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Great Outdoor Family Expo draws throngs to Fairgrounds Y

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WATERTOWN — The Great Outdoor Family Expo brought outdoor enthusiasts from across the north country to the three-day event at the Fairgrounds Y for live demonstrations, discussions with local experts and socializing with other outdoor enthusiasts.

The Expo was organized by the Watertown Noon Rotary and held at the Fairgrounds Y, 585 Rand Drive. Visitors could learn about the hunting, fishing and outdoor opportunities in the area, see samples of local products and equipment, and enjoy live demonstrations.

Guests had the opportunity to scuba dive in the National Aquatic Services 11,000-gallon pool, have their buck scored by the Northeast Big Buck exhibit, attend seminars on turkey and game calls, try laser duck hunting and learn about raising alpaca.

The expo also included wildlife shows from the New York State Zoo at Thompson Park, including their “New York’s Wild Wonders” and “Birds of Prey” programs.

Charles Capone, Watertown Rotary Club member, said the club welcomed 2,750 people over the course of the weekend, just shy of its goal of 3,000.

“Overall it was really well-attended. We had a great turnout for Friday and Saturday,” Mr. Capone said. “Sunday was a little bit slower; the weather just didn’t want to cooperate.”

Howard W. Ganter, a Rotary member, said the expo has been held at the Fairgrounds Y for several years and has a dedicated following of vendors, dealers and visitors.

“We have a good history with many of our vendors that are here; I’d say 60 percent have been coming back for years,” he said.

About 67 vendors brought their gear to the expo. Mr. Ganter said some left before the Sunday snowstorm, but most stayed. Visitors entering the gymnasium were greeted by the calls of wild animals from the Gooseman Game Calls booth where owner Steve “Gooseman” Halliwell demonstrated his equipment. He had a variety of hunting-call products, including the sound of dying rabbits, coyotes, bucks and does.

“I hand-make all of them,” Mr. Halliwell told a customer before blowing two short puffs of air into one of his wooden callers, eliciting a cooing deer sound.

Other vendors brought a variety of handmade products for hunting, fishing and more.

Rick T. Rutkowski, a National Aquatic Service volunteer, said the group set up the temporary pool made of industrial-grade vinyl and filled with 71-degree water. Guests were invited to put on a dry suit and given a pair of goggles for an out-of-water demonstration about using the oxygen tank to breathe under water before practicing in the pool.

“A great thing about this area is there’s still shipwrecks that look like shipwrecks,” Mr. Rutkowski said. “There are a lot of things to see under the water.”

The Northern New York Chapter of Hunters Helping Kids had a booth to introduce families to its youth safety courses for hunters ages 12 to 15.

“You get kids involved when they are young and that’s the time you can get them hooked for life,” said volunteer David Eastman. He said the Expo is a great way to educate families about the group’s services and to attract new students to its classes.

“We’ve been coming here for probably five years; every year our students are aging out of the course, so we always need new faces,” he said.

Mike Akin, of Akin’s Sales and Services archery outlet, Watertown, said the expo is not solely about selling the store’s products, but also about educating the community about the specialized services available at local retailers.

“If they come to us, we’ll make sure to fit them with the right equipment; with us they’re buying the service, not the product,” he said.

Sales representatives from FX Caprara, Watertown, and Waite Motor Sports, Adams, brought all-terrain vehicles.

The expo is one of the major fundraisers for the Watertown Rotary Club. Mr. Ganter said the booth rental fees, 50/50 raffle ticket sales and admission ticket sales will help fund the club’s community and international relief projects. The goal was to raise $19,000.

Mr. Ganter said the club sponsors programs for developmentally disabled children in Turks and Caicos, polio vaccinations internationally and the construction of wells in Africa. Locally, he said the club sponsors school and community projects.

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