Major drawing cards

On a national, state and local level, more people are incorporating nature into their recreation, and officials are looking for ways to help Chautauqua County cash in on the trend.

According to the National Survey of Fishing, Hunting and Wildlife Associated Recreation from 2011 (released in September 2012), more than 90 million U.S. residents – 38 percent of the population at least 16 years or older – enjoyed recreational activity related to fish and wildlife.

More than 37 million people spent time either fishing, hunting or both, and nearly 72 million people engaged in wildlife watching activities such as closely observing, photographing or feeding wildlife.

Expenditures related to wildlife related recreation totaled $145 billion nationally, which is 1 percent of the nation’s gross domestic product. Sportspersons spent $90 billion and wildlife watchers spent $55 billion on their hobbies in 2011.

On a state level, New York was third out of all states with regard to total participants in wildlife-associated recreation by state residents with 5,143,000 people, or 33 percent of the population, participating. The only states ahead of New York were Texas and California.

And though breakdown of participation by county was not available on the survey, Craig Robbins, fishing and hunting director for Chautauqua County, said that the county is one of the best in New York with regard to access to wildlife.

“Chautauqua County is in position, and has been for the past 15 years, to attract a lot of tourists to the area because of our wildlife,” said Robbins. “The county has been marketing to anglers and hunters about the great wildlife opportunities we have here in the county for quite some time now.”

According to Robbins, one of the ways he spreads word about the county’s wildlife opportunities, as well as makes sure the county is on the same playing field with other states, is by attending wildlife shows in the region.

“We attend shows in Syracuse, Rochester and Albany,” said Robbins. “We go to Pittsburgh and Cleveland and even all the way over to Michigan. We’re putting in a grassroots effort talking to sportsmen from out of state and showing them the excellent hunting and fishing opportunities here in Chautauqua. We also promote hunting and fishing through the Chautauqua County Visitor’s Bureau.

“We invite outdoor writers to the county,” continued Robbins. “Many times over the years national hunting and fishing programs have come to visit. … This is one of the reasons that Chautauqua County is consistently ranking among the top in hunting and fishing license sales. Our license sales have been consistent over the past decade instead of going up and down like a lot of counties in the area.”

One example of Chautauqua’s wildlife receiving honors on a national level which Robbins mentioned was the Jack Link’s Major League Fishing tournament which was held on Chautauqua Lake over the summer, and is currently being aired on the Outdoor Channel.

“That event started because one of the producers had been to Chautauqua Lake to film a television show a few years ago,” said Robbins. “The host of the television show read an article written by an outdoor writer that we had hosted. So if the host of that show hadn’t read an article on Chautauqua and chose the lake to film, who knows if the Major League Fishing producer would have ever known about the lake. Sometimes it just snowballs like that.”

And from the trending statistics, it looks like the snowball will continue to grow. According to the aforementioned survey, there was an 11 percent increase in anglers from 2006-2011 on a national scale.

However, the largest increase of anglers, which was 37 percent from 2006-2011, came from the Middle Atlantic Region, which New York falls into. Additionally, New York currently holds the third overall position for most in-state hunters with 823,000 and fourth overall for most in-state wildlife watchers with 4,239,000.

With events such as the Jack Link’s Major League Fishing tournament showcasing Chautauqua on a national level, and a general increase in the popularity of wildlife recreation, Robbins hopes this means more tourism revenue for the county in the future.

“In a time where people don’t have as much money to spend and people are more reluctant to travel as far, people keep coming to Chautauqua County,” said Robbins. “And they come because we have so much to offer. We’ve got Lake Erie, which offers some of the finest of freshwater fishing of all the Great Lakes. We’ve got Chautauqua Lake which is renowned for fishing – we’ve got Cassadaga Lake and Bear Lake for smaller boats as well. We’ve got over 40,000 acres of public hunting ground in the county as well. And I think going forward we will come to find that outdoor recreation is only going to continue to grow in popularity.”