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TAKO offers an anglers' feast

Hosts free day of fishing at Liberty Centre Pond
Frankie, 1, and Peter, 2, examine a freshly caught fish with parents Kelsey and Thomas Steffen, of North Liberty. The family took part in the Take a Kid Outdoors (TAKO) free fishing event Saturday, June 2, at Liberty Centre Pond. The organization provides a free outdoor activity and meal to the community each month to encourage families to get outside and experience nature year-round. (photo by Cale Stelken)

NORTH LIBERTY– When a free fishing event is announced in North Liberty, families are quick to take the bait.
On Saturday, June 2, an estimated 300 people from around the Corridor lined Liberty Centre Pond. From 10 a.m. to 2 p.m., families cast their lines into the scenic waters as part of the Take a Kid Outdoors (TAKO) free fishing event.
“We provide all the tools necessary to fish: bait, fishing poles and experts showing people how to fish,” explained TAKO Executive Director Judy Joyce, who coordinated Saturday’s activities from the Liberty Centre shelter. “But it’s really a way for people to just unwind, get unplugged, get outdoors and enjoy the day.”
Despite a rocky start, with wind and the potential for oncoming storms, come noon, a sunny, blue sky provided the perfect backdrop for the hundreds of people who showed up to cast a line into Liberty Centre Pond. In addition to being treated to fishing and a free meal, families also received a raffle ticket for the chance to win fishing poles and other prizes.
“Basically, we try to make the event as stress-free for people as possible, so they don’t find excuses on why they can’t come to the event,” Joyce said. “If they are uncomfortable with taking fish off the hook, or they don’t necessarily like dealing with worms, we can help them overcome those fears by helping out with that and getting their kids introduced to fishing.”
The day provided a great opportunity to introduce local youth to fishing as they planted themselves on the rocks bordering the pond. Some kids squirmed, while others hopped up and down with elation at the chance to get acquainted up close and personal with their first slippery catch.
“We even had someone catch a bullfrog,” Joyce remarked.
The executive director said the organization teamed up with the City of North Liberty and the Iowa Department of Natural Resources (DNR) for the event since 2011. Scheels provided bait, equipment and raffle prizes, while the North Liberty Optimist Club, Johnson County Conservation and EarthView Environmental brought volunteers and additional support for the festivities.
This year also introduced a unique ally via four Iowa City area Rotary clubs, who hosted a bike ride fundraiser at the pond in the morning, before joining TAKO participants for lunch upon their return. Part of the proceeds from the fundraiser support the TAKO Rotary shelter at Rotary Camp Park, off Camp Cardinal Road in Coralville. Joyce said thanks to the proceeds raised, the roughly $70,000 project which begins construction this month, has $14,000 in remaining expenses.
TAKO started in 2006 in Fayette County of Northeast Iowa. The organization brought its enthusiasm for the outdoors to Johnson County in 2011, hosting free monthly events ranging from ice fishing to star gazing, paired with a meal or snacks and refreshments.
“We are currently working on a campaign to take TAKO statewide,” Joyce noted. “So if anybody in the State of Iowa would like to have a TAKO group in their community, they can contact us.”
While met with enthusiasm, the service TAKO provides to the community doesn’t come easily. Joyce said even with city support for each event, the organization faces a perpetual need for both funding and volunteers.“We are always struggling to make ends meet, and we are really struggling to get volunteers,” she remarked. “In my mind, a volunteer is worth more than money, because we really could use people to help out with events, setting up, taking down, helping fundraising... especially with taking it statewide.”

Upcoming events

Next month, TAKO hosts its fourth annual Rockin’ Rocks and Fossils, which will feature geologists on site July 14 at Klein Quarry, in Iowa City. The next North Liberty event is the annual Moon Walk and Star Party, Saturday, Sept. 22, at Penn Meadows Park. Joyce is eager to get as many families as possible to join the fun, citing the organization’s motto, “Be free, be wild, be fearless.”
“Don’t let the weather keep you inside,” she insisted. “If it’s too hot, too cold, too rainy, too buggy, overcome those fears– get outside.”