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VOL. 10 | NO. 4 | Saturday, January 21, 2017

The Great Outdoors Still a Popular Destination for Mid-Southerners

BY MICHAEL WADDELL, Special to The Daily News

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While pro and college sports dominate local media coverage, the Mid-South remains a hotbed for outdoors activities such as hunting and fishing.

Last year, Bass Pro Shops at the Pyramid welcomed large numbers of guests for its various events and on-site offerings, while organizations such as Ducks Unlimited and the Tennessee Wildlife Federation continue working to protect and promote local wildlife habitats for future outdoor recreational use.

Fishing guide Kalyn Clemons, left, and friend Cody Pruitt made the drive from central Arkansas to shop the tackle selection at Bass Pro Shops at the Pyramid.

(Memphis News/Andrew J. Breig)

“You’ve got natural resources that are unique to Memphis – the Mississippi, the Wolf and the Hatchie rivers – all areas that provide a nice playground,” said Tennessee Wildlife Federation CEO Mike Butler. “Recreational boating, fishing, paddling and canoeing have been high-use activities for decades in the Mid-South.”

This year, the TWF will continue to work to prevent the channelization of rivers like the Hatchie, which is the last main stem tributary of the Mississippi that has not been channelized.

“Protecting that river and enhancing the management of it … we think is something to build upon for the rural communities along the Hatchie, and also as a playground for a lot of people who live in Memphis,” said Butler, referring to the popularity of the river for hunting and fishing. “Not only do you have good resources, but you have the opportunity to restore them and provide even better outdoor recreation opportunities.”

TWF is involved with local outdoors activities throughout the year, including the Tennessee Scholastic Clay Target program and its new youth hunting and fishing program, which puts an emphasis on parents and children experiencing the outdoors together. Demand is high, with a recent hunting expedition receiving 45 applications for nine open slots.

Other events throughout the year include fishing rodeos and hunts of all kinds, including water fowl, dove and deer. The Dunavant Classic Fishing Rodeo and Huntmaster Turkey Hunt happen in the spring, and smaller events take place throughout the hunting season, which started in the fall.

Bass Pro Shops at Pyramid draws visitors throughout the year for a variety of outdoors-related happenings.

“We’re going to consistently and continually host events here,” said David Hagel, store manager for Bass Pro Shops at the Pyramid. “Our business is dedicated to inspiring youth and families to enjoy and conserve the outdoors.”

Bass Pro’s Go Outdoor events start in the early spring, and the summer months feature Family Summer Camp events.

“For about a dozen events a year, we bring in our pro staff and a bunch of our knowledgeable associates to our trout pond (inside the store), and we actually allow the kids to go in and fish,” said Hagel, who cited the fact that more than 100,000 kids caught their first fish at a Bass Pro Shops location last year.

The store holds several events each month centering on kids and conservation.

“It’s so rewarding for our staff to bring kids in who have never had the chance to catch a fish or even try,” Hagel said. “It’s pretty amazing, so we have fun with that.”

For older enthusiasts, the store caters its products to needs during hunting or fishing season and for various events. Last year, the store held one of the largest catfish events ever, along with the largest bow fishing event ever.

Bass Pro’s yearly calendar starts with its Spring Classic near the end of February and ends with Santa’s Wonderland at the end of the year. The largest event is Flocktoberfest in October, and the Big Cypress National Duck Calling Championship, also in October, has the highest payout in duck-calling history, with events for youths and adults.

The retailer partners with Mud Island for a youth fishing rodeo, and proceeds from Bass Pro’s annual 5K run go to conservation efforts.

The many events help to fill up the store’s two restaurants and its 103-room Big Cypress Lodge, as well as other nearby downtown hotels and restaurants.

“For many of the larger events, we work with other area hotels to box off rooms, so it helps the whole hotel environment downtown,” Hagel said.

Locally, Bass Pro – which also operates a store at 6140 Macon Road – works with a range of organizations, including the Wild Turkey Federation, TWF, the Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency, the Wolf River Conservancy, Wounded Warriors and Project Healing Waters. Perhaps its most visible partner at the Pyramid is Ducks Unlimited, a Memphis-based national conservation organization whose logo is emblazoned on the building’s exterior and whose Waterfowling Heritage Center is located inside.

“Locally we have nine DU chapters here in Shelby County, and they all host fundraising events,” said Ducks Unlimited regional director Jimbo Robinson. “Combined they raise about $400,000 per year.”

Three of the local Ducks Unlimited chapters are from area high schools, including Memphis University School, Christian Brothers High School and Collierville High, and a women-run chapter in Shelby County holds the largest annual women’s DU conservation event in the country, The Women of Wetlands.

DU also hosts annual youth-oriented Greenwing events in the spring and fall for kids 13 and younger. And the volunteer-run organization just opened a new chapter for Fayette County and Somerville.

In the past decade, DU has experienced a 500 percent increase in the amount of money raised locally, with the number of DU volunteers in the Mid-South swelling to more than 200.

The funds raised go to global conservation efforts, including those targeted at West Tennessee.

“The Mississippi River Valley and its tributaries, which include the Wolf River, are conservation priority areas for Ducks Unlimited,” Robinson said.

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