Duluth Retriever Club Youth Expo teaches youth value of the outdoorsConcerned by the growing availability of in-home entertainment, members of the Duluth Retriever Club and the Izaak Walton League began hosting the Youth Fall Outdoor Expo 10 years ago to foster interest in wilderness activities among children.
By: Jake La Jeunesse, For the Budgeteer News
Concerned by the growing availability of in-home entertainment, members of the Duluth Retriever Club and the Izaak Walton League began hosting the Youth Fall Outdoor Expo 10 years ago to foster interest in wilderness activities among children.
This year the expo was held Saturday, Aug. 24. While the expo initially focused on hunting wildfowl with dogs, this year kids had the chance to learn about archery, trapping, shooting, and the general conservation of the environment.
The retrievers arrived with their trainers before the children, and prepared for the upcoming day by listening to commands from Jeff Wiklund, an organizer with the DRC. As an assistant tossed sticks into the water, the dogs whimpered with excitement until they heard the command to dive in and bring them to shore.
“We train them much, but we don’t want them to lose their wildness,” said Andres Gonzales, another organizer. “This is what they were bred for. We really love our dogs.”
Gonzales, who uses his dogs Kilo and Chico to hunt pheasant, said he understands that when training the animals, the master also needs to learn the ropes. The “wet dogs” training provided at the expo helps the participants learn to communicate with the animals properly and to safely control them in the wilderness.
Gonzales’ 9-year-old son Ricardo trains with Chico, a 14-month-old black Labrador. At a recent training event, the pair received an award which, Gonzales said, will eventually lead to the dog receiving a title.
“We train dogs. We do hunt tests. We have a class for people who have new puppies,” Ricardo explains about the Retriever club.
“It’s great,” Ricardo said about the Retriever Club. “You should come. It’s really fun.”
The chair of the expo committee, Darrell Spencer, explains that while the event started with the dogs, they have expanded the activities available to increase the chance that the kids who attend will find something about being outdoors to enjoy.
Participants rotate between stations set up on the grounds, where they learn about environmental conservation, working with dogs in the water and on land, and how to prevent accidents when hunting with a deer stand. They learn how to safely shoot a bow, and have the option to learn firearm safety with a shotgun or air rifle.
“It’s all about getting kids outdoors,” Spencer said.
The committee selects experts to give lessons at each station, but Spencer stresses that each presenter must offer at least two ethical points during their presentation. An ethical point could range from a safety tip to conservation practices.
At the registration table a large poster display details issues important to the organization, such as developing clean energy, preventing Asian carp from spreading into northern Minnesota, and reducing mercury levels and the acidic runoff from sulfide mining. Clean water tops the list of priorities with an explanation of how taxes paid by hunters, fishers, and other outdoor sport enthusiasts go toward conservation of wetlands and the water supply. Individual presenters discussed their own issues, such as the proper way to notify authorities if a trapper accidentally captures an endangered species. Children must register along with an adult, which increases the audience for their message.
Megan Jordan, who moved to the area from Longville, Minn., found the DRC recently. She has volunteered her time with her dog, Wicket, to helping out at the event.
“You don’t need to be an expert,” she said, adding that she hopes kids will leave the event with a passion for being outside, a love for dogs, the knowledge to maintain wildlife and the maturity to be responsible about conservation along with a sense of confidence.
The list of conservation partners for this year’s youth expo includes the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources, Arrowhead Bowhunters Alliance, Minnesota Deer Hunters Association, Minnesota Trappers
Association, US Coast Guard, Ducks Unlimited, Ruffled Grouse Society and Pheasants Forever. Some of the events sponsors include Rotary International, Hartley Nature Center, and Play it Again Sports, with Cold Stone Creamery providing lunch for the participants.
The Youth Fall Outdoor Expo occurs yearly, and takes place on the Duluth Retriever Club’s Art Massie Field Trial Grounds, located on Lester River Road. Registration is free, but limited to a set number of kids.
For more information on the Duluth Retriever Club visit www.duluthretrieverclub.net. Memberships start at $40.