River Currents

by Free Speech on April 16, 2010

Lodi, WI~

Lodi Valley News serving Lodi, WI & the Lake Wisconsin area with local information since Earth Day 2008.

Lodi, WI
by Gary Engberg
©2010 Gary Engberg Outdoors

Getting Today’s Youth Involved in the Outdoors

Heather Thistle and father, Steve. Heather is 10 years old and this was her first Jake

This past weekend, April 11 and 12, was the Wisconsin Youth Turkey Hunting Weekend. Most individuals, who participate or are associated with the outdoors have read about (WSJ April 1) or personally seen the decline in youth participation in hunting, fishing, and other “outdoor” activities. There is no doubt that outdoor activities now face tremendous competition from many other sources particularly the Internet and other forms of electronic entertainment. The last decade and even years before has seen a surge in computer use for fun, recreation, and knowledge. Most if not all youth activities have seen a downward “spike” from the competition that the cyber world now brings to today’s youth. Even, team sports like football, basketball, baseball, and even individual sport events have to compete for the time and minds of today’s youth. Anyone who deals with youth must be creative and spend more time in trying to get the young involved in any activity or sport.

I tried to think about my younger days (many decades ago) and how I spent my time. I was always involved in team sports from Little League thru high school. My father was a basic “sports father” involved in baseball, football, basketball, and hockey. Sports then were organized through your local communities when you were young and later through your high school sport program. Plus, for those not involved in sports, there were many other activities like drama, science club, Boy Scouts, Girl Scouts, band, FFA, and groups that even helped the local community. The only screen that we looked in my youth was the television screen and that was only after dark or with our parents on Sunday evenings. During the summer, I would leave home in the morning and be gone most of the day doing “something” in the outdoors. The last thing that you wanted then was to stay inside. I don’t know what we did in those days when it rained, snowed, or was below zero? I’m sure we probably went outside anyways.  We didn’t know what a computer was and there weren’t the many choices and competition that youth face in today’s 21st century. Today, drive by any school playground or park in the summer or on weekends and there are rarely children playing or participating in any sports or outdoor activities. If you see children playing, it’s usually in organized sports and activities. I remember the games and activities that we played no matter how many friends happened to be there. You would make up games and sport activities with whatever number of friends happen to be there. But, that was many years ago and things have definitely changed with so many options now available to today’s youth. Now we have an ever-changing society, more single parents, different demographics, and the computer age.

My father was as I said, a team sports father, who didn’t fish and hunt much except on family outings to northern Wisconsin. It was my grandfather, a Swedish immigrant from the 1920’s, who took me fishing and introduced me to hunting and the outdoor world. If it wasn’t for him, I might not have made the “outdoors” and everything about it my passion and vocation. This is what many of America’s best outdoor organizations are attempting to do these days to get the young involved in the outdoors. Most, if not all outdoor groups have a program to get the young tuned into the outdoors and away from the keyboard. There is nothing wrong with children spending time on computers for knowledge enrichment or fun, but there should be a limit to this time and have it blended into other meaningful activities.

Pheasants Forever, a wonderful conservation group, dedicated to conservation and habitat improvement for pheasants and all wildlife has a program for the young called Ringnecks. Pheasants Forever created the No Child Left Indoors initiative whose goal is to take every opportunity at the national, state, and local level to introduce youth and their families to the outdoors, teach them about habitat, wildlife, and how to hunt safely. The group wants and tries to instill an appreciation of our natural resources and then encourage them to be conservation-minded citizens.

Pheasants Forever has a youth website, www.UplandTales.org, dedicated to the young and the outdoors. They sponsor over 500 events annually involving and introducing over 25,000 plus youth to the outdoors. The group tries to reach out to their communities to promote and sponsor mentor-youth hunts, outdoor conservation days, shooting sport events, conservation camps, youth fishing tournaments, outdoor expos, and hunter education classes. Pheasants Forever wants to develop knowledge and a passion for the outdoors while “planting the seed” for the conservationist of tomorrow.

Carson Radl, Roxbury, WI, age 10 years, first tom, 20 pounds. Hunted with his father, Jeff.

Another organization that works hard at promoting youth involvement in outdoor activities is the National Wild Turkey Federation (NWTF). There youth program is called Jakes or Juniors Acquiring Knowledge, Ethics, and Sportsmanship. The Jakes program is for youths 12 and under giving them the chance to explore the outdoors through hundreds of fun, kids-only events called Porter Wagoner Conservation Field Days. This program is dedicated to informing, educating, and involving America’s youth in wildlife conservation and the wise stewardship of our natural resources.

The NWTF also has the Jakes program broken down into two groups, the Jakes for the younger children and Extreme Jakes for youth aged 13 to 17 years old. Some of the activities that they take part in include; mountain biking, kayaking, advanced hunting techniques, and wise stewardship of our natural resources. All of these organizations stress introducing the young to the outdoors in supervised hands-on activities.

I could go on and on with the numerous conservation minded groups that are trying and succeeding in getting children in the outdoors and having some understanding of our tremendous natural resources. Things are not all gloom and doom in the outdoor world. There are groups and organizations everywhere promoting these ideas, but you have to do a little research and talk to individuals from these groups to find things of interest for your young. You may have to try a few activities till you find the right one for your child, but everyone should have an appreciation of our natural resources!

This past weekend, I went to the turkey registration station at the Wilderness Fish and Game store in Sauk City to see how the Youth Turkey Hunt was progressing. Both Saturday and Sunday, there were many smiling faces from both young boys and girls. Almost everyone that I talked had an amusing or interesting story about their hunt. I talked to youths who hunted with their fathers, mothers, brothers, and grandfathers all who took the time to get the young in the field. These children were no different than any others except they were being introduced into the outdoors by someone who cares and realizes that “outdoors people” must do all that they can to continue the heritage and legacy of the outdoors. There are countless activities that today’s youth can find that are both interesting and fun. All that is needed is the initial introduction to the these wonders. A child may not like hunting or fishing, but they may be interested in photography, wildlife, or canoeing to name other few activities. Go to the DNR web page, go to most conservation groups sites, talk to friends and neighbors, or contact me at www.garyengbergoutdoors.com and I’ll find you a group or a way to get connected with the great Wisconsin outdoors!

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