Experience the Outdoors a big hit

By Carol Walker

Stacie got a hug from the big guy himself, Smokey Bear, who was making the rounds at the Experience the Outdoors Day last week. After all the activities, the people who attended and helped were treated to a meal with all the food donated from Coca-Cola and Hill City businesses.

Horsethief Lake was hopping again for the 14th annual Experience the Outdoors (ETO) Day Sept. 5, sponsored by the United States Forest Service (USFS) and Forest Recreation Management (FRM). The weather was a little chilly, but that didn’t seem to cool off the excitement of the participants who attended the event.

“That was so cool. I can’t wait to tell my dad,” said Samantha, one of the participants, as she got off the wagon that was pulled by a team of horses driven by Donley Hewitt.

Everyone in attendance had the opportunity to ride in the wagon, go fishing, try their hand at ball toss, look at and learn about some reptiles and animal hides, pan for gold and gems and get their face painted. They even got to hug the big guy himself, Smokey the Bear.

More than 14 years ago, the USFS and FRM were brainstorming what they could do in place of the campground programs that were not highly attended. They learned the adults with disabilities could be served in a positive way by an outdoor program such as ETO.

“The Black Hills has a beautiful national forest and it was thought to offer a great opportunity to meet that need,” said Steve Keegan, landscape architect for the Forest Service.

Other agencies have joined in to help with the event. National Park Service, Custer State Park, Game, Fish & Parks and Boxelder Job Corps all play a part. There are 30-40 volunteers who spend the morning with participants, helping them enjoy the great outdoors.

Marla Davis, office manager at FRM, was heading up the responsibilities of making sure the registration table, the food, the wagon rides and other activities were in place. She said the local businesses are awesome in donating what is needed for the meal and she just has to ask them each year and they seem happy to provide.

“Hill City Café donates potato salad and sloppy Joes, Slate Creek provides the coleslaw. Alpine Inn gives the pickles, Bumpin’ Buffalo provides the buns and Krull’s gives the Twinkies. Coca-Cola donates the soft drinks, KOA sends over the tables and Hill City Hardware provides the worms for fishing,” said Davis.