by April Scheinoha
Veterans and others are helping veterans experience the outdoors through Middle River Veterans Outdoors. The organization has provided fishing and hunting trips to about 140 veterans since its formation in 2014.
Veterans Outdoors Board Chairperson Jason Cervantes noted the organization not only provides an opportunity to experience the outdoors, it provides veterans an opportunity to have fun and spend time with others who have had similar experiences in the military. Cervantes, who served in the Marine Corps, recalled an 86-year-old veteran who hadn’t gone fishing in more than 40 years. The man went on a fishing trip with Veterans Outdoors, telling stories one wouldn’t expect.
Over the years, the organization’s offerings have increased. This year, it provided an ice fishing trip on Lake of the Woods and a two-day summer fishing trip in Devils Lake, N.D. It is also offering a youth waterfowl hunt in Middle River, a two-day launch on Lake of the Woods, and a goose hunt in Middle River. The youth waterfowl hunt is for children and grandchildren of veterans. The goose hunt is specifically for disabled veterans.
Participants need a fishing or hunting license and seasonal outdoor clothing. They must provide their own transportation to and from the trip. Food, ammunition, bait, blinds and other supplies are provided. Guns and fishing gear are available for those who need them.
Trips are usually limited to 20 participants. However, 30 veterans participated in last year’s goose hunt. Cervantes said the circumstances were ideal in terms of the farmland and geese.
Even though Veterans Outdoors provides trips throughout the year, Cervantes said the focus isn’t just on those events. He said if a veteran doesn’t have mobility or the appropriate gear, the organization will help the veteran experience the outdoors in a one-on-one setting.
Veterans Outdoors wouldn’t exist without the support of various groups and individuals. The Middle River American Legion Club and Auxiliary, as well as other veterans organizations, have provided monetary support to the organization. Businesses and individuals in northwest Minnesota and beyond have also donated to the organization. “The local support has been fantastic here,” said Veterans Outdoors Board Secretary Wayne Kilen.
Donors can be assured that their dollars are spent on the veterans. “One hundred percent of every dollar goes back into providing some outdoor activities to veterans,” Cervantes said.
Volunteers have also stepped forward to assist with the trips. “We have volunteers coming out of our ears,” said Kilen, a Navy veteran.
The volunteers may have learned a few things along the way. Cervantes noted there is a common misconception that one must see a disability in order for it to exist. He indicated that a veteran may suffer from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, but no one else may realize it.
Veterans Outdoors’ work continues to help veterans no matter their physical abilities or limitations. However, it needs a place to store some of its equipment for the trips. The organization is currently raising funds for a storage shed. The storage shed is estimated to cost $10,000. Veterans Outdoors recently received a $2,000 grant from the Dondelinger Foundation for that project.
Kilen noted that the organization also hopes to raise funds for a track wheelchair. Currently, Veterans Outdoors borrows a track wheelchair located in Minneapolis. Kilen said it’s a logistical nightmare for the organization. Last time, four people transported the wheelchair during various legs of the trips to and from Minneapolis.
Donors can make tax-deductible donations to Middle River Veterans Outdoors, a 501(c)(3) organization, by mailing a check to P.O. Box 66, Middle River, MN 56737. Thrivent Choice dollars can also be directed toward the organization.
Veterans wishing to apply for the trips can fill out an application at mrveteransoutdoors.com.