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Wisconsin Parent

Midwest Event: The Outdoor University at Sertoma Park in Sioux Falls, South Dakota

Sep 15, 2014 08:00AM ● By Julie Henning
If you're thinking about planning a family vacation to Sioux Falls, South Dakota, make sure you leave time to fully explore Sertoma Park, home to the Outdoor Campus as well as the Sertoma Butterfly House and Marine Cove. The park itself features an impressive playground complete with a domed climbing structure, modern playground, whisper dishes (see the photo below), a monumental picnic shelter, bike paths, a small pond, and Nordic ski trails in the winter months.

If you visit Sertoma Park on one of the biggest events of the year, Outdoor University, not only will you see the park in it's prime, you'll get a feel for the people of Sioux Falls and understand the important role outdoor activities play in the community all year round. In it's 4th year, the 2014 Outdoor University occurred on August 2, and I had the honor to participate and take a few photos.

IMG_8348Thea Ryan, Director of the South Dakota Game, Fish and Parks' Outdoor Campus in Sioux Falls explains, "Outdoor University is our biggest event of the year. All year long we teach outdoor skills, and on this day we teach them ALL at the same time! People can come and try kayaking, fishing, air rifles, archery, rock climbing, outdoor cooking and lots more. Everything outdoor related can be found here."

IMG_8339While some of the event activities require children to be age seven or older (kayaking, BB guns, archery, and rock climbing), younger kids are not forgotten. From panning for gold to coloring a t-shirt to take home, I loved watching them cast pint-sized fishing poles and "pet" the frogs and turtles. IMG_8347Laid out along the bike/walking path, participants visit different stations, with some activities/events happening at specific times (example: hunting dog demo, fish cleaning demo, raptor presentation). It's best to keep the event schedule handy (everyone receives a copy at the registration table). IMG_8337Providing people with opportunities to try new things and ask event staff—many of whom are experts and seasoned professionals in the outdoors—questions, Ryan adds, "Sioux Falls is our state’s largest city, so people in this area don’t get to do as many outdoor activities as in other places. Outdoor University gives them a chance to try out a new outdoor activity and see if it’s something you want to pursue. We also have people who have been wanting to buy a kayak, for example. They come to try out all the different kinds and decide what would be a good purchase for their needs. Also, the interest in archery has been tremendous in the last few years thanks to movies like Disney’s Brave and The Hunger Games. People will line up to give it a try."

IMG_8353She continued, "From hunting dog demonstrations, to trying food cooked in a Dutch oven, and learning how to filter water while camping, some of our favorite characters from SD Public Broadcasting showed up to do presentations. Visitors also got to meet Todd and Teri from Nature Adventures as well as Science Steve." IMG_8346Fun and games aside, the event's educational component includes raising awareness against topics like poaching and promotes sustainability and safety, with local law enforcement and representatives from the Game, Fish, and Parks in uniform.

IMG_8350Here a brother and sister are competing to see who can toss a life preserver the farthest, a simple activity you could practice with your own kids at home.

IMG_8352Reflecting on the success of the 2014 event, Ryan said the rock wall was an event favorite. "It gets hauled across the state from Rapid City (about 7 hours pulling the trailer), so we only get it once a year. People LOVE that wall. I wish we could have it here more often. The other thing I love hearing is how much our volunteers love the event. They get to share SD’s outdoor heritage in much smaller doses throughout the year and this day they get to share it ALL. They come in just exhausted but ENTHUSIASTIC about attendees’ responses to the fun."

IMG_8331 For more information about the event, read this fabulous story published in the Argus Leader:

For more ideas about what to do on a family vacation in Sioux Falls, read my other suggestions here: