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MAKING MEMORIES AT PONCA STATE PARK

Ponca's Missouri River Outdoor Expo connects participants with hands-on activities

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PONCA, Neb. -- 2021 marks the centennial year of Nebraska State Parks, and Ponca State Park's Lynn Mellick and other organizers were busy, thinking up 100 activities for the 16th annual Missouri River Outdoor Expo.

Taking place at Ponca State Park, 88090 Spur 26E, the popular Outdoor Expo will be held Sept. 18 and Sept. 19. Nearly 1,000 fifth graders from 34 different schools are getting a sneak peek on Sept. 17. 

"The best way to connect kids with the outdoors is through plenty of hands-on experience," Mellick explained. "I promise they'll have plenty of things to see and do."

Among this year's new events will be a chance to crack a geode. 

A geode is a hollow, spherical-looking rock. If cracked open with a chisel or a hammer, a geode may contain crystal, quartz or other types of minerals inside. 

Other new activities will include glass-blowing demonstrations, trick kite flying and even leather carving classes in which participants can take their handiwork home.

"Everybody likes a little souvenir to bring home," Mellick said. "Kids will have a spark of excitement from the Outdoor Expo. Hopefully, they share this excitement with mom and dad, since the expo truly is fun for the entire family."

Along with a hunter's camp and Youth Fishing 101 classes, there will be plenty of things for outdoor enthusiasts. 

Some of this year's more unique offerings will be cooking demonstrations, utilizing Dutch ovens and pie irons, as well as samplings of kebabs made from buffalo meat.

Lovers of wildlife may enjoy tagging Monarch butterflies, making and taking home bird feeders and -- maybe -- learning all about the turtles and snakes of Nebraska.

Thrill-seekers may find a bit of excitement on a rope obstacle course or by visiting a crossbow and archery range.

"We have something for everybody," Mellick said.

This includes folks with larger-than-life appetites.

For the seventh year, Bob's Bar & Grill, of Martinsburg, Neb., is sponsoring a Bob's Burger eating competition.

Beginning at 3 p.m. Sept. 19, guests may put their names in hat. At 3:15 p.m., ten contestants will be selected to polish off a classic Bob's burger, a side of fries and a 20-ounce drink. 

The person who is able to finish this humungous meal in the shortest time will be named "2021's Champion Burger Boss" and receive a two-night stay in a two-bedroom Ponca State Park cottage.

"If the winner breaks our 2016 Bob's Burger record of 4 minutes, 51 seconds, the certificate will be upgraded to a two-night stay in a four-bedroom mini-lodge," Mellick said. "But it is a lot of food."

Checking through her list of events, Mellick said many families have made a Missouri River Outdoor Expo an annual event.

"It's a wonderful opportunity to have some outdoor fun with family in a very beautiful place," she said.

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