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Will Elliott’s Outdoors column: Remembering the past and looking to the future

Outdoors folk said goodbye to a remarkable number of outstanding people with celebrity status in 2015.

Many of the departed quietly devoted more than a half century to their clubs and groups. Others provided a familiar voice that informed and entertained for decades.

Perhaps one of the most stunningly entertaining memorial gatherings was held in Angola on Feb. 7 for Raymond “Ray Mark” Markiewicz, who lost his battle with leukemia on Feb. 4. More cheers and grins than tears and gloom filled the room as friends and relatives shared fond and often fun-filled recollections of a radio personality who strove to connect others with the beauty of the outdoors.

Among his array of outdoor accomplishments, Marks founded the Niagara Frontier Chapter of the Adirondack Mountain Club of WNY in 1971 and in recent years co-founded the Lake Erie Chapter of Federation of Fly Fishers. His widow, Barbara Markiewicz, was presented the International Federation’s Achievement Award. Ray always encouraged all to get outdoors, try to catch a fish or two and always respect and share the bounty of the outdoors.

Eve Fertig, along with her late husband Norman, devoted a lifetime to wildlife rehabilitation at their Enchanted Forest Wildlife Sanctuary on Cary Road in Alden.

Eve passed on April 25, leaving a legacy of regard for all creatures and the people who enjoy those places and things, including hunters and wildlife watchers.

Clubs lost devoted members who served in many positions for five decades or more, providing direction and assistance to club members and for the outdoors public.

Tonawanda Sportsmen’s Club lost Bob Guyder, youthful at age 88, in November. Guyder quietly served as a director and pistol chairman for many leagues at TSC for more than 50 years. No memorial service or death notice marked Guyder’s passing, but TSC officials recognized the World War II veteran, naming its conference room in his honor.

Bison City Rod & Gun Club members, family and friends lost Paul Kurzdorfer on Oct. 28. A retired Buffalo deputy fire commissioner, his insights, good humor and warm grin will be missed at Bison City and the Erie County Federation of Sportsmen’s Clubs meetings at which he volunteered.

Hamburg Rod & Gun Club members miss its best-known and highly lauded volunteer with the passing of Philip Denz on Oct. 31. Denz instructed hunter safety certification courses for more than 50 years and received a Department of Environmental Conservation 50-year recognition in 2012. Denz leaves a legacy of responsible and respectful hunters and outdoors folk at his club.

The biggest celebrity name lost in 2015 was Corey Wells, lead singer with Three Dog Night, who passed on Oct. 23. A Buffalo native later residing in Dunkirk, Wells’ musical career made him famous, but in a close circle of outdoors friends he was well known as a devoted Lake Erie angler, especially for smallmouth bass.

His signature lyrics “Jeremiah was a Bullfrog” linked him to Jeremiah “Jerry” Heffernan, charter captain on Great Lakes waters. Heffernan passed on Nov. 16 after a lengthy career as a fishing guide aboard his charter boat named Bullfrog.

Jeremiah was a good friend of mine, and friends with many other Western New York anglers. While compiling information for a Fishing Line column, a call to Heffernan always resulted in not only solid sources for where the fish are biting now but also for good predictions of upcoming bite prospects.

2016 prospects

Despite a highly negative Quality Deer Management Association rating of New York State for its deer hunting, a rating many area hunters might dispute, recreational forecasts in general and hook-and-bullet estimates for this new year look promising for area anglers and hunters.

“Fishing remains one of the most popular lures to the great outdoors,” states the Recreational Boating & Fishing Foundation, citing a national increase of 2.4 million new anglers in a 2014 survey. New York State ranked high in those numbers and Empire State fishing folk renewed licenses at a rate well above average.

State comptroller Thomas DiNapoli released a report on New York State’s fishing and hunting involvements, which ranked state residents in third place nationwide for participation. Erie County ranked first in a national survey with sales of more than 120,000 sporting licenses sold in 2012-13 license year.

The American Recreation Coalition’s Outdoor Outlook for 2016 cites increases in sales of everything from skis and tents to RVs and boats. Both RV and boat sales increased in 2015 and are projected to go up in 2016. Recreational sales create a $650 billion industry annually.

The National Park System’s 408 units see more visitors each year. Locally, Allegany State Park and the National Forest provide thousands of acres to explore. A skewed Yogi-ism could be said of Allegany’s parks: Everybody goes there; it’s never crowded.

In 2016, ice and snow arrives late for anglers and skiers, hunters and trappers are looking at fields akin to conditions seen months ago, but increased accesses to acreage and waterways, generally healthy natural resources and plentiful outdoors viewing and harvesting are possibilities during this new year.