Those hoping for a career in the outdoors can soon get a little classroom help with Pratt Community College’s Wildlife Enterprise Management program.
“The outdoor industry is booming and I think it will only get bigger,” said Luke Laha, program director. “We’re targeting youth wanting to make a living in the outdoors. If we can get them doing something like this, they’ll have a lot more opportunity to be successful than if they just have a biology degree or business degree.”
Laha said the concept for the new two-year program, beginning this fall, is to teach a variety of skills that could lead to careers in fields such as managing hunting clubs or shooting preserves, becoming outfitters or operating habitat management companies.
The Pratt program is largely based on the Wildlife and Outdoor Enterprise Management program at Kansas State University. The first of its kind in the country when it began about four years ago, the K-State program features a combination of business, biology and botany courses, with classes on things such as target shooting, hunting dog training and bass fishing.
Laha said the Pratt program will offer some similar lower-level courses in things such as business and outdoors courses.
“They’re the primary reason most kids come to (community colleges), Laha said, “to get a lot of the basics.”
Laha said those who complete the Pratt program can graduate with an Associates of Applied Science degree. He said some may then transfer to a four-year college to complete another degree. Laha hopes some will be accepted into the K-State program, though some of the credits may not transfer.
A native of Clearwater, Laha attended Pratt and graduated from Fort Hays State University with a biology degree last December. He’ll be teaching many of the outdoors-related courses.
Those will include wildlife management, upland game, deer and turkey hunting courses. Other courses will be taught about habitat and food plot installation and firearms safety.
“After the firearms safety course, the students should be certified hunter education instructors,” Laha said. “They’ll be certified as assistant instructors if they’re not 21 yet.”
Laha said the courses are planned to be hands-on, with help from professionals in that field.
The classes will manage a property near Pratt for wildlife, and will have food plots planted and monitored on the campus. Professional dog trainers and shooting preserve operators will also host field trips.
The program will initially be limited to 20 students. Laha said seven have already applied for the Pratt program, including some who already have degrees in other fields.
“All of the students coming in either want to start their own business in the outdoors industry or go into a particular existing hunting business,” Laha said. “I think our program should really help them.”
Linda Lanterman, Kansas Department of Wildlife, Parks and Tourism parks director, spent the Memorial Day weekend checking six parks across the state. Though final statewide attendance numbers aren’t yet available, she was pleased with usage.
Close to Wichita, Seth Turner of El Dorado State Park said about 98 percent of the camping sites with utilities were full, as were about 50 percent of the primitive sites. He said attendance for the weekend was about 40,000 visitors. An average crowd for the same weekend is about 55,000.
“Just the camping side of it, it was really good,” said Turner. “The loss was mostly in day use and boating.” El Dorado Reservoir’s low water has created a number of boating hazards this spring.
Kathy Knowles, Cheney State Park administrative assistant, estimated attendance was about 60 percent of their Memorial Day average.
“Normally we’re all reserved up, but we estimated our utilities were about 60 percent,” said Knowles. “That’s better than expected, though.”
More than six feet below normal going into the holiday weekend, only one boat ramp was operational at Cheney.
“A lot of (campers) toughed it out,” Knowles said, “but when some can’t get in the water and play, they go somewhere else.”