WISCONSIN – There’s nothing like that first tug on your fishing line. There’s something special when a child successfully catches their first fish. Getting children to experience the wonders of the great outdoors - engaging and connecting with nature- is not only important for their health, it helps to inspire lifelong stewards of our natural resources.
That is a large part of the success and longevity of the Northern Great Lakes Visitor Center’s Kids Fishing Day Event, which celebrated 20 years in June.
On June 1, the day started off with 392 attendees checking out hands on exhibits inside the Visitor Center. Helming the exhibit tables was Pro Fisherman David Wegener, who taught children how fishing tackle swivels, wiggles and wobbles to attract fish under the water. Park Service Ranger Steven Ballou shared safety messages related to wearing personal flotation devices properly.
Children had the opportunity to get an up close and personal look at frogs and water insects while learning how artificial baits look and move like the food fish eat. They made Gyotaku fish painting prints on bandanas and learned how to identify fish with experts.
The USDA Forest Service and other agencies were on hand to teach attendees about non-native invasive plants and animals and how to prevent their spread.
Once outside, the fishing fun began, starting with the basics -casting. Former Forest Service employee and Executive Director of Future Angler Foundation Nick Schmal was on hand to help participants master their casting technique. After casting, children caught yellow perch, trout and bluegill in the pond outside the Visitor Center. In 2018, a new fishing pier was installed to provide access for people with disabilities and put children closer to the fish.
This year’s event and the past 19 were a success in large part due to partner agencies, organizations and volunteers. “Making new connections and garnering support from corporate sponsors has been crucial,” stated event organizer Susan Nelson, an Interpretive Services Specialist at the Center. Susan has worked hard throughout the 20-year life of this event to keep it fresh, experimenting with new activities each year. Big thanks to the 63 volunteers and 43 sponsors who made the 20th anniversary event so fantastic.
Behind the scenes are volunteers who provide time throughout the years and seasons restoring areas around the Visitor Center from planting native seed for landscape restoration, to removing invasive species such as Buckthorn, and harvesting native seed in the Aldo Leopold Native Seed Orchard.
The Northern Great Lakes Visitor Center and the annual Kids Fishing Day are an exceptional demonstration of connecting people to the outdoors, strengthening communities and providing abundant clean water.