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PA - Outdoors with Tom Venesky: When it comes to the outdoors, the future is bright

It’s easy to get caught up in bad news when it comes to the future of hunting, fishing and the outdoors.

AUGUST 21ST, 2016 - 9:12 AM

I often hear claims that hunters and anglers are aging, their ranks are dwindling and, especially for hunters, issues such as access, lack of game and time are driving many away from the sport and the future is doomed. I don’t believe it. I think hunting, and interest in the outdoors in general, has a bright future. While others can waste time preaching doom and gloom, I think it’s better to focus on the positive and the up-and-coming hunters, anglers and conservationists. There’s plenty to focus on. The newly created Governor’s Youth Council for Hunting, Fishing and Conservation is a good place to start. It mirrors the Governor’s Advisory Council for Hunting, Fishing and Conservation and will be comprised of 20 high school students, ranging in age from 14 to 18. Council members will be charged with providing the Governor ideas on how to engage youth in conservation issues and our outdoor heritage. I have no doubt it’s going to be a success and the council is a somewhat refreshing approach to addressing the issue of getting kids involved in the outdoors. It seems that every time there’s a push to connect kids to the outdoors, the legwork is being done by adults. While the work is admirable, I think it’s going to be more effective to let teens tell us how best to get youth interested in the outdoors. It’s a more direct approach, and one we should all be optimistic about. But the youth council isn’t the only reason to be encouraged about the future of our outdoor heritage. Despite the common beliefs that kids just aren’t interested, are too busy or would rather play video games than hit the woods, I’ve seen plenty of evidence that the future generation shares our passion for the outdoors.

I saw it when I stopped by Frances Slocum State Park recently to meet with the kids involved with the Pennsylvania Outdoor Corps. The program is essentially a summer job, but the kids work at state parks and forests gaining valuable job training and educational opportunities while experiencing some of the most impressive public natural areas in the region. And while the money is nice, it’s not what motivates the kids. The group I spent time with including a few individuals who wanted to become park rangers or pursue other conservation-related careers. And they all loved spending time working outdoors, getting to see our state parks firsthand. I wrote a story about the group and since it appeared, I’ve been contacted by a few young people wanting to know how they can get involved with the program. It was encouraging. But there’s more. I see a bright future for our outdoor sports when I see the number of kids that show up at the wildlife programs given by the Pennsylvania Game Commission each month at the Northeast Region Office in Dallas. I see it when I walk the banks of any stocked waterway on the first day of trout season and youngsters learning to cast and families spending the day together. I see it when a mother told me her young son wants to learn about hunting and if I could recommend anything to help him get an opportunity. He enjoyed a pheasant hunt last winter and I’m working on a fall turkey hunt that is sure to give him the memory of a lifetime. Want more evidence that today’s kids are interested in the outdoors? The North Mountain Branch of the Quality Deer Management Association held an outdoors skills day for kids ages 5-17 last month in Noxen and 84 kids participated. Kids don’t care about the outdoors? I’m not convinced.

By Tom Venesky - Click for more information on Tom - @TLTomVenesky - 570-991-6395