With leading support from Friends of NRA and dozens of partner organizations, 2,856 students and 561 parents and teachers participated in the Midwest Outdoor Heritage Education Expo, or MOHEE (pronounced MO’-hee), May 16-17, 2018, free of charge. That’s a new record, compared to 2,704 students the prior year and 1,123 students in 2014, the program's first year at the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources’ MacKenzie Environmental Education Center near Poynette.
MOHEE is a unique field trip where students can get face-to-face with live wolves, lynx, badgers, otters, bison and eagles while having the opportunity to participate in archery, airgun, fisheries, forestry, wildlife and other fun activities, all in one location. Many of these activities correlate with multi-discipline state and national education standards. Students receive information about ongoing mentoring programs that allow them to develop their outdoor skills and enjoy lifelong outdoor activities. Educators, trained safety instructors, and other volunteer mentors provide an enriching participatory experience for students, connecting youth to Wisconsin's natural resources, outdoor heritage, and lifelong skills.
“Well worth the long drive, our students and colleagues plan this field trip every year,” said teacher Jordan Williams of Scales Mound, Illinois. “Best field trip ever,” said Gwen Wohlgefahrt, a teacher at Jefferson Lighthouse School in Racine, Wisconsin, echoing what other school groups usually say about MOHEE. Wohlgefahrt and Williams traveled nearly five hours roundtrip with busloads of students eager to discover and try the more than 35 outdoor skills and activities. As a member of the media said, “Students arrive by the busload and experience things many would never have had a chance to try elsewhere. Every one of them, and their teachers left with big smiles on their faces.”
Positive media coverage included a feature in the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel and SCI HUNTERS magazine, plus social media support from teachers, students, and conservation group leaders who participate.
The biggest obstacle to success is the need for funding to cover growing expenses for buses and other costs. Most schools pay for their own transportation, but MOHEE’s policy is to help cover costs for schools that would not otherwise be able to attend due to budget constraints. The policy is for no child to be left behind and indoors.
Historically, Friends of NRA has been, and continues to be, the single largest funding source of this event. Friends of NRA has donated six grants through The NRA Foundation, totaling nearly $72,000 since 2015.
“True mentoring is not a one and done event. MOHEE creates awareness and offers huge numbers of people the opportunity to try various outdoor activities."Mark LaBarbera, an NRA Patron Life Member, is head of the charitable, non-profit Outdoor Heritage Education Center which founded, owns and organizes the event. “MOHEE has helped more than 10,000 students and hundreds of adults in the last five years to take the first steps toward a lifetime of outdoor enjoyment," he said. "One of our key goals is to retain and reactivate hunters, anglers, and others by getting them involved as instructors at this event and as mentors in ongoing outdoor skills programs for youth and adults.”
Another goal LaBarbera highlighted is to recruit students, parents, and educators into those programs. “True mentoring is not a one and done event," he emphasized. "MOHEE creates awareness and offers huge numbers of people the opportunity to try various outdoor activities, and then tells them where to go for true mentoring programs that offer multiple learning experiences over extended time afield and at the range."
This all fits with the national R3 plan for recruitment, retention, and reactivation. State and national authorities on this subject believe this is one of the most critically important areas for the future of conservation and America’s outdoor sports heritage. Conservation leaders agree that when everyone pitches in, the polarizing challenges can be overcome.
For 2019, MOHEE organizers are already redoubling efforts to increase numbers in a variety of areas. This includes planning to increase the number of schools, students, parents, and teachers who attend. MOHEE organizers also intend to increase the number of activities - including shooting sports, falconry and aerial archery - and they hope to add exhibits on bats, birds, and bugs as well.