National Hunting and Fishing Day was Sept. 28 this year and the Niagara County version of that celebration is a two-day event tied in with the New York Power Authority’s Wildlife Festival. Co-sponsored by the Niagara County Federation of Conservation Clubs, this popular event based at the Niagara Project Power Vista in Lewiston truly does have something for everyone as far as the family is concerned. In its 28th year, the Wildlife Festival enjoyed nearly perfect weather and the result was nearly 15,000 people who came to experience this unique event. It has proven itself as a place to be despite a long list of other activities that coincide with this festival. But it hasn’t always been that way.
The first year of the festival saw fewer than 100 people attend. Year by year, the festival began to grow, with a huge focus on kids. The Niagara River Anglers' trout pond became a central attraction, and everyone had an opportunity to reel in a fish for free. The Federation operated a shooting trailer using pellet guns and volunteers were tirelessly (okay, how about painstakingly?) loading up the pellets to keep the kids moving through the line – again, for free. There’s a crossbow station to let the kids shoot and become educated on the most misunderstood hunting tool in the state – for free. There’s also a traditional archery station using longbows – not compounds. That was free, too. There were plenty of hands-on activities that allow the kids to sample the tools of our outdoor pastimes. Did I mention smiling kids?
There were sportsmen’s clubs on hand with booths, as well as exhibits from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the Department of Environmental Conservation and State Parks. The outdoors was well represented, but there could have been more. In addition, there were also exhibits from the Primate Sanctuary, Nickel City Reptiles and the Buffalo Zoomobile to pique youth interest in fish, wildlife and our natural resources. Paul Schnell was there with Liberty the Bald Eagle, giving an excellent talk on raptors and allowing for special photo sessions to let the families get up close and personal.
The Niagara County Federation recognized that partnering with the Power Authority was an important move and the best way to get their message across and reach the most people. We are blessed with some fantastic natural resources in Western New York and it’s important for people to know about them. It’s also important for the general public to know that hunters and fishermen and women are the true stewards of these resources, conserving and protecting them for everyone to enjoy and appreciate.
As we move forward, it’s important to get that next generation of outdoors-people engaged in our natural wonders, be it hunting, fishing, birding, boating or hiking. They are the future.