Lessons in life and safety

Published 5:27 pm Thursday, September 1, 2011

Cameron Canniff, from back, of Niles; Dylan Canniff, of Niles; and Camron Demler, of Edwardsburg "escape" the Cleveland Township Fire House after it fills with non-toxic smoke. Firefighters demonstrated to children proper fire safety procedures Saturday at the Edwardsburg Conservation Club's Youth Day.

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Kadence Ryder, 6, eagerly releases her finger and flings the fishing reel over her head, missing the plastic ring but landing her bobber a good distance away. Instructor Ralph Hammond patiently guides her through the proper motions to more effectively cast with the tiny fishing rod.
“I enjoy teaching — we all do,” he said during the Edwardsburg Conservation Club’s Youth Day Saturday.
Hammond, a Department of Natural Resources-trained education instructor, teaches hunter safety courses at the ECC in addition to his casting and lure demonstration Saturday with volunteer Dick Kouder, also of Edwardsburg.
According to treasurer and hunter safety instructor Debbie Reese, the ECC had a good turnout Saturday, with 150 registered participants, including 90 children, from as far as Niles, Cassopolis and Jones. The attendees were split into groups, and rotated among the various demonstrations, which included archery; the Cleveland Township Fire House; Michigan State Police and the DNR; Boy Scout Troop 593; shooting; fly-tying; Safari Club International; and more.
Children learned a variety of skills and safety techniques, from making elephant ears on a camp stove and assembling survival kits, to why wearing a personal floatation device while boating and abstaining from drinking too much alcohol or cough syrup before hunting are important.
Hammond, who has been a hunter safety course instructor for seven years, said that Youth Day is timely because not only are two courses coming up, but the hunting license age of 10 (and sometimes 12, depending where they are hunting) will be eliminated March 1.
“The purpose of it is to get more participation,” Hammond said of eliminating the age restriction.
Hammond said the number of hunting and fishing licenses purchased nationwide has dropped drastically in recent years. Events like Youth Day help boost children’s interest in activities like hunting and fishing while they are young — and hopefully continue those hobbies into lifelong pursuits.
A bill was passed earlier this year allowing children of any age to hunt, fish or trap with an adult 21 years or older who has a license and has taken a hunter safety course.
About 100 people have registered so far for the ECC’s course Sept. 17-18. It costs $10 for the class, and the equipment and food are supplied. A second course will be available Oct. 15-16. To register, call Kathy Lemna at (574) 266-5709.
To learn more about the Edwardsburg Conservation Club, visit www.edwardsburgconservationclub.org.
For more information about hunting and fishing in Michigan, visit www.michigan.gov/dnr.