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Celebrities become voice of national day

Many big names have served as honorary chairs of National Hunting and Fishing Day over the past 37 years.

Begun with a pen stroke by President Richard M. Nixon in 1971, the program took on even greater national and international prominence with the inclusion of celebrity chairmen and women.

Bert Jones began the celebrity circuit in 1977. After Jones, the athletic skein included Ron Guidry (1979), Terry Bradshaw (1980), John Havlicek (1982), Tom Seaver (1983), Arnold Palmer (1985) and Wade Boggs (2004).

The first President Bush chaired in 1991. Major entertainers also did the honors. Hank Williams Jr. sat in 1988 and 1989. Other singers and comics followed. Louise Mandrell, first female and noted outdoors advocate and participant, took the honors in 1995. Other entertainers followed her. Travis Tritt in 2003, Jeff Foxworthy in 2007, and hunter-outdoors program star Michael Waddell helped spotlight NHFD programs and participation-based presentations.

This year, Luke Bryan, a rising star in the country music field, heads the important day of celebrating all that is good outdoors. Bryan, to date, is best known for his album's lead song "Country Man." Much of his youth involved early starts in hunting and fishing while growing up on his family's farm in Leesburg, Ga.

For Bryan, getting a big buck is great, but he cherishes youthful memories of family outings.

"I had a dad who wanted to take me hunting and fishing, and we went two to three times a week," he recalls.

The spirit of individual, family, and group involvements outdoors is the main focus of all National Hunting and Fishing Day presentations.

The 38th annual celebration, held on the last Saturday of September each year, begins this Saturday with several area club and group gatherings spotlighting their activities and contributions.

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Erie County

Wood & Brook Sportsmen's Club on Route 33 in Alden has been the site of the Erie County Federation of Sportsmen's Clubs NHFD exhibits for more than two decades.

The club, located a quarter-mile east of Crittenden Road, holds open shoots and other outdoors events open to the public. But its array of free displays and participation events can interest all -- elders to youngsters -- able to walk up to the range or demonstration area.

Hawkeye Bowmen show how to shoot traditional and modern archery gear. The New York Crossbow Association will have bows on hand to try for a bull's-eye. Other shooting options include black powder, .22 rifle, air rifle, and shotgun instruction and use.

For hands-on activities, visitors can learn how to reload shotgun shells. Trout Unlimited members will show how to tie and cast flies. New York Walleye Association experts will have gear on hand to tie files and worm harnesses.

Booths will be set up to explain and demonstrate taxidermy, wood carving, duck calling and identification, trapping (Erie County Trappers Association), shooting and proper gun handling and care from members of SCOPE, and many other interesting things to see and do.

All events are open to the public 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Saturday. During the day, free door prizes will be drawn; food and drink will be available at the clubhouse.

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NYPA Wildlife Festival

For 24 of the 38 years NHFD has been held, the New York Power Authority's Niagara Power Vista has been the site of a Wildlife Festival. Held on Saturday and Sunday, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., the festival offers more than 50 exhibitors of live wildlife (primates, reptiles, birds, and other creatures), hands-on activities in arts and crafts, and energy-efficient tips to help improve our environment.

While walking the grounds, visitors can view the lower Niagara River Gorge and enjoy exhibits by member groups in the Niagara County Federation of Conservation Clubs and area Brownie, Cub, Boy and Girl Scout troops.

Admission and parking is free at the Vista site, 5777 Lewiston Road (Route 104). Check out the entire event at nypa.gov/vc/niagara.htm.

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Avon

The earliest local NHFD celebration has to be the one held on State Department of Environmental Conservation Region 8 Headquarters grounds on Routes 5 and 20 east of Avon. This gathering began in 1973 and has been a draw for as many as 20,000 visitors.

Located halfway between Avon and Lima, the grounds on the south side of the road provide ponds and fields ideally suited for moving and field testing outdoors gear. Free parking on site and via shuttle accommodates the thousands that enjoy this outing each year. For information, call (585) 226-2466.

For weekenders headed east to the Pulaski/Salmon River area, a stop at the Altmar Hatchery can be rewarding. NHFD events are scheduled for in and around the hatchery all day Saturday. For activity leads, call the Salmon River Hatchery at (315) 298-7605.

Wherever your outdoors trips and treks take you this weekend, consider visiting a site or two where conservation and ecology minded volunteers continue efforts to make hunting and fishing valued and worthwhile pursuits.

e-mail: willodrs@gmail.com

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