Sept. 8, 2021
Randy Zellers Assistant Chief of Communications
BENTON — A recent partnership between the City of Benton’s Parks and Recreation Department and the Arkansas Game and Fish Commission may provide a template for success in introducing youth to the joys of angling in Arkansas. Four groups of children, aged 4 through 13, and their parents all had the opportunity to participate in a special multi-class fishing program at Benton’s River Center recreation complex.
“We normally like to post up big numbers on our fishing events, but this was a much different experience altogether,” Clint Coleman, assistant coordinator for the AGFC’s Family and Community Fishing Program, said. “Instead of just providing fish and one opportunity, we were able to provide much more one-on-one instruction and see the kids start to catch on first-hand as the weeks progressed.”
The program began when Coleman was contacted by Logan Bussard, the recreational programmer at Benton Parks and Recreation Department. Bussard was new to the department, and one of his first tasks was organizing their fishing program.
“I’ve fished but I really didn’t know all the ins and outs of things to feel confident introducing it to new people,” Bussard said.
Coleman says Bussard’s request came on the heels of a derby at Sunset Lake put on by the Benton Police Department
“I thought he just wanted a fishing derby at first, but the more he talked about what he wanted, the more I realized he needed more of an educational experience to get the kids started,” Coleman said. “I reached out to our Education Division folks who do this sort of thing a lot and told them about the opportunity.”
Bo Davidson, who coordinates the AGFC’s Fishing In the Natural State Program, and AGFC Educators Lori Monday and Morgan Gantt worked with Coleman and Bussard to create programs that would fit various age levels. The classes were split into two age ranges, one for 4- and 5-year-olds and another for 6- through 13-year-olds. Each age range had room for two classes each. Each class met for about 45 minutes and came back weekly throughout the summer.
“The class wasn’t just for the kids, either,” Coleman said. “We had a lot of the kids with parents that didn’t know how to fish, either. My goal for the 4- and 5-year-olds was to see if we could just teach them the difference between catfish, bream and bass and help them get comfortable with fishing, but those parents are really who made it work. They took the kids afterward to go fishing, and you could see them starting to get it as well. By the end of the program, we had kids casting at targets in the gym and parents already sharing pictures of their kids with fish they caught between classes.”
Hollie Sanders, AGFC assistant chief of education, said the partnership was a great opportunity to introduce the outdoors through a new avenue.
“We traditionally have worked with classrooms at schools, homeschool groups and put on our own public clinics, but we found that partnering with park and recreation professionals across the state can help build the outdoor community right at home in their city,” Sanders said. “The timing of this opportunity couldn’t have been better, and we hope other cities will see this and think about ways they can incorporate the benefits of outdoor recreation in their city. Being active outdoors is fun, healthy and builds community. We’re here to help.”
Bussard says he’s excited to continue the program and build upon what he has learned over the summer.
“We’re in our last week of the program now, and I have kids running in and grabbing fishing poles ready to go to the water,” Bussard said. “I think we can make this program bigger and better than ever, now that I’ve been able to watch and learn how to cover the basics and keep the kids engaged.”
Visit www.agfc.com/familyfishing for more information about the Family and Community Fishing Program. To learn more about how to add AGFC outdoor education to your area, visit www.agfc.com/en/education/classroom/regional-education.
For more information about the Benton Parks and Recreation Department’s River Center, visit https://www.bentonar.org/departments/parksrec.