St. Paul, Minn. — Montana-based Backcountry Hunters and Anglers announced today that its 2024 North American Rendezvous will take place at the Minnesota State Fairgrounds from April 18-20. It’ll be the first time that the event will happen east of the Mississippi River and coincides with BHA’s 20th anniversary.
Past rendezvous all have been in the Intermountain West, and the previous three years have been in the group’s home city of Missoula, Mont.
Aaron Hebeisen, BHA chapter coordinator for five Midwest states including Minnesota, said he’s thrilled to have the Minnesota chapter host BHA’s premier national event.
“This is hopefully, even if you’re not going to fly, a more approachable way to experience rendezvous and brings in some of those folks from the East and really shows them that BHA is not the Western-centric organization that it used to be,” Hebeisen said. “This is a nationwide movement. Public lands are for everybody across the whole country.”
Eli Mansfield, chair of the BHA Minnesota chapter, said he’s looking forward to showing off the state of Minnesota.
“It doesn’t get any bigger for myself and the rest of the Minnesota board,” Mansfield said. “This is like the Super Bowl of conservation. We can’t wait to showcase Minnesota as a premier outdoor destination in the country.”
The journey started five years ago when the state chapter pitched hosting the rendezvous in Minnesota. In May 2022, Hebeisen said staff at BHA headquarters were considering proposals to host the 2024 event. The Minnesota chapter drafted a proposal and won the bid.
Attendee feedback after the 2023 Rendezvous cited a need for more indoor facilities, so the event could better handle marginal weather, Hebeisen said. Another aspect was larger airport access, so people could book easier flights.
In March 2023, BHA staff, including Hebeisen, toured a couple areas in the Twin Cities. The Minnesota State Fairgrounds offers indoor and outdoor facilities, proximity to the airport, ample hotel options, and other local events happening to complete a full weekend.
“It gives people the security to know that rain or shine, this is going to be a great event,” Hebeisen said.
The state chapter plans to add some key components to make it a full “Minnesota experience.” In mid-April, spring turkey hunting season is kicking off and there’s plenty of fishing opportunities – via ice or soft water.
Organizers hope the 2024 Rendezvous will attract attendees from around the country. As a mid-point between the coasts, the Twin Cities should draw folks from east and west.
Ted Koch, BHA chairman of the North American board, said about one-third of BHA members live to the east of the Missouri River. He hopes the Twin Cities venue will allow them to have an easier opportunity to visit the rendezvous.
Hebeisen said the 2024 Rendezvous will be an opportunity for members and the public to meet a new BHA CEO. Land Tawney, longtime CEO and president of BHA, announced on July 19, 2023, that he was stepping down from the organization.
The search has begun to find a new leader, and organization staff anticipate the April rendezvous will be a first chance to fully introduce him/her in a public setting. Along with the potential new CEO, BHA will celebrate its 20th anniversary as an organization.
“It’s not the 20th rendezvous, but it’s the 20th anniversary of BHA, so that’s a marked piece of what we want to focus on this coming year,” Hebeisen said.
Typically, the rendezvous runs from Wednesday evening to Sunday, but early portions are focused on BHA leadership and other times are centered on the public, Hebeisen said. On Wednesday night, the Minnesota chapter will oversee hosting an event for the BHA staff and chapter leaders before chapter leader training happens on Thursday.
Thursday night is a welcome reception for the public and is led primarily by BHA’s Missoula-based headquarters staff. Friday and Saturday will have seminars and demos on multiple topics focused on BHA values and outdoors recreation.
Friday night will be a social event, and Saturday afternoon is the annual luncheon followed by the wild game cookoff. Saturday night wraps the weekend with bonfire storytelling, which is a special moment for Koch.
“To be able to gather a diverse group of folks that are from diverse backgrounds telling different stories about their experiences with our public lands, waters, and wildlife, that never gets old,” Koch said. “It’s a tradition at every rendezvous that’s the highlight of every weekend.”
Koch added that Minnesota is a “sportsmen’s paradise” and he’s excited to see how the chapter creates a memorable weekend. The Minnesota chapter is one of the biggest, ranking third in the country, Koch said.
Hebeisen wants the weekend to bring the outdoors community together and address conservation challenges not just in Minnesota, but across the country. He’s excited to have it in the Twin Cities for the first time, and he hopes it may provide a destination for future rendezvous.
“We’re also excited to join partners in conservation from multiple other nonprofit groups to show how hard work and collaboration can create a culture that upholds hunting as more than a management tool, but also as a heritage to be shared with everyone,” Mansfield said.
Anyone interested in attending the 2024 Rendezvous at the Fairgrounds can RSVP on BHA’s website. More information about the event will available as April 2024 approaches.