Imagine 2,200 kids, all with big smiles on their faces, as they are given the chance to try more than 30 outdoor activities for the first time. That includes sitting on a youth dirt bike, ATV and snowmobile, putting on a helmet and hopping up on an ATV simulator, and going for a short ride with mom and dad in a side-by-side.
Introducing kids to the wide array of motorized and non-motorized recreational pursuits in the great outdoors, in a family-friendly environment, is the whole idea behind Youth Outdoor Activity Day. Held in late August in Alexandria, MN, the annual event is hosted and organized by two local non-profit conservation organizations: Viking Sportsmen, Inc., and the Douglas County chapter of Pheasants Forever. This year’s event attracted four times the number of youths who attended when it was first held in 2014. More than 300 volunteers participate in the one-day event, which takes place at the Alexandria Shooting Park.
With their parents and grandparents, youths of all ages eagerly walk from station to station, choosing from more than 30 activities to learn about and experience: archery, fishing, dog training, rock climbing, bird house building, trap shooting, fire building and geocaching, to name a few. Many of the activities are instructed by volunteers with local chapters of national outdoor organizations, including Boy Scouts, Girl Scouts, Ducks Unlimited and Pheasants Forever. This year, 1,400 kids received free fishing rods and reels. Many adults also pulled back on a bow, or shot a rifle or shotgun for the first time.
At one point on the grounds, motorized recreation is the focus. In rural Minnesota, many families own and operate ATVs, side-by-sides and dirt bikes on their farms and private property. A dozen members of the Runestone Off-road ATV Riders (ROAR)—the local ATV club—gave families rides as passengers on 10 side-by-sides, provided by local powersports dealers. The course built by the club in an adjacent field had bumps, turns and, thanks to overnight rains, good-sized puddles. For many families, it was their first off-road riding experience. This year, the club’s DNR-certified ATV instructors also put 140 young riders on an ATV Simulator, provided by the Minnesota DNR, complete with a short lesson to the kids and their parents, on riding safely and responsibly.
Next to the ROAR booth was the safety education trailer of the Coalition of Recreational Trail Users (CRTU), representing Minnesota’s four motorized state associations (ATVAM, ARMCA, MNUSA and MN4WDA). Hundreds of youths got a chance to sit on a youth-sized ATV, dirt bike, snowmobile and Jeep, while their parents talked to experienced riders and trail advocates about the state’s off-highway vehicle (OHV) rules, regulations, safety training classes and trail systems.
“We signed up a lot of kids for our club’s ATV Safety Training Class,” said Ray Bruggman, ROAR president. “And when we ask them if they want to go for a ride, well, the smiles are priceless.”
To learn more about Alexandria’sYouth Outdoor Activity Day, visit http://youthoutdooractivityday.org/.
For information on CRTU of MN, go to http://www.rectrailusers.org/.