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Built on fishing, Newfane tourism branches out with wine and frequent festivals

On the last day of May in 1878, the Lockport Daily Journal reported, Frank A. Moore and Harmon Kendall spent the day fishing at Olcott. The two men, according to the newspaper, returned home "with a market basket of fine perch. They walked down, making the distance in three hours."

The peripatetic Moore and Kendall probably would no longer recognize the roads they walked from Lockport to Olcott, but they would certainly appreciate the lure of fishing for salmon, bass, trout and other fish that is still the foundation of tourism in the Town of Newfane today.

"Tourism is really significant, it's our fastest-growing metric out here," said Gina Guido-Redden, a member of the Newfane Tourism Advisory Board, a 10-member, all-volunteer group.

Fishing attracts residents and visitors from near and far, along with thousands of tournament and derby competitors, almost year-round. "The fishing tournaments start in late March, the salmon runs are in the late fall, and the ice fishing goes into December, so it's really nine months out of the year," said Guido-Redden.

But the natural appeal of fishing the clear waters of Lake Ontario and Eighteen Mile Creek has been joined by the popular Niagara Wine Trail USA and a concentrated calendar of  festivals, opening with the Polar Bear Swim in early March and ending with Christmas events at the historic Van Horn Mansion.

A solitary fisherman tries his luck in the waters of Eighteen Mile Creek. (John Hickey/Buffalo News)

This year's calendars for Newfane and Olcott list a festival, parade, show or special event for every weekend between May 28 and Sept. 17, as well as a concert series that also includes weekday events. The work of organizing, publicizing and staging the festivals and events is shared by several different community groups.

The Newfane Historical Society owns the 1823 Van Horn mansion on Lockport-Olcott Road in Burt, where it offers tours and events. The group also coordinates the Apple Blossom Festival May 21 and the Apple Harvest Festival on Sept. 24, both at Country Village, 2685 W. Creek Road at Ide Road.

The granddaddy of the festivals is the Polar Bear Swim for Sight, now sponsored by the Olcott Lions Club and held on March 4 this year. This event began in 1968 when seven buddies from the Black Stallion Tavern, led by the bar's owner, Michael Rann, took an impromptu dip in the freezing lake. Through the years, thousands of locals and visitors have raced into the frigid water. In recent years, the dip has expanded into a daylong series of events involving local fire departments, which provide traffic and medical aid, along with the U.S. Coast Guard.

Through the years, other festivals were added to the Newfane scene, many centered on Olcott Beach and Krull Park. The Olcott Beach Labor Day car show started in 1989, joined by the Pirate Festival in 1998 and the Niagara Celtic Heritage Festival in 2000. The most recent addition is the Mermaid Parade, which swam onto the scene just three years ago.

The Olcott Beach Community Association sponsors the Saturday night car shows and the Olcott Duck Races on June 11, as well as some cleanups and plantings, said Jane Voelpel, president of the group.

"Festivals and events at destination spots, like the Van Horn mansion, get people to our area for one day," Voelpel said. "Then once they are here, they have the opportunity to see what else is here. They can't do everything in one day, so we hope they will come back another day, even if it's not for another festival, but to enjoy the restaurants and the shops and the park."

The Lakeview Village Shoppes, a cluster of rustic and colorful shops on the boardwalk on Ontario Street, adjacent to the lake, are among the favorite stops for festival-goers.

The Lakeview Village Shoppes, arranged around a boardwalk on Olcott Beach, have a picturesque look. (Buffalo News file photo)

Like the festivals, the wineries have found that more is better. They have drawn more people as more have been launched.

When Margo Sue Bittner opened The Winery at Marjim Manor in 2004, her business was the fourth to join the Niagara Wine Trail USA. "We started advertising and having events, and in a very short period of time, we were very, very busy," she said.

