Take a kid fishing at the state fairs
Written by Detroit Free Press   
Friday, 12 August 2005 11:28
The Department of Natural Resources is often shortsighted on policy issues. A good example is the way it spends large sums on dumping salmon into the Great Lakes but little on developing young anglers who will want to catch salmon 20 years from now.

That issue will get some remediation over the next couple of weeks when the pocket parks open daily at the Michigan State Fair in Detroit and the Upper Peninsula State Fair in Escanaba, giving any kid who attends a chance to catch and release some nice hybrid sunfish for free.

The pocket parks also offer youngsters a chance to shoot an air rifle or a bow and see some great exhibits about the wonderful places and critters that lie beyond the suburbs.

Bonnie Arthur, the DNR events coordinator, said about 10,000 kids were expected to fish at the Detroit DNR pocket park during the fair's run through Aug. 21. DNR spokeswoman Ann Wilson said about 20,000 kids are expected to take part at the Escanaba site Tuesday to Aug. 21.

That might seem like a lot of kids. But the numbers pale in comparison to figures that show that about 5 million people -- a quarter under 18 -- live in southeast Michigan, where kids are being born five times as fast as the DNR could put rods in their hands.

I'd heartily recommend that you take a kid to either of the fairground pocket parks. The ponds are stuffed with hybrid sunfish that are just about always willing to bite a bait on a rod that the DNR supplies, and you and the youngsters will have a lot of fun at the other DNR activities and exhibits.

But while the state fair pocket parks offer feel-good moments, giving a kid a chance to fish for a half-hour one day a year isn't the way to make her or him an angler. No one would suggest that allowing kids to play baseball or basketball one day a year is the way to encourage participation in those sports. So why should fishing be different?

When I was a kid, we could ride our bikes to local ponds and rivers and catch crappies, sunfish and bass. Today's kids can't do that for several reasons. Parents are paranoid that their offspring might be snatched by a lunatic pedophile, even though FBI statistics show there's no more chance of that happening than back in the '50s (when we didn't have cable TV turning every local Amber alert into a nationwide drama).

And most kids live in urban areas where they'd have to ride on roads jammed with cars and trucks and where the average speed seems to be about 60. Finally, many fishing sites like those we haunted as kids are now off-limits, absorbed into waterfront communities or fenced off by landowners worried about liability suits.

With most DNRs so broke they can no longer provide some important services, it's time for the big outdoor retailers and manufacturers to spend less time worrying about next quarter's profits and look down the road a few years.

If they don't start putting more money in at the front end, there's a good chance they'll see themselves going out of business.

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