A local program is taking kids ages 7 to 16 ice fishing, free of charge, as a way to support their increasing mental health needs in Park County.
The Life Outdoors Project was started in January by guide Eric Strader and one of his clients, philanthropist Greg Johns, in partnership with the Park County Community Foundation and Yellowstone Sporting Goods in Livingston.
“Our mission at Park County Community Foundation is connecting community members to community needs,” said PCCF Director Gavin Clark. “Per the decline in youth mental health in our community, this is one of the needs we have. When Greg called about supporting the youth and working with mentors, it was a clear match made in heaven between his dedication and passion towards financial support and the foundation’s desire to make it happen.”
Johns said he has been coming to Paradise Valley from North Carolina for nearly 30 years and recently retired, making Park County home.
He said some close friends lost their 14-year-old to suicide, and when he researched into the suicide rates in Livingston, he found the results were not good, especially among young males. Johns said he knew something needed to be done for the kids in the community.
Part of the statistics that Johns found was that many Livingston residents struggle financially, limiting what many can afford to do with their children.
Johns said he is passionate about a new recreation center being proposed and that there really needs to be a place where people from different ages and economic backgrounds can come together.
Johns reached out to Strader about guiding ice fishing trips for young kids and also to Clarke for help in organizing and bringing this idea to life.
“I don’t want people to think that this money is going anywhere else,” Johns said about the youth fishing project. “This money will be spent through the PCCF and kept to this cause, and I want people to know this money will not leave this county. Julie Anderson has also been a great help in getting this going.”
In addition to Strader, guides helping lead the program thus far include James Muggle and Will Dylan.
“We were trying to come up with something for the community, and some of the issues in the community are mental health in younger kids,” said Strader. “They get stir crazy in the winter and so (Johns) suggested paying for the guides to take kids out. My hope is to continue doing this. I don’t want us to lose traction, so we are discussing use of a private location with a few land owners, in hopes to find a dedicated pond we can stock for ice fishing in the winter months.”
Strader said the intention is to operate a year-round fishing program for youth, not just ice fishing, and Johns said he is developing a nonprofit called Live Life to help fund additional activities and needs.
Those interested in collaborating with the Park County Community Foundation can reach PCCF at (406) 224-3920. For more information, ideas to contribute, or to book fishing, call Strader of the Life Outdoors Project at (816) 591-3535.