New challenge; Inaugural Dammen Adventure Race brings adventure for all

From splashing through the rivers and creeks, to hunting down clues in Mother Nature, adventure seekers competed on Saturday in the spirit of good fun and in honor of someone who loved the great outdoors and all the wild things that lived in it.

Around 23 pairs participated in the inaugural Dammen Adventure Race on the grounds of the Jay C. Hormel Nature Center. Each team armed with an envelope that contained instructions and a map for the day’s nature-themed challenges, those who finished their tasks within a set amount of time would be awarded prizes. Challenges included a scavenger hunt through the interpretive center, a canoe ride to retrieve an object, and a “map venture” quest through the woods.

The Dammen Adventure Race was created in lieu of the annual Dammen Ski Race because of the flexibility to schedule a race during the summer, while a ski race couldn’t go on if there was no snow on the ground, according to Will Bjorndal, nature center naturalist intern.

Geoff Baker gives the atlatl a go as he and his wife Diane Baker took part in the Dammen Adventure Race Saturday at the Jay C. Hormel Nature.

“We hope to do this every year,” Bjorndal said. “There’s a lot of moving parts, and we had wanted this to be a more of a family event with a lot of fun mixed in. It’s a really neat event, and doesn’t have a high stress level. It’s fun, relaxed and it’s about having fun and remembering Kevin.”

Kevin Dammen was a former Hormel Nature Center mentee who passed away in 2011 after a kayaking accident on Lake Superior. He was remembered as an outdoorsman and was an avid athlete. Dammen loved going on adventures that involved nature.

It was through the ski races that kept Kevin’s legacy at the Hormel Nature Center going, and Dammen’s family were also present at the inaugural adventure race. Kevin’s brothers Carter Steichen and Kyle Dammen, both expressed excitement over competing.

“We didn’t organize it, so no one knows what kind of challenges there are,” Steichen said. “I’m kind of curious to see what it is.”

Blake, right, and Alex Petrik run to the next station during the inaugural Dammen Adventure Race at the Jay C. Hormel Nature Center.

“It’s very nice to keep this tradition going,” Kyle replied. “It started with the ski race, and it changed over the years into the mentorship program to honor Kevin.”

Their late brother’s life was honored as The Kevin Dammer Memorial Mentorship Program and was created in 2012, which all proceeds from the adventure race would go to and fund. The program allows the Jay C. Hormel Nature Center to offer outdoor activities while providing youth with valuable work experience in outdoor education, according to Luke Reese, nature center director.

“The kids help us with programs on busy days like Saturdays and the program helps the kids learn about natural resources and their own personal responsibilities,” Reese said. “At the end of the summer, we divide the funds among the students proportional to the hours they work or volunteer. It really is an introduction to working natural resource careers. It’s a really good thing. So many mentees kind of figure it out. Kevin helped out at the nature center and had a passion of working in the outdoors and sharing it with others.”

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