Park makes special arrangements for veterans during deer hunt
When a friend suggested reaching out to disabled veterans as part of the annual deer hunt in Chester Woods Park, Tom Ryan didn’t hesitate.
The Olmsted County Parks superintendent said he immediately realized what a great opportunity that would be to give back to those who served.
"I guess I just decided shame on me for not thinking of doing something like this earlier. It is, frankly, something these folks deserve," Ryan said.
Every year, the county allows a deer hunt in Chester Woods Park, off U.S. 14 between Rochester and Eyota, to help manage the deer population. Usually, there is a lottery for the 50 permits issued. In July, the Olmsted County Board approved setting aside a certain number of permits for disabled veterans.
Organizers expect 10 veterans to join in the hunt. The festivities kick-off on Thursday with a dinner in the veterans’ honor sponsored by Mayo-Hiawatha Chapter 28 of the Minnesota Disabled American Veterans. The group’s commander, Rich Daly, said the organization was eager to get involved.
"It’s so consistent with our mission of building better lives for disabled veterans to be able to get these disabled vets out there," Daly said. He said this might be one of the first hunts of its kind in southern Minnesota.
On Friday, veterans can visit the park to check out the hunting sites set aside for them.
The hunt officially starts at 4:30 a.m. Saturday. All deer hunters are invited to stop by the park headquarters for free chili and to meet the veterans.
A number of organizations have volunteered to help out, including the VFW, Eyota Fire, Blue Star Mothers, Olmsted County Veteran Services and active-duty military.
Park officials have put together plans to accommodate any of the veterans’ needs. They selected 10 hunting sites where they expect plenty of deer, and blinds have been set up. ATVs will be available to take veterans to the sites and to help haul back deer. Volunteers will be around to help butcher the deer.
Ryan joked that he hopes to have more volunteers "than we have deer." On a personal level, he said, the event hits home because he has a son who is a combat medic and recently finished a tour of duty in Afghanistan.
He added, "We are going to have a pile of volunteers out there. We are hoping that sends a message to these veterans as well how many people just want to pay their respects."