ORONO, Maine— Brian and Cheryl Gallant of Bangor have made attending the Eastern Maine Sportsmen’s Show a spring tradition.
This year, the couple decided to pick up friends Bill and Linda McDougall, also of Bangor, along the way.
The four walked through the exhibit-packed University of Maine Fieldhouse learning about outdoor activities and local land trusts, which help land to be set aside for Mainers to enjoy for generations to come, and they began to get jazzed.
Their enthusiasm boiled over when they reached the Old Town Canoes and Kayaks display.
“We decided we’re going to explore some of Maine’s wonderful wilderness,” said Bill McDougall, as the women discussed kayak colors.
His wife, Linda, with a credit or debit card in hand, pointed at Cheryl Gallant and said, “It’s all her fault. We do a lot together.”
The two couples bought two kayaks each, all four vessels colored “Sunrise,” a melting of red and yellow.
Spring fever has hit, and people are preparing for the warm weather by pulling out their wallets, said Lloyd Hall, Old Town Canoes and Kayaks retail manager.
“It’s been a good show,” he said.
Woody Higgins, Penobscot County Conservation Association vice president and show chairman for the past four years, couldn’t agree more.
The 71st annual show, which ran Friday through Sunday and featured displays at the field house, pool and classrooms, is the club’s biggest moneymaker. All of the funds raised go toward sending local children to conservation camps and for scholarships for adults pursuing careers in the outdoors.
Over the past 25 to 30 years, the club has awarded close to $3 million, Higgins said. “We feel the status of our state and outdoor heritage lies in our kids.”
The Penobscot County Conservation Association sends 40 to 50 local youngsters to camp every year “to expose them to the outdoors” and awards scholarships to college students at the University of Maine System campuses in Orono and Machias, and at Unity College, Higgins said.
Effects of the stalled economy were evident when some longtime vendors decided not to be at this year’s show, but new vendors filled the openings, Higgins said, adding that the turnover was about 20 percent.
“We did have a waiting list, but got them in at the last second because a couple canceled,” he said, adding there were nearly 160 vendors this year.
Parking lots at the university were full Saturday, and lines of show-goers extended outside the field house doors.
“I can’t tell you how pleased I am,” Higgins said.
New and veteran vendors at the show said they were happy with the crowds.
Mark Buzzell of Carmel, owner of MAB Custom Knives and a newcomer to the show, said he has been making knives in his spare time for three years and wanted exposure.
Many of his hand-filed knives have scrolls that run along the top of the blades, some made with 416-layer Damascus steel, and grips created in layers of unique woods, bones, ivory and even fossilized mammoth tooth imported from Siberia.
“A lot of people say, ‘What the heck is that?’” while pointing at the different materials, Buzzell said.
The custom knives cost between $125 and $500 and “are designed to be beautiful but functional,” he said.
Also on the table were small pocket and other boxed knives.
“Everybody has $10; not everybody has $20,” Buzzell said, adding that once at the table, customers usually can’t help but ask a few questions about the custom knives.
B&D Marine of Brewer has a long history of attending the shows, general manager Scott Sutherland said.
“It’s good to show off what you got,” he said, as attendees climbed in and out of the Polaris Ranger HD, a utility vehicle on display that looked like a four-wheeler on steroids.
Most interested parties don’t purchase items at the show but go to the Brewer shop at a later date to buy, he said.
Other vendors depend on sales to survive, including wildlife artist Terri Mason of Lisbon, who has participated in the show for six years. While she painted a coyote onto a wooden log, she said her sales have been average compared with years past, but was impressed with the crowds this year.
Mason paints images onto logs, bones and other items and sells them for $26 to $100.
“I’ve done five [paintings] at this show, and two sold as I was painting them,” she said.
For Morris White and 13-year-old Carl Snow, both of Dexter, the draw of the sportsmen’s show brings them back, year after year.
“He likes to come,” White said of Snow, who was walking around with a wooden walking stick he purchased.
“We’re here just to see what they have,” Snow said. “It’s kind of a tradition.”
With Mainers’ love for the outdoors, it’s a tradition that Higgins knows will continue for years to come.
“It’s a spring ritual,” Higgins said.