In this March 13, 2010, file photo. kids try out Old Town Canoe kayaks at the 72nd annual Eastern Maine Sportsmen’s Show at the University of Maine in Orono. Credit: Gabor Degre / BDN

The 2021 Eastern Maine Sportsmen’s Show in Orono, a major fundraiser for the Penobscot County Conservation Association, has been canceled due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the club announced Monday.

The association initially announced the show’s cancellation in August, but a few hours later walked back the statement that the club president had made on Facebook , explaining that the show’s status was up in the air. At that time, club members didn’t expect to announce any news about the show until January or later.

But Woody Higgins, one of three members on the club’s show committee, said that after meeting with a University of Maine official who handles the rental of facilities that host the show — Memorial Gym, the New Balance Field House and the Stanley M. Wallace Pool — both decided that canceling the show was the proper decision.

Higgins said that UMaine officials aren’t sure what the spring semester will hold, and whether the current academic schedule will be followed. The show is typically held during the school’s spring break, but UMaine has canceled the break for 2021.

And Higgins said that if the prohibition on large gatherings isn’t lifted — another unanswered question — the show simply couldn’t be held. The current limit on gatherings is 50 people. Higgins said the show has more than 100 individual vendors, many of which have two or more representatives at their booths. And the show draws thousands of attendees over its three-day run.

“[UMaine is] not sure, with everything going on, when they will have the new semester [start],” Higgins said. “We came to the decision that we were better off to just cancel it completely. Hopefully these vaccines will begin to be available, but probably they won’t be available to everybody until late spring, early summer, and then you actually start having something like the show.”

The association raises funds in three ways: It rents its Brewer clubhouse to other groups, and stages a gun show and the sportsmen’s show each year. The rental of the clubhouse often includes meals sold by the association. The absence of those funding streams has taken a toll, Higgins said.

“Without having the sportsmen’s show, without having the gun show, without being able to rent the club out, over the two years [2020 and 2021] we’re probably losing $100,000 in income,” Higgins said.

The club spends about $30,000 a year on college scholarships and camperships at youth conservation camps, according to Higgins. Those programs won’t be affected by the cancellation of the sportsmen’s show, because that money comes out of a trust fund dedicated to those uses. He said the club began cutting back on expenditures when the pandemic hit so that everyday bills that the club must pay, including insurance and utilities, can be paid.

“We’ll survive. We’ve had to cut everything right to the bare bones,” Higgins said.

On Monday afternoon, Nick Archer of the Presque Isle Fish and Game Club said the organization’s annual sportsmen’s show had also been canceled for 2021. A formal announcement of the cancellation was planned for Tuesday. The show will return on March 18-20, 2022.

The Bangor Daily News reached out to organizers of two other outdoor shows scheduled for 2021 — the Cabin Fever Reliever in Brewer and the State of Maine Sportsman’s Show in Augusta — but was not able to immediately determine the status of those events.

The show would have been the 82nd edition. It was previously canceled for several years during World War II.The 2020 edition of the show was also canceled as COVID-19 began to spread across the U.S. That marked the first year since World War II that it hadn’t been staged, Higgins said.

The 2020 show was one of the first major events in the area to be canceled due to the looming pandemic. UMaine made the decision to scrap the show just one day before it was to begin, as association members were in the show venue, beginning the set-up process. At that time, show director Mark Byers said the event was a major fundraiser for the club.

“On average, we make $40,000 to $50,000 on the show,” Byers said at the time.

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John Holyoke

John Holyoke has been enjoying himself in Maine's great outdoors since he was a kid. He spent 28 years working for the BDN, including 19 years as the paper's outdoors columnist or outdoors editor. While...