by Roland Sigurdson, Aquatic Education Specialist
"I wanted my special needs child to get a chance to enjoy fishing as much as the next kid," said Mike Quesnell. Mike is someone that knows that things ‘don’t just happen’ for many special needs kids out in our communities. As a volunteer member of the Boy Scouts of America, Northern Star Council – Special Needs Unit and leader in his own district, Mike works tirelessly to make sure that special needs scouts have the same opportunities as other scouts. But this time he wanted to take it a step further. Why not use the organizational infrastructure of the scouts to bring a day of fishing to the larger community? So he did.
In June of 2008, through a connection with Muskies, Inc member Al Jacobsen, Mike met with the MN DNR – MinnAqua program. This initial meeting helped Mike to understand what it was going to take to put on a quality program for a large group of special needs kids and adults in early October. Together with other enthusiastic people, Mike began to get things organized. What would it take?
First the group would need to reserve a site that met their safety, space and fishing requirements. In this case, Ft. Snelling State Park fit the bill. Accessible space for learning stations? Check! Accessible picnic shelter to serve lunch? Check! Accessible open space for activities? Check! Accessible fishing area? Check! Accessible restrooms? Check!
Next they needed to advertise the event. A large ad campaign seemed to unmanageable and expensive. What if they were overwhelmed with requests? In the end, targeting specific organizations that worked with special needs kids and adults made the most sense and ultimately worked well.
They needed people to teach at the learning stations, prepare lunch and move equipment. Not just a handful, they needed a bunch. The success of any large –scale event hinges on the number of enthusiastic volunteers that step up to make it happen. Mike was able to get folks from Boy Scouts (adults and scouts), Muskies, Inc, Npower where he worked, friends and relatives.
Just one note here, scouts know how to get food! That said, Mike and others worked to line up donations from a number of stores in the area and then filled in the holes using money from a small budget that he had to work with from the Boy Scouts. No one went hungry, plenty for all.
Mike and his team lined up loaner equipment from the MN DNR – MinnAqua program. Additionally, they had donations of fishing tackle from several sporting goods retailers that the participants were able to take home with them that day.
Participants enjoyed shore fishing with the boy scouts.
October 11th came, bright sunshine and great weather was the order of the day. Volunteers began arriving by 7 a.m. to assist with set-up and get an orientation from MinnAqua Specialist, Roland Sigurdson, on their assignments. The instructors were nervous, but at the end of the day performed like well-seasoned veterans. Boy Scouts, many working on their Disability Awareness badge, lined up to carry equipment, run errands, assist at learning stations, and act as guides for participants.
The participants arrived at an event brimming with Scouts eager to share with them. Participants learned about aquatic insects, tried fish printing, identified fish species, constructed bamboo fishing poles and tried casting several other types of rods. They learned about safety and regulations, made their own fishing lure and even caught a few bluegills in the backwaters of the Minnesota River.
Smiles were in abundance, laughter was everywhere. I guess Mike got what he wanted after all. boy scouts.