"It's like Santa's Workshop in here!" one passing parent exclaimed.
Scores of hammers were thumping away Thursday evening at Bremer Outdoors Team's annual "Project Habitat" event, held inside Maysa Arena rather than outside due to intermittent rain.
"It's going well so far. It's been a lot of fun," Brent Mattson shouted above the racket. A cofounder of the sporting group and president of Bremer Bank, he had explained beforehand that "we'll be assembling birdbath pedestals." Previous projects had routinely consisted of making bird houses and feeders, to the point where they had decided "we need to do something different."
The pedestals were simple to assemble, being cut in advance by Todd Fjeldahl's students at the Dakota Boys and Girls Ranch, with holes drilled beforehand by Bremer Outdoors members. All that the day's kids needed to bring themselves were their households' hammers.
"What child doesn't like a hammer?" Mattson asked.
Quite a few evidently did, with at least 100 already crowding around the worktables within the first 10 minutes. Mattson explained that Project Habitat is an opportunity for children to do something constructive, with the hope that they might develop an interest in wildlife and the outdoors.
In addition to the Bremer team, the event was sponsored by members of the Berthold Sportsmen Club, Souris Valley Bowmen, Pheasants For the Future, and a number of other groups and businesses.
"It's nice seeing a cohesion between all the clubs," said Greg Gullickson, Bremer Outdoors' other cofounder and an outreach biologist with North Dakota Game and Fish.
Also making the rounds at the assembly tables was Christopher Augustin, who in January helped organize the North Dakota Anglers Association, Minot's first fishing club since its "Happy Hookers" group disbanded sometime during the 1990s.
"Our mission is to improve fishing for all in North Dakota," he said.
The group will hold a kickoff event at the North Dakota State Fairgrounds pond on Monday, 6:30 p.m., with a casting booth, knot tying, free food and beverages, and other activities. Information on the group can be found on its Facebook page, or inquiries can be made to Augustin at (email@example.com).
Berthold Sportsmen Club held a target shooting around the back of the arena, with a supervised archery area featuring foam animals and bullseyes, as well as a trailer-mounted pellet gun gallery.
"Safety is the big thing," clubber Joe Lautenschlager briefly explained, before the next group of future archers had a chance to grab their bows.
"For a lot of these kids it's the first time they've held a bow," Gullickson said. "Archery is one of those lifelong sports," he went on to say, something that can be enjoyed well into one's advanced years, unlike some activities such as football or hockey.
His dual role as an outreach biologist and outdoor event organizer focuses on teaching kids the components of habitat, which he describes as food, water, space, and shelter. Gullickson's hope is that, in addition to keeping vibrant a public interest in the country's natural resources, those principles might translate into a more holistic appreciation for people's places within their local environment.
Johnnie Candle, celebrated walleye tournament fisherman and guide from Devils Lake, was helping out at the event as well, bringing along his boat hitched to a pickup bedazzled with the decals of his sponsors. While suggesting that it may seem odd to find a fisherman among primarily hunter and trapper groups, Candle explained that "it's all part of the outdoor experience." He and Mattson had met last summer. After talking a bit they discovered they shared similar goals.
"We wanna get these kids outside," said Candle. "Nowadays it's way too easy to just sit around," citing video games as the primary culprit.
"We appreciate the support we receive from the community," said Mattson, and Project Habitat is one of the ways the various clubs try to pay that local support forward.
Around 7 p.m. there were drawings for door prizes, which included rods, tackle boxes, sleeping bags, tents, helmets and balls, plus a number of bags donated by Pheasants for the Future that include hats and Scheels gift cards. Despite the weather, a tremendous grill fired up about 400 hot dogs, distributed freely along with cold soda. And parents not only brought their children but canned foodstuffs as well, which were being collected to go toward a local food pantry.
As in previous years, Bremer Bank also contributed $1,000 to the parent-teacher association operating fund of the school with the most children participating, which ended up being Dakota Elementary School on Minot Air Force Base. At last year's event, the money had gone to Washington School's PTA. In addition, the local Boy Scouts troop will get "roughly $2,000."