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Winter Outdoor Adventure for kids is no fish tale

By Rod Lee

Start with a staple local business (Fin & Feather Sports), two municipal recreation departments, two ideal settings (Lake Ripple in Grafton and Pratt Pond in Upton), mix in children age six to fifteen who are eager for some healthy fun during school vacation and you have the perfect ingredients for “Winter Outdoor Adventure.”

What began with youth summer camps on a trial basis in 2010 at the request of the town of Grafton’s now-retired Betty Wright has become something much bigger, Jeff LeClaire, owner of Fin & Feather Sports on Rt. 140 in Upton, said. “We processed 114 kids in three weeks that first year. Everyone and their cousin came!”

The Fin & Feather/Grafton Lions Club collaboration has continued ever since and now the town of Upton is jumping aboard as a first-time participant in 2017. While Rich Gazoorian, chair of the Upton Recreation Commission, said it is too early to predict how many kids will sign up for the February 21-24 activities, which include ice fishing, snowshoeing, campfire building, campfire cooking, animal tracking, wilderness survival and map and compass, he is “very hopeful” the response will be strong. “We have never offered anything like this before,” Mr. Gazoorian said. It fits, he noted, with the Upton Recreation Commission’s desire to make more programs available to youngsters.

As an Eagle Scout and a former scoutmaster whose store outfits people for exactly the kind of activities that are built into Winter Outdoor Adventure, Mr. LeClaire said the program involves “sports you have either never done or are avid about. Like skiing would.” Which, like ice fishing, “require the right equipment.”

Parents have been enthusiastically receptive to the idea, he said. His own daughter Mackenzie “came into the program eight years ago and now she’s on my staff. I look for this background in the people I hire.”

Kerrie Nealley of Upton said her son Jack, 10, will be signing up for the third year and for the first time in his hometown. Jack’s favorite winter sports are archery and hiking. As for Ms. Nealley, “I love the program,” she said. “He has such a great time. He looks forward to every session.”

As Mr. LeClaire pointed out, Winter Outdoor Adventure in Grafton runs from 9:00 a.m. to 2:00 p.m. with extended hours to 3:00 p.m. and in Upton from 8:30 til 2:00 with extended hours to 4:00 p.m. Camp staffers give the children introductory clinical instruction before each activity commences.

Much of course depends on the weather. “One February, it was so mild we could have had kayaking. Last year we didn’t have much ice,” he said.

Assuming that this February is cold enough for ice, children can anticipate a chance to fish for pickerel, perch, calico bass, largemouth bass and blue gill and “on occasion a trout from Pratt Pond.”

The program that Fin & Feather provides has proven so successful that the town of Westborough “called” to inquire about starting one there this summer, Mr. LeClaire said.

A camp for “itty bitty” kids, preschoolers, to familiarize them with fishing and hiking, is also in the works.

Contact Rod Lee at [email protected] or 774-232-2999.