ALEXANDRIA, Minn. — 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 — a 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 a 2020 episode.
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 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.
“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 Aug. 29 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.”
On Aug. 17, as I was thinking about this column, I got a text from my father-in-law, Mike Schaffran of Wood Lake, Minnesota. 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.
“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 who still don’t want to be around big crowds. And perhaps others enjoyed the free time.
"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 is especially difficult for groups. Krebs noted that this is the demographic that would stand to benefit the most with their families if more local projects could get off the ground.
“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 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.
“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: 10 a.m.-4 p.m. Sunday, Aug. 29
- Where: Alexandria Shooting Park, 6533 County Road 87 SE, Alexandria, Minnesota
- Registration: Families should register their kids at https://youthoutdooractivityday.org/. That is also where those looking to help out can donate or volunteer their time by signing up.