Column: HTA meets OUB for FUN

ESCANABA — Nine years ago, I sat in the Marquette ice arena meeting room as an invited guest of stakeholders that were joining to discuss the downward trend of interest in hunting and the shooting sports and outdoors recreation in general. Responsive Management research company had been engaged in finding why. They completed a final report titled, “The Future of Hunting and the Shooting Sports.” a collaborative report was co-sponsored by the National Shooting Sports Foundation.

A myriad of scenarios were developed and essentially came back to say that the primary loss of interest in outdoors recreation, including both hunting and the shooting sports, centers on access and having someone to go with.

On the youth side, we were not recruiting new hunters because kids weren’t being brought up with the adult outdoors culture. In many cases, the adults in their lives were either absent or working to support the family with less than necessary time and money to interact with available recreational time.

Adults, especially seniors, quit hunting and shooting simply because their group broke up over time. Some moved on with family and friends where others passed away and new relationships were not engaged. The National Rifle Association (NRA) put it all together in what the main focus should be: Recruitment, Retention and Reactivation (tagged as the 3 Rs). Since then, new interests have joined up in the cause of bringing back strong numbers of people involved outdoors. The MDNR continues to support special hunts for not just youth but to include those with disabilities of all ages and our veterans as the Liberty and Independence Hunts.

The National Wilde Turkey Federation (NWTF) Wheelin’ Sportsman Program has done its share of supporting the 3Rs by incorporating recruitment efforts to include those with disabilities. They’ve used the latest in technological adaptations in outfitting special built climate controlled enclosed trailers that make hunting possible for many considered disabled.

Members of the Hiawathaland Trails Association (HTA) have increased involvement beyond hosting safety certification classes and rides with youth, they’re also mentoring the motorized trail riding sports and use in hunting.

A new group of people, Outdoors Unlimited for the Blind (OUB) of Michigan, recently scheduled a first time camping experience in the U.P. for youth who just happen to be vision impaired. Members are a mix of totally or impared as legally blind. OUB’s mission includes: building life skills, self-confidence and independence for children and young adults who are blind or have low vision. OUB Summer Camps are all about fun and education, where kids learn new skills in a supportive, encouraging environment that will help them become more independent, and have fun doing many traditional camp activities, such as cooking over a campfire, swimming and playing all sorts of games. On their trip to the UP, OUB of Michigan settled in at Otter Lake in Alger County and the HTA was asked to add a ride on an Off-Road Vehicles (ORVs).

Affiliate members of the HTA from Alger, Delta and Marquette Counties set a plan to provide a ride on the trail/route system from the campground all the way to the Autrain Public Access site along Lake Superior using the trails and routes open for use. Midway Rentals of Negaunee graciously loaned two six passenger ORVs for the day. so that all the members of OUB could have a chance for a ride. Midway’s gesture enabled not only the campers; it alsogave some of the counselors a ride for their first time.

The excitement of the riders was second to none. They loved the bouncing, engine noise and sensations most of use take for granted. Drivers advised them when rough terrain was coming and if there was a deep water hole ahead. They loved the acceleration into a mud hole and cheered when mud flew into the interior. OUB members could sense lowland shaded areas by the change in temperature and smell of the woods. They really appreciated the time taken to introduce them to Lake Superior. Shoes came off and they waded into the cool water.

It went over so well that an impromptu side trip along Highway M28

escorted OUB campers along a stone trail to and a walk directly under a waterfall

for the experience. The went wild with enthusiasm.

At the conclusion of the day ride, members of HTA sat and discussed life with the OUB members. Their candid comments as blind people were enlightening and quickly illustrated how what they enjoy and do is not far removed from anyone else excerpt for being blind. They just have to use other senses to experience. The campers explained what life is like in simply going to school. One girl, Audra, used her humor to tell members of the HTA that when they go to school, they’re usually told to sit up front in all classes. “Why? We’re blind, not deaf!” she said.

What initially appeared to be a simple event turned into a life changing occassion. The OUB team leader Rebecca Diaz later explained, “I can not possibly express how thankful I am to all the (HTA) folks for giving our kids and staff an experience that they will never forget. They were still talking about it when we dropped them back to their parents. Thank you from the bottom of our heart.”

The lesson on that day is that what happens with the 3Rs progress is up to us and only requires our time to share. It doesn’t call for special expertise. It only needs the mentor to behonest, relate to the individual being mentored and offer mutual acceptance.

In this instance, as far as the 3Rs, the HTA showed that “where there’s a wheel, there’s a way”.

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Tim Kobasic is the outdoors editor for KMB Broadcasting and host/producer for Tails & Trails Outdoor Radio, aired on six radio stations over three networks, Charter Communications cable and the Internet on Saturday mornings.

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