by TaLeiza Calloway
It was a perfect Minnesota day.
There was just the right amount of warmth and cool breeze.
Those who chose to stay indoors missed out on that beautiful day, Aug. 11. The estimated more than 2,000 people who got acquainted with nature during the fourth annual “Take a Day Off on the Mississippi River” event enjoyed the 70-degree day that seems to be a rarity this summer.
The day is a collaboration of Stearns County Soil and Water Conservation District with the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources, Stearns County Parks, Benton County, St. Cloud State University, local sportsman clubs, businesses and others.
Whether it was learning to cast a fishing line and discovering the electro-fishing process or building a bird house or getting a lesson in how groundwater is connected to our taps, it was a full Saturday at Mississippi River Park.
When Christy Rudderforth of St. Joseph arrived, she didn’t think the event would offer more than visiting information booths. By the time she left, she eagerly anticipated getting home to post pictures from the event on her Facebook page. The 15-year-old had such a good time she wanted to share her experience with others.
“I wasn’t into it at first,” Rudderforth said. “but as the day went on it was actually fun. It was pretty cool.”
Angie Brix said this was the first time her daughter had been at the event. It was really a family affair. She brought daughters Christy 15; Maressa, 13,; Julia, 6; and son Tyler, 11.
“It was fun,” Brix said. “I told them we should’ve been here at 10 a.m. They enjoyed it.”
Brix said her girls are not really outdoorsy, but Tyler Rudderforth is wild about the outdoors.
Tyler Rudderforth showed off his skills in archery during the event. He hit several targets.
One really couldn’t tell it was his first time. Such was the case for Cooper Erickson of Foley. The 6-year-old looked like a pro as he practiced his technique for casting a fishing line. This was his first time at the event. His mother, Stephanie Erickson, said she would definitely attend again.
“It’s just been so fun,” Erickson said. “There’s a huge variety.”
Bob Erickson of St. Cloud has volunteered for the event for three years through the Retired Senior Volunteer Program. With 70 years of hunting, fishing and trapping experience, the 79-year-old is a strong advocate for outdoor recreation for youth. To him, it’s one of the best classrooms they can have.
“Every child should be exposed to this,” Erickson said. “The outdoors adds so much value to your life, both mentally and physically. You can learn so much.”
The learning component is a large part of the event. Kimberly Thielen Cremers, one of the event’s organizers, said the motivation behind the event is to bring awareness of the Mississippi River in Central Minnesota and to the local park systems. With so many people living in Minnesota and not experiencing the river that runs through it, the goal is that the event serves as sort of a hands-on introduction.
“We’ve kind of taken it for granted,” Thielen Cremers said. “We have this beautiful resource to recreate on and it’s safe. I hope people take that away.”
The annual event is staffed by volunteers who do everything from help set-up to working booths and giving tours. There were more than 80 volunteers who pitched in this year. There were an estimated 1,300 visitors last year.
Even though it goes on rain or shine, the weather hasn’t always cooperated in previous years for the event. She said they couldn’t have asked for a better day.
“It’s been fantastic,” she said. “It’s been an amazing day.”