Outdoors: Outdoor sports to be new feature at Farmfest

Published 12:00 am Friday, July 13, 2007

By Tom Conroy, Great Outdoors

As I made the proposal, the tired eyes around the table suddenly popped wide open and jaws dropped. You&8217;d have thought I had suggested outlawing fishing.

Now, I was prepared for some resistance to my proposal. I was not, however, prepared for the extent of it. Call it an instructive moment.

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It was a Monday morning in the mid-1990s, and I had just suggested that we set up a booth at Farmfest, a popular showcase of all things agricultural that had been around since the early 1980s. The kicker was that I was making the proposal to a group of DNR managers, grizzled veterans of the trenches with decades of collective experience. Things were different back then.

At that time, wetland protection was a particularly hot issue and the DNR and ag community were often at odds. Those sitting around the table that long-ago morning were understandably hesitant about volunteering to become sitting ducks at the largest farm event in Minnesota. In the end, however, they agreed to give it a go.

It&8217;s been 12 years since DNR first participated in Farmfest and any concerns about being sitting ducks were long ago dispelled. Oh, occasionally someone will stop by the DNR booth itching to get something off their chest but those instances are infrequent. The typical exchange is friendly and positive.

Farmfest organizers recently conducted visitor surveys and discovered that some 85 percent of attendees either hunt or fish. That revelation resulted in a decision to expand the number and variety of outdoor-related exhibits and activities during the show and it all comes to a head this Aug. 7-9.

The first-ever Outdoor Sports Showcase will be launched this year at Farmfest on 40 acres of land just across the road from the show grounds along state Highway 67 between Redwood Falls and Morgan. The DNR will be playing a major role in this new venture with a large tent and a series of presentations and forums in another tent.

Numerous vendors, food booths, exhibits and activities will be offered. A sampling of exhibits and activities in the DNR tent alone include:

– Kids activities such as bluebird and wood duck house building, feather painting and an interactive bird identification game.

– DNR MinnAqua youth fishing activities.

– Opportunities to learn about ATV safety and proper size fitting.

– Laser gun and archery shooting.

– A landowner &8220;help desk&8221; with experts available to provide information about topics ranging from biofuels to land management options and assistance, and conservation programs.

– Free prairie seed packets for kids.

Among the list of presentations and forums to be offered in the other large tent on the grounds will be hunting and fishing opportunities in southern Minnesota, opportunities in the biofuel industry, dog training, deer and pheasant management strategies on public and private land, re-connecting youth with the outdoors, an update on federal conservation and wildlife programs, and changes on the horizon for outdoor recreation in Minnesota.

Also in the works for the event is a buffalo chip throwing contest featuring various dignitaries and media personalities to be held adjacent to a 3-acre prairie that the DNR planted this spring as a public demonstration site.

Hours for the Outdoor Sports Showcase are 9 a.m.-8:30 p.m. Tuesday and Wednesday and 9 a.m.-1 p.m. on Thursday. A regular Farmfest pass will entitle entrance into the outdoor grounds as well.

Recently a group of DNR staff gathered around a table on a Monday morning. A request was made for volunteers to work at the DNR tent during this year&8217;s Farmfest. Not a problem.

Tom Conroy is an information officer for the southern region of the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources.