Forty years. A lot can happen in that time. For some people, it can mean seemingly endless mortgage debt has finally been paid off. To the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources, it means giving recognition to one of its longest tenured volunteers. Red Wing native Larry Perkins recently received that honor by accepting a 40-year service award from the DNR as a volunteer snowmobile safety instructor.
"It's awesome when we get somebody who has put that much of their time into educating on safety regulations for Minnesotans," DNR conservation officer Brittany Hauser said. "It's not very often we come across somebody that is willing to give up 40 years of their time in order to do that."
Perkins became a DNR-certified instructor in the '70s but has been educating youth for longer than that. He said prior to certification, local snowmobile clubs were heavily involved with training.
"Back then it wasn't so structured and we helped out for several years before I got certified," Perkins said. "It's quite astounding, really, the changes that have happened through the years."
Snowmobiles have certainly changed over time but so has the course. Perkins said that when he first started out, they had a shop and would set up a course on a 10-acre field with three days to cover all topics. Now, most of the training is done online and instructors meet with trainees four to five hours for only one day. That day is primarily a review session with a test.
"We are trying to focus most of the learning to be done online and have the in-person testing more as a field day," Hauser said. "It has been shifting more towards that the past couple years."
Perkins doesn't see the change in structure as a negative, however. "I've seen the test scores go higher since the system switched," he added.
While keeping up-to-date on safety regulations and snowmobiles has its appeal, Perkins said the best part is the teaching the kids and watching them succeed.
"It's rewarding if you have someone who is a little slower at learning or can't test well, even if they know the information," Perkins said. "To work with youth and see them accomplish their goal has been rewarding."
The DNR shares that sentiment in regards to Perkins with this award.
"It's an honor to present anyone with a service award, whether it's a 40- or 50-year awards," Hauser said. "Hundreds of people come through our courses every year and we couldn't support that without our volunteer safety instructors."
However, this wasn't the first award Perkins has received for his commitment to snowmobile safety. He was the Minnesota Snowmobile Instructor of the Year in 2015. Perkins said the local snowmobile club had a part in initiating that award by applying for it through the DNR and the state snowmobile association, Minnesota United Snowmobilers.
Snowmobile safety training starts in December, usually the first weekend before Christmas. When that time comes, Perkins said he will be ready — for the course and for riding.
"Usually when I get out it's with a couple members of the club," Perkins said. "My snowmobile is sitting in my garage still pointed towards the door."