by Patrick McSherry
The following is a review of the 48th Annual Eastern Sports and Outdoor Show, held in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, USA from February, 8 through February 16, 2003.
For those folks in the lower forty-nine states, traveling to the Arctic is generally more of a dream than a reality. However, the Eastern Sports and Outdoor Show, held annually at the Farm Show Complex in Harrisburg, allows for both the serious trekker and the armchair adventurer to obtain the information necessary and the required equipment for any trip into the Northern Wilderness.
The show, simply put, is large. It has something for everyone – from fishermen, to hunters, to outdoorsmen, to the tree huggers (of which I could probably be considered the latter). There are items as small fishing lures priced at ten for a dollar, to trips to Alaska for three thousand dollars to one hundred thirteen thousand dollars for a customized Humvee.
Getting to show can be a bit of a challenge. There are many routes given to the parking lots with great signage, and even local radio directions. However, as the three lanes of traffic are forced to form into a single lane, delays are inevitable giving the visitor ample time to realize fully how toothpaste must feel as it is squeezed from the tube. The shuttle busses running from the remote parking to the Farm Show Complex itself are quite efficient, but perhaps the bottleneck in incoming traffic allowed for the shuttle busses to keep up.
Once inside, the visitor quickly finds that it is best to pick up a free show flyer, as thick as the morning paper, to obtain the map contained therein. The visitor’s orienteering skills may be useful for the remainder of the trip. Also, it is advisable to dress family members, including children, in bright colors to make it easier to keep track of them in the crowds. Avoid camo (heck….its supposed to make a person blend in with their surroundings, and amidst the moving sea of camo-clad individuals, it does just that)!
The first room entered is the Fishing and Marine Hall. Here the visitor
can find lures, rods, nets and much more. The visitor can also attend some
demonstrations of fly-fishing given by experts in the field, and pick up
information on fishing expeditions to almost everywhere including the Arctic
areas of Alaska and northern Canada. If you are looking for a trophy to
mount on the wall or simply looking for some good fishing in the Great
White North, you can find a place that meets your needs, someone to take
you there, all of the gear you will need and even a taxidermist to mount
the trophy as a visual aid for those years of retelling of the story of
how you landed it. Of course, the problem is that mounted fish don’t get
larger with times as the ones in your story. So, if you and your buddies
are heading north, you had better suggest that you all get your trophies
mounted…or over time their fish will get much larger than yours!
A young lady named Christina standing beside a fish, just for the halibut.
The Fishing and Marine Hall contains over one hundred thirty booths of fishing related information and gear, manned by friendly people eager to discuss the subject. It was at this point that another problem of the Eastern Sports and Outdoors Show became obvious. The sheer volume of visitors was overwhelming…overwhelming the aisle space, and the coveted space in front of the booths. It was more crowded than the Salmon River in spawning season in a good year! Be prepared to be jostled throughout the show in all of the halls.
The next area in which it is logical to pass into is the Archery Hall, housed in the large arena. This area contains over one hundred and fifteen booths related to archery, including a wide selection of tree stands and platforms. One end of the hall included a somewhat surreal archery practice/contest range. In this area, animal targets were placed on the various aisles and seating areas in one end of the arena. Individuals could practice by picking off a deer…in seat C-22. Again, any item for the archer was in the area. However, there are generally more equipment with very few, if any, booths offering trips to the Arctic areas.
It should be added that this is a good place to stop for lunch. If you are not yet hungry, just make note of the location and double back to this spot later. Keep in mind that once you are inside the show, you are hostage to the pricing whims of the corndog and funnel cakes dealers. A bottle of water will run you two dollars. For a family, this can add up. Also, it can be hard to find that stand selling brie and tofu. If this is a problem, simply pack a lunch and bring some drinks. Put it in backpack and remind your kids that they will be needing that backpack to carry away all of the free stuff offered at the show…generally literature. They will gladly pack it in for you. In the arena, you can climb up into the seating area, out of the ebb and flow of population, break out the packed or purchased lunches and watch the swirling mass of camo below. Quiet restrooms exist on the upper levels, unbeknownst to the many folks down below who have to wait in lines on the main floor.
The arena is also a great place to people watch, and this show does draw out any of a variety of good-natured characters who are deserving of keeping an eye upon. This was usually a great area to watch the tree-stand sellers continually give their pitch as the climb up and down, demonstrating the stability of the stand by rocking to and fro. This year, however, there was no great salesman making his pitch, a theatrical experience which was missed by many.
Now we can move on to the hunting and hunting accessories area, a space that also featured Brody the kodiak bear, Bwana Jim’s wildlife show, a BB gun range and even a tomahawk throwing area. Here, you could pick up almost any hunting item needed, from guns, to hammocks and cots, to clothing to full-sized hunting cabins. It is all here for a price. An incredible number of stands – over three hundred eighty – filled the two large rooms dedicated to this hobby. The turkey callers were out in force adding to the cacophony of noise of the crowds.
Next came the area that was probably of most interest to those planning
on a trip to the Arctic – the halls that held booths of tourist info.,
and the hundreds of outfitters. In this area, it was possible to meet an
outfitter who would be willing to guide you anywhere in the world you would
be interested in going – from Russia to South Africa. The booths for outfitters
from all areas exceeded three hundred and seventy alone with another one
hundred thirty dedicated to tourism, including state tourism department
from many U.S. states, as well as some Canadian provinces. Sadly, the state
of Alaska was notably missing from the tourism area, though some ships
cruising the Inside Passage were represented. There were many camps in
the far north, and some beyond the Arctic Circle, who would be willing
to fly you in, feed you, and show you the best places to fish, hunt, trek
or snowmobile. The booths were packed with flashy action-packed photos,
video presentations, and many a stuffed bear or dall sheep to attract attention.
The folks manning the stands were more than happy to answer the simple
question or provide a full discussion of their facilities in the far north.
This is the perfect way for the seasoned trekker to find new areas which
could be used as a base camp, or for the dreamer to simply see if it would
be possible to convert the dreams of travel into reality for a reasonable
price. All of the booths had brochures and price information for the asking,
and most also had websites which could be visited and studied at a more
Trips to Alaska and the Canadian north could be had for about three thousand dollars with some wide variation depending on the amenities. Some destinations were merely camps carved out of the wilderness. Others had the appearance of a small village. Most offered fly-in service because of their highly desirable remote locations. For those who have not traveled in the north before, going to one of these locations is a great way to get started. The folks who run the establishments know the area, and the needs of those who travel there. It is a good way to learn the ropes, rather than just have yourself dropped in the wilderness, only to find yourself lying awake thinking “hmmm…that bear repellent probably would have been a good idea.”
The last area of the event included vehicles. Vehicles of all sorts
were represented, from the standard trucks, to Humvees to ATV, and even
ducks with tracks for use on land and water. We found the truck with tracks
to be an interesting addition.
The entire tour of the show, from once we entered the hall until
we left took about six hours, with a brief break for lunch, and only limited
time chatting with boothholders. The event is a full day’s work, considering
the hard concrete floors, and the jostling crowds. In spite of it all,
we’ll definitely be back for next year’s Eastern Sports and Outdoors Show.