Ken Theobald (center) and Pam Theobald (right) talk with customers about their "Ole Time Woodsman" insect repellent and other products on March 11 during the 82nd Eastern Maine Sportsmen's Show at the University of Maine in Orono. Credit: Pete Warner / BDN

The University of Maine’s athletic facilities were abuzz with activity last weekend with the return of the Eastern Maine Sportsmen’s Show.

The event, put on by the Penobscot County Conservation Association, returned to the New Balance Field House, Memorial Gym and Wallace Pool for the first time in three years due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

There were a lot of smiling faces as people flocked to campus to celebrate the imminent (we hope) arrival of spring.

The 82nd Eastern Maine Sportsmen’s Show finally brought the region’s outdoors community back together in force. Patrons, including many families with young children, made their way through the nearly 100 vendor booths, conservation exhibits and other attractions over the three-day weekend.

Folks also were treated to demonstrations involving hunting, tracking and rescue dogs, and interesting presentations about the outdoors.

“We were thrilled all weekend long,” said Penobscot County Conservation Association President Woody Higgins. “You could see the crowd was happy and walking around talking to the different vendors and spending money.”

While it was a fun and successful show for all involved, the outcome was particularly gratifying for association members. The hardworking group, which focuses on supporting youth in their pursuit of outdoor activities and fisheries, wildlife and forestry education, relies on the Sportsmen’s Show for a considerable chunk of its philanthropic efforts.

Higgins reports that approximately 8,000 people made their way through the show and said that while the numbers aren’t in, the Penobscot County Conservation Association expects to raise more money than it has in 10 years, bucking a pre-COVID trend that showed a slight decline in revenue.

The University of Maine’s athletic facilities were abuzz with activity last weekend with the return of the Eastern Maine Sportsmen’s Show. Credit: PEte Warner / BDN

A successful show means the group, which has scrambled a bit in recent years to raise funds for its many worthy causes, will have a much easier time providing money for college scholarships and supporting entities such as the UMaine Cooperative Extension 4-H summer youth program at Greenland Point and the Maine Youth Fish and Game Association.

“I’m hoping that we’ll have a little extra money that we can apply to those places,” Higgins said.

Higgins said club members also received an overwhelmingly positive response from vendors who participated. One vendor that had been hesitant to have a booth for the first time actually covered its costs on the first evening of the show.

The event’s success was built on the efforts of the numerous members of the Penobscot County Conservation Association who donated their time and effort to put on a first-class event. It takes tremendous organization and a considerable number of people to efficiently pull off a project of its size.

The group is blessed to have plenty of both qualities, in addition to a wealth of experienced folks who have gained experience over many years of work.

“It was a very successful show. We’re all tired and hopefully we’ll be recouped by next year,” Higgins joked.

Attending the Eastern Maine Sportsmen’s Show is a time-honored tradition for many people, some of whom have been going since they were children. There not only are a lot of things to see, but it provides an opportunity to speak with people who are committed to promoting and preserving all of what makes the Maine outdoors so amazing.

It’s almost impossible to find such a wide range of knowledgeable and passionate experts, in so many different fields, all in one place at the same time.

Renewing old acquaintances and making new friends, both among show visitors and participants, helps restore confidence in the future of Maine’s outdoors and in our ability to enjoy it.

There is considerable optimism for the Penobscot County Conservation Association as it looks ahead to the 83rd Eastern Maine Sportsmen’s Show. One change on the horizon for 2024 is the schedule.

The event will be held one week later than usual, March 15-17, in part to make sure there are no future conflicts with the UMaine women’s basketball team.

Since the Black Bears may need access to their home court, Memorial Gym, for practices and a playoff game, both parties want to avoid a potential conflict over the use of the facility.

So mark your calendars for the show. In the meantime, get out there and have some fun.

Pete Warner

Pete graduated from Bangor High School in 1980 and earned a B.S. in Journalism (Advertising) from the University of Maine in 1986. He grew up fishing at his family's camp on Sebago Lake but didn't take...