'Nebraska Outdoor U!' gets participants to connect, engage with outdoors

Scott Stuhr shows a group of young Nebraska Outdoor U! participants how to clean a fish.
Scott Stuhr shows a group of young Nebraska Outdoor U! participants how to clean a fish.

What do archery and cooking over a campfire have in common? They're both skills you can learn and refine at Nebraska Outdoor U!

"My role is to develop outdoor skills in Nebraska residents," said Scott Stuhr, Nebraska Outdoor U! program coordinator. "I want more people getting outdoors, having fun and building a lifelong enjoyment of the Nebraska outdoors."

Launched in January 2012, Nebraska Outdoor U! is a free program designed to guide participants along the path of four "pathways": hunting, shooting sports, camping and fishing.

Within each pathway, there are six levels of achievement to be reached with incentives to keep participants motivated and learning. The levels of achievement are Pathfinder, Explorer, Trailblazer, Pioneer, Mentor and Legacy.

After completing a level, participants receive free gifts, which include items such as hats, T-shirts, sunglasses, gear bags and pullover wind shirts.

"Nebraska Outdoor U! helps develop skills for Nebraskans of all ages, abilities and knowledge in outdoor recreation through quality programs that develop well-round volunteers to ensure the future of outdoor recreation in Nebraska," Stuhr said.

The program aims to have 10,000 participants developing outdoor skills and being involved in Nebraska Outdoor U! Currently, the program has more than 3,000 participants.

"I really like this program as it encourages even an ardent outdoorsman like myself to get out and do more hunting activities, shooting and more," said Jeff Rawlinson, education manager at the Nebraska Game and Parks Commission.

Rawlinson has completed the Mentor level of the hunting pathway and is working on his Legacy level.

"It has motivated me to spend more time doing what I love to do. I really enjoy the challenge of doing all the outdoor pursuits requested and then moving forward to a new level – it feels like I am really achieving my personal goals," Rawlinson said.

Stuhr said that one of the challenges the program faces is the commonly held belief that participating in Nebraska Outdoor U! is costly.

"It's difficult for people to believe that this is a free program," Stuhr said. "There is a fear that there is a 'catch.' I assure them that my only desire is to get more people outside having fun, being safe and making their outdoor experiences enjoyable and memorable."

Nebraska Outdoor U! supplies the know-how to help build confidence, skill and understanding of the outdoors and conservation of natural resources such as land use and wildlife. The hands-on knowledge participants can gain from participating in the program is plentiful and because of its connection to SNR, Nebraska Outdoor U! is in a unique position to spread the word about SNR news and events.

"We are a statewide program that develops and encourages adults and youth to develop outdoor skills and lifestyles for a lifetime," Stuhr said. "We can deliver the research, knowledge, experience and opportunities of SNR to the participants of the program, and share the opportunities in SNR with others."

— Mekita Rivas, Natural Resources

More details at: http://go.unl.edu/wn9o