Alaska Fish & Wildlife News
Outdoor Youth Days
Despite what many people in the Lower 48 believe, being outdoorsy doesn’t just run naturally through Alaskan blood. An honest appreciation for the miles of untamed wilderness spreading out across our state is something that has to be taught and cultivated by fellow sportsmen. Alaska’s legacy of outdoor recreation is the cornerstone of life and culture here in the Last Frontier. That is why the Alaska Department of Fish & Game, in conjunction with the Outdoor Heritage Foundation of Alaska, the Municipality of Anchorage Waterways Council, Alaska Mountain Rescue, and the Alaska Department of Natural Resources’ Office of Boating Safety, organizes the Outdoor Youth Days program.
The Outdoor Youth Days are a series of summer camps offered to kids 10-14 years old. Two camp sessions are available, each running three days long during the first two weeks of June. The purpose of these camps is to teach kids about the outdoor recreational opportunities available here in Alaska and to help foster an appreciation for the great outdoors.
The first two days of camp are spent at Rabbit Creek Shooting Park where the kids participate in several workshops including .22-rifle target shooting, 20-gauge shotgun 5-stand and skeet practice, and even archery lessons with a bow and arrow. In addition, campers are taught firearm safety, wildlife tracking and identification, and a few survival skills to keep them safe as they explore the more remote areas of the state.
The third day of camp, spent at Cheney Lake, offers a few more water related topics such as boating safety, macro-invertebrate identification, and fly and spin fishing for rainbow trout. Every year, the campers have a great time and leave with some new information, but is three days really enough to get kids interested in outdoor recreation? Does the program really work?
14-year-old Nathan Marshall is a perfect example of the Youth Days’ effectiveness on the upcoming generation of sportsmen. He is an avid participant in the Rabbit Creek Youth Shotgun League and enjoys spending his off days down at the range shooting skeet, trap and sporting clays. He also participates in various shotgun competitions around the state, this year being his third consecutive visit to the State Championship at Grouse Ridge Shooting Grounds where he received extremely high marks for his performance in trap shooting (80/100), skeet shooting (75/100) and sporting clays (72/100). Nathan has been shooting for quite a while now, but his passion for shotgun began nearly four years ago through his participation in the Outdoor Youth Days.
“Actually, camp was the first time I’d ever picked up a shotgun,” he said. “But I found shotgun shooting quite entertaining and I try to go down there [Rabbit Creek Range] every weekend.”
When Nathan first participated in the youth camp at the age of 10, he had never so much as fired a shotgun. Now he’s become an exceptional shooter receiving top marks against statewide competition as well as a regular member in Rabbit Creek’s youth shotgun league. Because of the knowledgeable and dedicated staff that makes the Outdoor Youth Days possible, he was able to find a passion that he can take pride in and enjoy.
There are many stories similar Nathan’s. Every year, several kids leave camp having learned new skills and a new appreciation for the outdoors. Whether it’s fishing, hunting, or simply shooting skeet, the camp helps to teach kids how to safely enjoy the great outdoors. Education programs such as the Outdoor Youth Days are vital to keeping the rich tradition of outdoor recreation alive in Alaska for generations to come.
Josef Rutz is a born and bred Alaskan from Anchorage. He works as a Technician II at the Commercial Fisheries information center in the Anchorage ADF&G office and is currently a third-year journalism student at UAA.
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