and it’s wonderful they give back in the community. It brings kids and families together.”
The Bremseths enjoy many of the hunting and fishing-themed activities, but there is something here for almost everyone. This year’s event featured more than 40 stations that ran the gamut from shooting sports and fishing, to bike riding, rock climbing, rope making, fire and shelter building, orienteering and much more.
Alexandria’s Joe Moeller was there with his three children. He enjoys hunting and fishing himself, so the kids get exposed to those activities already at home. The youth day allows them to branch out and try their hand in a few different areas.
“I just want them to experience some new things,” Moeller said. “Whether it’s rock climbing or anything. Seeing some new species of fish up there. It’s good to expose them to something new and see if they’re interested in it.”
While many of the events are geared toward children ages 16 and younger, organizers of the Youth Outdoor Activity Day continue to put an emphasis on reaching the adults who bring those kids, as well.
Alexandria’s Adam Zimmerman is a sophomore in college who was one of the top shooters for the Cardinals’ Trap Shooting Team in high school. He spent Sunday teaching adults and their kids who came through the shooting range together. Most of them had very little experience of ever shooting a shotgun.
Teaching safety was priority No. 1 for Zimmerman. Then it was about trying to get them to have fun, with the hope that it sparks an interest and gets them outside on the range with their kids in the future.
“That’s awesome,” Zimmerman said of watching an inexperienced shooter bust a clay. “It really is. I remember when I couldn’t shoot, and I was figuring it out. When you finally figure it out and it clicks in your head, it’s amazing. When you can help somebody else hit a target like that, it makes you feel good.”
Rain may have cut things short for many on Sunday afternoon, but the big crowd of people who knew the forecast and came anyway left organizers humbled and excited again about next year.
“I saw a lot of examples of kids picking up salamanders or frogs or turtles and they’re drenched to the bone and still smiling like crazy,” Krebs said. “There’s so many people who put so much effort into this thing. To see people come out even though the weather is bad, it’s very gratifying. Many people were appreciative of our efforts and they want to take part. They wanted to be here to do the activities today. It’s worth it to put in all the effort when you get that kind of response.”