I serve proudly on the Board of the Arizona Mule Deer Organization and I am also the Parks and Facilities Manager for the Town of Gilbert in Arizona. In October I had a cool opportunity to wear both hats at the same time, when AMDO asked to help support Grand Opening celebrations at Gilbert Regional Park by hosting a youth Fishing Derby.

Phase 1B of Gilbert Regional Park opened in mid-October, adding a 7-acre fishing lake, a 10-acre great lawn, a pavilion for concerts and events, along with pickleball courts, basketball courts and sand volleyball courts. Due to Covid restrictions, instead of having one huge Grand Opening event, the Town had several days’ worth of events, with different activities each day. The folks at Arizona Mule Deer were excited to help host the youth Fishing Derby, providing around a dozen volunteers to help the more than 100 kids who had registered to fish.

There were trophies for 1st, 2nd and 3rd in three categories – heaviest fish, heaviest total weight and ugliest fish. In addition, every participant received a cool medal.

What was surprising to the volunteers was the number of first-time anglers fishing in the tournament. There were big families, small families and kids from ages 4 – 16 participating. There were single moms and toddlers, grandparents and more – lots of folks enjoying the beautiful new park.

Town staff and AMDO Volunteers did a great job. The tournament was well-organized. AMDO and similar conservation groups love teaching kids whether it is hunting, safe firearms handling, fieldcraft or fishing – and the day didn’t disappoint. Volunteers helped kids with bait and technique, helped get them signed in and helped with weigh-ins. At the end, they even fileted the fish for those who wanted to learn.

Lady anglers owned the day, winning the biggest fish (an 8-lb catfish) and a number of other top finishes as well. The boys had a good showing too, of course, but the gals came out on top when all was said and done.

Well done to the Town of Gilbert and congratulations for opening another phase of a truly beautiful park! Well done also to the Arizona Mule Deer Organization for supplying a good bunch of volunteers in spite of simultaneously staffing a (rescheduled) fundraising banquet in Show Low that same night. It’s not a cliché to say “kids are our future” – they truly are. It is important to foster good ethics in kids and teach them to be good stewards of our natural resources while enjoying the great outdoors!