Last weekend the third annual Youth Outdoor Fest was held at La Crosse’s Pettibone Park. The popular event, set up along the east shore of the lagoon, attracted between 1,000-2,000 parents and kids.
Despite threatening morning thunderstorms and a hot, humid afternoon, the families enjoyed numerous outdoor activities, lunch and raffles, all for free.
For many of the kids, the festival was a good chance to experience a variety of activities that they wouldn’t normally get a chance to do.
Participants could choose to shoot a bow, cast with a spinning rod, fish for rainbow trout, learn how to clean fish, drive a boat, paddle a canoe or kayak in the lagoon, ride a pontoon boat on the nearby Mississippi River, study aquatic insects, see fish caught from the lagoon by electrofishing, play games, learn duck, fish and fur identification, and see how citizens can get involved in actual environmental science projects.
That’s certainly a lot to do in one day, but many of the kids moved from one booth to the next, trying to experience as much as they could from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. The enthusiasm shown on Saturday pleased Jay Odegaard, one of the event originators from the
La Crosse Parks and Recreation Department.
“Despite a drop in numbers, I feel that this year’s fest was a success,” he said. “I heard from several families how much they appreciated the chance for their kids to do so much in one day.”
USFWS biologist Heidi Keuler worked with Dave Erickson of the Parks and Recreation Department to set up the event by organizing exhibitors, making signs, maps, posters, registration items, and by overseeing the event on Saturday.
After dashing around the grounds all day, Keuler said, “It was nice to see parents enjoying the activities with their kids. One woman even asked to try shooting a bow herself, giving a fine example to others. I am sure they will talk about this when they get home.”
Some of the activities the kids loved this year offered the chance to actually touch something. At a DNR exhibit, kids and parents both enjoyed the chance to feel the fur from a variety of local mammals.
At the exciting minnow races and the traditional trout-fishing pond many of the kids couldn’t resist the chance to touch a slimy fish. Along the lagoon, volunteers April Ammann and Ron Walley sometimes would stretch from the USFWS electrofishing boat to give kids yet another opportunity to touch some fish they caught. The volunteers netted momentarily stunned fish as Dave Wedan, USFWS biologist technician, operated the specially equipped boat.
In addition to the activities and learning experiences, most participants went home carrying free materials provided by the booths including the choice of a variety of educational literature, temporary tattoos, fish prints and, if lucky at the raffle, fishing rod kits.
The event is a project of the La Crosse Parks and Recreation Department and the USFWS La Crosse Fish & Wildlife Conservation Office. Several local government and non-profit organizations collaborated with the organizers, including Friends of the Upper Mississippi Fishery Services, the Genoa National Fish Hatchery, USGS Upper Midwest Environmental Sciences Center and Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources along with contributions from numerous local businesses.