At least the calendar is in their favor this year.
That’s good news to the organizers of West Virginia’s National Hunting and Fishing Days Celebration, who often have trouble prying visitors away from college football games.
“We’re fortunate this year,” said Kayla Donathan, who coordinates the event for the state Division of Natural Resources. “[West Virginia University’s team] is on the road, and Marshall’s team is idle.”
That, she said, should help boost attendance at the Sept. 21-22 event.
“With decent weather, we expect about 4,500 people to attend. Last year [with both teams playing home games], we had about 2,900.”
Those who attend this year’s celebration will experience a few new attractions.
“For the first time ever, we’re going to offer live bluegrass music,” Donathan said. “From 1-4 p.m. on Saturday, the Sour Mash String Band will be performing. We’re very excited about it. We’ve talked for years about having live music at the event, and now we’re finally doing it.”
On Sunday, a bluegrass group called the LC Blues will perform from 1-3 p.m. “They’re a student group from Lewis County High School,” Donathan said.
Another new addition will be the West Virginia Vietnam Veterans Memorial Wall.
“It’s a mobile wall, a smaller version of the Vietnam Memorial in Washington, D.C., that lists the names of the 732 West Virginians who were killed in action, missing in action or were prisoners of war,” Donathan said.
The wall has been exhibited at other outdoor-themed events within the state, and it reportedly has been well received wherever it has appeared.
In addition to the music and the wall, the other new feature at this year’s celebration will be an appearance by William “Wild Bill” Ness from the “Mountain Monsters” show on the Travel Channel.
The show, which recently began its sixth season, focuses on finding legendary or mythical Appalachian creatures such as Mothman, the Wampus Beast, the Devil Dog and the Lizard Demon.
Traditionally, the two-day celebration has revolved around the Youth Outdoor Challenge, a combination expo and competition in which young people are exposed to a variety of activities and displays that help them learn more about wildlife, hunting, fishing, firearm safety and outdoor recreation.
Donathan said DNR officials have decided to focus even more attention on this year’s edition of the event.
“We’ve added a few activities,” she added. “There’s a new mapping activity that uses a sand table to show different types of mapping. There’s a new bird-identification activity where kids will use binoculars to find birds. There’s also a new stop for tree identification, and we’ve transformed the ‘leave no trace’ camping stop into a ‘youth environmental program.’”
The challenge is open to youngsters 6 to 18 years of age. Every participant will get a free T-shirt, and will be eligible for prize drawings. One lifetime hunting and fishing license would be included in each day’s list of prizes.
“Kids really enjoy the challenge,” Donathan said. “Last year, we had about 1,100 participants.”
As always, several presenters will conduct seminars on outdoors-themed activities.
This year’s slate includes a deer taxidermy seminar by Jeremy Simon of Re-creations Taxidermy, fishing seminars by Jay Gilfillian, a presentation on how to film one’s hunts by the staff of Brothers of the Woods Outdoors, a waterfowl-hunting seminar by Joe Austin of DOA Outfitters, a seminar on West Virginia snakes by the DNR’s Jim Fregonara, and a coyote-calling seminar by renowned varmint hunter Tom Bechdel.
On Saturday, the staff of the West Virginia Raptor Rehabilitation Center will do two live “raptors in flight” demonstrations, and will have on display several live birds of prey.
There will also be presentations on knot tying, fly fishing, fish filleting, bowfishing, bird-dog handling, tree-stand safety, squirrel-dog handling, deer processing, squirrel field dressing, knife and tomahawk throwing, primitive camping, ATV safety, wildlife identification and many more.
For those interested in shooting sports, a short ride in a shuttle bus takes visitors to the nearby Stonewall Jackson Wildlife Management Area rifle range, where they can try their hand at .22-caliber rifle shooting, muzzleloader shooting, and sporting-clays shooting.
Visitors to the celebration’s indoor area can get a glimpse of the state’s natural bounty at the DNR’s Trophy Buck and Fish Display, which features deer and fish trophies provided by Mountain State hunters and anglers.
Admission is $10 for people age 15 and up. Children under age 15 are admitted free. The celebration begins each day at 9 a.m. A full schedule of seminar and exhibit times can be found on the DNR’s website, www.wvdnr.gov.