And these days you can see its impact throughout Minnesota thanks to two grant programs that get children, teens and adults outdoors.
Since 2016, the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources has awarded 67 grants totaling $990,000 to recruit, retain and reactivate hunters and anglers. Similarly, the agency has awarded 93 No Child Left Inside (NCLI) grants amounting to $872,996 to connect Minnesotans with nature. Some of these grants involve hunting and fishing, too.
"Our Recruitment, Retention and Reactivation grant program is specifically designed to address long-term declines in hunting and angling participation by listening to the good ideas of Minnesotans, ranking them and the funding the best," said Jeff Ledermann of the DNR's Fish and Wildlife Division outreach section. "The NCLI grants take a broader approach by creating nature-based experiences where opportunities are limited."
New voices in the outdoors due to grant funding include tiny tots utilizing an urban forest at a nature-based Minneapolis preschool, teens participating in school-based fishing clubs, and men and women learning to hunt deer and wild turkey at an education center in southern Minnesota. Some new voices speak Spanish, an outcome of a marketing effort to increase Latino participation in the outdoors.
Rep. Jamie Becker-Finn, DFL-Roseville, played a key role in the 2019 legislation that provided $1.2 million in NCLI grant funds.
"We saw the value of the DNR's hunting and angling grants program but realized it was not reaching certain groups," said Becker-Finn. "That's why I and others looked at what other states were doing and developed a grants program tailored to Minnesota."
Becker-Finn said the scope of NCLI grants has been inspiring. "In many instances, organizations wanted to get people outdoors but did not have the resources to do so. Today, those groups have snowshoes, outdoor gear and the other things they need. We took a communities-know-best approach, and it's working."
Ledermann said communities indeed knew what they wanted and were not reluctant to ask. "We made about $200,000 available for first-come, first-served mini grants of no more than $5,000," said Ledermann. "We received 200 applications in the first six minutes and nearly 200 more by the end of the day."
Alyson Quinn is among those who received an NCLI grant. The director of the Minneapolis Nature Preschool, Quinn's preschool was awarded $47,000 for a partnership with Bryn Mawr Elementary School to deliver nature-based experiential education.
"The grant has enabled us to take advantage of the adjacent 11-acre school forest," said Quinn. "The forest, as well as nearby Theodore Wirth Park, are like gold mines in our own backyard. By hiring a naturalist, developing curriculum and purchasing equipment that makes learning and exploring fun, we are helping children discover and enjoy nature in many different ways."
Quinn said creating bridge-to-nature opportunities is important, especially in highly urbanized and culturally diverse north Minneapolis. "We used some of our grant dollars to develop a nature play area," she said. "You would be surprised by the creativity and imagination we see."
Colleen Foehrenbacher also had an idea for grant dollars. Foehrenbacher is the executive director of the Eagle Bluff Environmental Learning Center near Lanesboro. She received two DNR grants, supplied with about $16,000 for conducting mentored hunts for deer and turkey.
"Our center has long offered hunting-related programming, but the grants enabled us to take this work to a new and higher level," she said. "We bought tree stands, safety harnesses, ground blinds, decoys and more so we could provide safe and supportive learn-to-hunt opportunities for adults and youth on our 300 acres."
Foehrenbacher said many adults would like to hunt but do not know how because they were reared in nonhunting families. "They can see the appeal but can't see how to get there from where they are," she said. "We help bridge that gap."
Foehrenbacher, who learned to hunt as an adult, said Eagle Bluff is an ideal place to learn, especially for wild turkey. "The people we mentor are super-optimistic because they hear so many birds gobbling as dawn breaks," she said. "This doesn't mean they'll get a bird, but it does make for many teachable moments."
Gustavo Mancilla is yet another person who sought to put grant dollars to work. Mancilla is the owner of MLatino Media in St. Paul. Originally from Mexico City, Mancilla has embraced the outdoors since living in Minnesota. He viewed grant dollars as a tool to help other Latinos discover the outdoors, too.
"We created Mas Minnesotano, a comprehensive media campaign that introduces the local Hispanic community to hunting and fishing educational materials as well as hunting and fishing opportunities in Minnesota," Mancilla said.
MLatino Media used $20,000 in grant funds to develop videos on deer and pheasant hunting, fishing the Mississippi River, and more, including how to fish safely during the pandemic. The firm also produced content for El Minnesota de Hoy (Today's Minnesota), a digital hub that delivers news and other relevant information in Spanish. MLatino Media also promoted participation in the outdoors through Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.
Ledermann, the DNR grants manager, said Mas Minnesotano was impressive. "It was powerful work because it showcased people from the community enjoying hunting, fishing and the outdoors. Through this type of modeling, viewers could see themselves hunting, fishing and enjoying these activities, too."
The Minnesota Conservation Federation (MCF) also used grant money. The MCF received $23,000 for its Conservation Leadership Corps. The federation's corps introduces college students enrolled in natural resource curricula to hunting, fishing and trapping while enhancing skills in leadership, communication, advocacy and policy.
"Many Minnesota college students who are going into conservation and environmental careers have never cast a rod, shouldered a shotgun, or witnessed how trapping actually works," said Brad Gausman, MCF executive director. "Our program addresses that reality."
Gausman said grant funds enabled the MCF to work directly with about a dozen University of Minnesota students who, among other things, went ice fishing on Mille Lacs Lake and met with members of the Lessard-Sams Outdoor Heritage Council and members of the Legislative-Citizen Commission on Minnesota Resources at the Capitol.
"I like to think that future conservation funding and policy decision-makers will have fished, hunted or trapped but that may not be the case," said Gausman. "Yet, if through our work, the voices of future leaders include a respect and understanding for those who do fish, hunt and trap, well, that's a good thing."
C.B. Bylander is a freelance writer. He lives near Baxter, Minn.