Now there are four Newfane wineries on the 22-winery Wine Trail, said Cate Banks, the trail's executive director. In addition to Marjim Manor, they are Black Willow Winery, Chateau Niagara Winery and Schulze Vineyard. Another group of about 60 businesses, ranging from bed-and-breakfasts to restaurants, are signed on as partner businesses, said Elizabeth Rose Maute, the wine trail's media director. In Newfane, those are Mariner's Landing in Olcott and Gordie Harper's Bazaar, a restaurant and group of eclectic antiques booths. Lodging partners include the Brookins Inn and Cooke's Creekview B & B, said Banks.

"The other wineries are not my competition, we are all family-owned, and we all have different wines and different presentations," said Bittner. "Maybe you don't like my fruit wines, but you'll love Schulze's wines, or you'll love something else."

In fact, the winery owners have met monthly for years "to help each other with ideas and get people in the doors," said Bittner.

"When the wine trail started to boom, you saw satellite businesses open up, you saw more inns, you saw more bed-and-breakfasts open up," said Guido-Redden.

Casey Rohring is a partner in the soon-to-open Live Edge Brewing on Coomer Road in Newfane. He and Scott Russell plan to put the brewery on the popular Niagara Wine Trail USA. (John Hickey/Buffalo News)

The latest attraction, expected to open at the end of April, is Live Edge Brewing Co. at 2100 Coomer Road, next to Schulze Vineyard. Operated by partners Scott Russell and Casey Rohring, the brewery has a rustic look. The partners plan to offer unusual brews, including one flavored with local bitter cherries, said Russell.

Live Edge "would be our newest partner business once they're opened, and the Niagara Wine Trail welcomes them as we all proudly share our passion for local craft beverages," said Banks. "They are fantastic gastropub with home-brewed beer, and an event venue," said Guido-Redden.

Also new this year is the reconstructed Ye Olde Log Cabin in Krull Park, a replica of a pioneer log cabin that housed local artifacts and drew visitors from 1888 to 1957, when it was demolished. In 2014, a group of residents organized to rebuild the cabin again. The exterior is done, and the group continues to raise funds, line up docents and collect authentic artifacts to be displayed in the cabin. Its grand opening is set for 11 a.m. June 10.

Ye Olde Log Cabin in Krull Park will open June 10. The cabin's design is faithful to one that stood in that spot in the park from 1888 to 1957. (John Hickey/Buffalo News)

Although things start to boom after Memorial Day, Bittner said even the winery is busy now. "This time of year the customers are more local, but I am getting a lot of people from Ohio and from Pennsylvania," she said. "During the summer, I'll get people from all over the country and all over the world," including some who hear about the Wine Trail from information packets placed at Niagara Falls hotels.

Bittner has met groups that spend their vacations exploring wine trails, sometimes aiming to tour one trail in each state, she said. "So these people will come from Texas or California, and they want to explore new wine trails," she said.

The town has no hotel, although its single motel, the Lighthouse Motel, is popular with anglers, said Guido-Redden. Some new inns and bed-and-breakfasts have opened recently, but Guido-Redden said it can be difficult to find rooms in the summer. "If you have family or friends coming from out of town, and you don't have a room booked for them three or four months in advance, you can't get one," she said.

"Most of what you hear about lodging here is that we need more of it, and we've got a lot per capita when you look at the size of our town and the number of residents, to the size of rental capacity," she said. "It's quite a lot already, but the fishermen command a huge amount of space."

Those who come to town to fish range from people competing in tournaments to "five guys together who have been coming for a week for 20 years," said Guido-Redden.

And The Winery at Marjim Manor sees plenty of traffic from anglers, said Bittner.

"First, they want to cook their catch and many of them are wine-drinkers," she said. "But a lot of them stop in and say, 'I've been having fun for two days, so I want to get a gift for the wife.' We're right between Olcott and Golden Hill State Park, so they see the winery, they come in and tell me what kind of wine their wife likes."

email: aneville@buffnews.com

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