Published February 26, 2012, 12:00 AM

BRAD DOKKEN: Grand Forks wellness center looks to incorporate outdoor learning

According to Rob Vollrath of Grand Forks, kayaking, canoeing and camping are among the ideas being kicked around as part of the outdoors curriculum.

By: Brad Dokken, Grand Forks Herald

It’s still in the very earliest stages — more of an idea than anything else — but an outdoors curriculum is among the options being explored for the Choice Health & Fitness facility being constructed in south Grand Forks.

The Grand Forks Park District owns and operates the facility, which is on track for completion in the fall. As Herald staff writer Ryan Bakken reported last month, the 42-acre site on which the wellness center is located will have walking trails, a spray park, a lazy river and a park among its amenities.

The grounds outside the fitness center will be known as Altru Wellness Village.

That’s where the outdoors possibilities come into play.

According to Rob Vollrath of Grand Forks, kayaking, canoeing and camping are among the ideas being kicked around as part of the outdoors curriculum. Chairman of the fundraising campaign that helped move the wellness center from concept to reality, Vollrath also is an avid outdoorsman.

“So many kids come from single-parent families and don’t have a clue on how to pitch a tent and stuff we took for granted,” Vollrath said. “Apparently, the demand and the need is there.”

The popularity of one-day events such as the annual Take-a-Kid Fishing Day at Ryan Pond on the Kings Walk Golf Course and youth outdoors days such as those sponsored by local sportsman’s clubs and conservation groups across the region always draw a crowd. In that context, offering more extensive programs in conjunction with the fitness center presents some exciting possibilities.

“We’re just going to hopefully take it to another level,” Vollrath said. “And if we can come up with something unique, there’s no reason we couldn’t utilize Grand Forks as a go-to place to develop programs for youth in the outdoors.”

The site easily could accommodate canoeing and camping instruction, Vollrath said. The sediment-holding pond on the grounds is almost a half-mile long, and the Parks and Recreation Department can maintain a depth of 10 feet, Vollrath said.

The green space along the waterway could be used for pitching tents and other camping instruction.

“We’re looking for people that might have an interest in developing the program,” Vollrath said.

Vollrath said there were discussions with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service about developing outdoors programs back when the wellness center still was in the dreaming stage. Plans are in the works to revisit that with Service personnel, along with staff from the North Dakota Game and Fish Department and UND, as well.

It’s also possible, he said, that the program could be expanded to include fishing and shooting sports. In the meantime, the concept is a work in progress.

“Right now, I’d just like to explore the possibility of being able to put something like that together,” Vollrath said. “My thinking is that if it doesn’t work, it’s just because we don’t have the people that want to put the effort into it.”

Best-case scenario, there could be a program in place late next winter or early spring for implementing in the summer of 2013.

“We’re so unique here in Grand Forks with all the possibilities, with the Greenway and the university and we have (Kellys Slough) National Wildlife Refuge right outside of town,” Vollrath said. “We have a lot of unique opportunities for helping kids learn about the outdoors.”

Dokken reports on outdoors. Reach him at (701) 780-1148; (800) 477-6572, ext. 148; or send email to bdokken@gfherald.com.

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