Nebraska's free, two-day outdoor extravaganza returns for its ninth splash at Ponca State Park next weekend.
The Missouri River Outdoor Expo will feature more than 85 activities designed to give families hands-on opportunities to shoot a shotgun, sling an arrow, paddle a kayak, cast a fishing line, call turkey and waterfowl and chat with hunters in a big game camp.
Or toss a tomahawk, hold a live fish, scamper up a climbing wall, discover the world of cowboys, cook over coals and marvel at the exploits of lumberjacks, archers and dogs leaping off a dock into a pool of water.
The expo is a Nebraska Game and Parks Commission program to give young people and families opportunities to learn about outdoor skills, ethics, safety, respect and stewardship — all while celebrating outdoor traditions, said Jim Swenson, an assistant parks administrator in Lincoln.
“The whole idea behind the expo was to instill the outdoors legacy into future generations by getting kids and parents, and kids and grandparents, into the outdoors,'' Swenson said. “We want them to know that the outdoors is a wonderful attraction. And that it's just a step away from the hustle and bustle of daily life and a step toward a quality family experience.''
Feedback surveys from past expos indicate the strategy works, Swenson said. Many individuals and couples say they are appreciative of the opportunity to expose their children or grandchildren to new and old outdoor pursuits.
“Whether shooting a .22 rifle at a target or riding a hay rack, a lot of people tell us they hadn't done that since they were kids,'' Swenson said.
A record 52,000 people from 19 states attended last year's expo. They all funneled through Ponca, the park's gateway community of 961 people in northeast Nebraska.
Several new activities are on the expo schedule. Among them are lumberjack teams competing in buck sawing, ax throwing, speed climbing and other events. Kids ages 5 to 10 may compete in a gourmet s'more contest. Kids ages 11 to 15 will be judged on hot pocket sandwiches in pie irons.
World champion archer Randy Oitker will make his Ponca debut. He made history several years ago when he shot six arrows at once to hit six separate balloon targets in London.
The DockDogs aquatic competition welcomes anyone to register a dog daring enough to leap after a toy tossed into a pool of water.
The park hosts area fifth-graders for nearly 50 outdoor activities as a preview to the expo Friday.
Jeff Fields, park superintendent, said the expo would be impossible if not for local volunteers. More than 900 people from the region volunteer each year. They help at the shooting ranges, provide information to visitors and direct people to shuttles headed for other venues in the park.
Fields said more open-air buses have been rented to shuttle people around the park.
Ponca State Park is 115 miles north of Omaha and 23 miles northwest of Sioux City, Iowa. The 2,400-acre park sits on heavily forested rolling hills and Missouri River bottomland.