The Great American Outdoors Show isn’t only for hunters, anglers and archers.
From entertainment in the large arena to booths nestled among halls filled with guns and fishing rods, hikers, bicyclists and others with a different take on the outdoors can find plenty to see at the show, which started Saturday and runs through Sunday.
Tre, a three-legged yellow lab, won over the crowd even before he took a flying leap into the pool at the Dock Dogs competition in the Farm Show Complex’s Large Arena. Kimmy Racine, of Holtwood, Pennsylvania, said the 2-year-old took to the competition right from the beginning, despite a difficult start to life.
Tre was born via C-section, and was stuck in the birth canal, which compromised his front leg.
“The breeder was going to put him down because he couldn’t sell him, so I asked him to surrender so I could bottle feed him,” Racine said.
Now, he trains for the Dock Dogs competitions in an inground pool. At the events, owners sign their dogs up to compete in various classes. Some contests measure the distance the dog jumps when he leaps from the dock, others measure height or the speed with which the dog retrieves the toy the owner throws into the pool.
The event is popular at the show with the audience filling about a quarter of the stands at any given time, Racine said.
Business of the outdoors
Speaking over the noise of people testing duck calls, Scott Kocevar of In Gear Cycling and Fitness of Hummelstown said the show is a perfect fit for them with their assortment of pedal-assist bicycles, kayaks, coolers, regular pedal bikes, cups and more.
“Because we’re a family-owned business and we’re not just dedicated to hunting or anything, we’re a true outdoor business,” he said.
The pedal-assist bikes in particular have been popular with the market seeing a more than 140 percent increase in sales over the previous year. The ones on display at the show can pull more than 500 pounds in a trailer so it’s good for camping or hunting, but it can also be ridden for daily use. More of the bikes are being sold to “serious, hard core riders” than to retirees and people who haven’t ridden bikes in awhile, as Kocevar had originally expected.
“That’s the fastest growing segment of the bicycle industry,” he said.
For other vendors, shows like the Great American Outdoors show are vital to their businesses. Each year, Tonya Thompson and her husband, Andy, make the trek to Harrisburg from Vienna, Georgia, home of their jewelry business, Spent Rounds Designs.
Thompson said the business started eight years ago when her husband caught sight of a pair of earrings her daughter was wearing. As a hunter and gun enthusiast, he had a sudden inspiration.
“His eyes were drawn to her earrings, and the diameter of the top part of her earring reminded him of a 12-gauge shotgun shell,” Thompson said.
Jewelry on display
The couple started designing an array of jewelry from earrings to rings, necklaces, leather wallets and bracelets, including one that is named after country music star Brantley Gilbert. Thompson said he wears it in all of his concerts and music videos.
All of the jewelry is designed with spent ammunition.
“At the beginning, we were shooting it all and having a great time,” Thompson said.
Soon, the business grew too much to be providing their own raw material. The company connected with a plantation in south Georgia that collects all the rounds from their various hunts, and the Thompsons purchase the rounds from them.
Retail shows now account for 90 percent of their business, and the outdoors show is the biggest of them all.
“This is the largest retail show that we do every year,” Thompson said.
Along with businesses that reach the outdoors crowd, nonprofits choose the venue to bring awareness of issues to the crowds expected at the nine-day event.
Thomas Knapp manned a booth for Mission 22, an organization that is working to reduce the number of veterans who commit suicide each day. Currently, that number is 22.
“By bringing awareness and education, we hope to bring that down to zero,” Knapp said.
Supporting a cause
The outdoors show brings awareness of the issue to a crowd that is already sympathetic to his cause.
“These environments tend to be very pro-military, pro-police, pro-first responders. A lot of people don’t know we are losing 22 a day,” he said. “Hopefully, they go home and reach out to one person and save a life.”
The organization’s education component is online and includes free programs for veterans, as well as assistance for family members of veterans. Knapp said the organization is looking for more Brazilian Jiu Jitsu studios to offer classes for veterans.
“They have one workout a week for vets only. They show up, they get the camaraderie, they get a workout and they get to talk and have a bunch of other people understand them,” he said.
Along with Mission 22, Knapp is representing the Code 9 Project at the show. That organization is much like Mission 22, but is designed for first responders. Having served in the Marine Corps for 17 years and as a police officer for 11 years, Knapp knows the challenges they face as he, too, “hit the wall” and faced a crisis.
“I survived. I’m alive, and now this is kind of part of my therapy to be talking about it with others. It’s something I’m passionate about,” he said.