Thanks to the Pierre Capital Journal for publishing this story!
August 1, 2019
The Pierre Elks Lodge #1953 and the Boys & Girls Club of the Capital Area teamed together to sponsor 40 youth for trips to the Badlands National Park, July 30 and July 31.
“It was awesome, magnificent. The hardest part was getting the kids to climb back onto the bus to come back to Pierre,” said Steve Wegman, Pierre Elks coordinator of the Dakota Event Expedition. Plans had been for up to 100 youth to go. “This was an experiment on our part,” said Wegman. “It was see how do ‘helicopter’ parents allow independence of their children in a very well controlled environment. Also, each kid was to give two hours of community service before the day trips.” Forty youth, from kindergarten age through fourth grade, actually attended.
Two Forell buses headed out each day, each with 20 youth, three Boys & Girls Club staff, and three Elks volunteers. Also on board was plenty of water and snack foods. A full meal was provided, at the Wagon Wheel Grill. After the trip, according to Wegman, a driver said he was amazed on how good the kids were, even picking up any trash they found in the park and clearing the bus of trash when they got off. “And the best part is they are just regular Pierre area kids,” said Wegman.
All the youth were sworn in by Park Rangers Brad Baker and Ed Welsh as junior park rangers. Each got badges and a little booklet of the park. The kids did a total of 4.5 miles of hiking, as well as participated in interactive games and visited a fossil lab. They heard interpretative talks on how the Badlands were formed and continue to form, and geological difference of the Badlands and Pierre. The kids preferred the dirt trails, referring to the paved paths as “old people trails.”
“If you are a kid, the last thing you want to do is what old people do,” said Wegman. “You have to give them more of a challenge, thus a little bit more of a risk.” Wegman said some of the littler kids ended the day with their hands in the hands of some of the adults, their new friends. This is the greenest, lushest I have ever seen the Badlands. The sweet clover was intoxicating,” said Wegman.“The real interesting part was none of the kids wanted to get back on the bus, even after being out of their comfort zones. Great little troopers,” said Wegman. He added that the rangers told him these were the best kids they had seen all summer; attentive, inquisitive, well mannered.
The third and fifth graders shared their ideas as a whole, according to Becky Spoehr, director of the Boys & Girls Club of the Capital Area. Some of the comments included: “We liked the pizza and seeing the wonderful view. The bus drivers and people (Elk’s members) who came along were very kind. We also like playing the migration game at the visitors center and seeing the cool fossils,” wrote one student. “The view was very beautiful. I loved standing on top of the mountains and looking at the Badlands,” wrote Alexis. “My favorite part was seeing the prairie dog. I really wanted to pet it,” wrote Jaxson. “I really like getting to climb all the rocks and going on the new trails,” wrote Asher. “The creatures were really cool. I also really liked seeing all the fossils at the visitors center.” “The fossils were kinda good!,” wrote Jace. “I loved seeing all the different fossils, and it was cool to see the shoe that feel all the way down to the bottom of the Badlands,” wrote Brooks.
Though other activities will slip in, the next main kids/community event by the Elks is a pre-Halloween dress-up party in late August or early September.