2013 provided range of outdoor highlights

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Clearly, when it comes to outdoors activities, there is no shortage in Schuylkill County and the immediate area.

From the banks of the Susquehanna River to the west to the foothills of the Pocono Mountains to the east and plenty of stops in between, there is everything to do from strenuous mountain hunting for big game to nature hikes to fishing and boating galore. For years, two organizations have been at the forefront of promoting these opportunities: the Schuylkill County Sportsmen's Association and the Schuylkill County Sportsmen's Advisory Board, which works directly with the county commissioners on issues to benefit sportsmen.

In promoting the outdoors through various events - some of which have made this top-10 list of outdoors-related events for 2013 - these organizations have helped boost the area's economy and helped publicize it throughout Pennsylvania. Those efforts have earned the organizations the joint 2013 Tourism Volunteer of the Year Award from the Schuylkill County Visitors Bureau and rates No. 1 on the following 10 outdoors-related stories of the past year.

- 1. Schuylkill County Sportsmen's Association and Schuylkill County Sportsmen's Advisory Board presents the joint 2013 Tourism Volunteer of the Year Award from Schuylkill County Visitors Bureau: Either together or individually these organizations hold or support educational events to attract people to the area such as the Bear Creek Festival, youth field day, Norm Thonrburg Youth Conservation Camp, women's outdoors day, fishing events, firearms instruction, and in February, they will promote the area with a booth at the Great American Outdoor Show at Harrisburg.

In 2012, the support of the organizations and individual members during the Pennsylvania Outdoor Writers Association spring conference resulted in newspaper and magazine articles and television and radio programs throughout the state promoting the area's outdoors and tourism attractions.

- 2. Schuylkill County Hunters Sharing The Harvest aligns with Schuylkill Community Action: Through the assistance of the Schuylkill County Commissioners, an alliance between Schuylkill Hunters Sharing The Harvest, the statewide organization that distributes donated venison to needy individuals and charitable organizations, and Schuylkill Community Action resulted in 18 area outlets benefiting from the program. As of mid-December, more than 200, one-pound packages of ground venison had been distributed.

- 3. Sweet Arrow Lake fishing events attract anglers from throughout Pennsylvania: Anglers throughout Pennsylvania learned about Sweet Arrow Lake County Park from articles generated by outdoors writers who visited it during the 2012 Pennsylvania Outdoor Writers Association conference, and this year two major inaugural fund-raising events for charity gave them good reasons to visit Pine Grove. In April, the "Angling for Miracles" raised more than $5,500 for Children's Miracle Network at Geisinger Hospital in Danville to help provide pediatric equipment, programs and services at Geisinger Janet Weis Children's Hospital and throughout Geisinger Health System.

In May, "Family Fun Fishing Day" netted a profit of nearly $6,000 to help support outdoors education projects of the Schuylkill County Sportsmen's Association and be used to purchase trophy trout and other expenses for the 2014 event Sunday, May 4.

- 4. Successful reintroduction of wild pheasants in the Central Susquehanna and Hegins-Gratz Valley Wild Pheasant Recovery Area project by the Pennsylvania Game Commission: A population of wild pheasants from the Midwest has taken hold in the Central Susquehanna WPRA to the extent that the area in Columbia, Montour and Northumberland counties could be opened to hunting in 2014-15. Although stockings are behind schedule in the Hegins-Gratz WPRA because weather problems in the Midwest have prevented the trapping of birds the last two years, a breeding population has been established.

- 5. Outdoors community rallies to support the Second Amendment and forces cancellation of Eastern Sports and Outdoor Show: When the Great Britain-based promoters of the Eastern Sports and Outdoor Show made the decision to ban the display of legal AR-style rifles, the backlash from the outdoors community was overwhelming and led to the postponement and eventual cancelation of the nation's largest outdoors show in Harrisburg. Ironically, leading the initial to boycott the show were those from the archery and fishing industry. Since then, the Great American Outdoor Show sponsored by the National Rifle Association has been organized and will be held Feb. 1-9 at the State Farm Show Complex.

- 6. Retirement of Pennsylvania Game Commission executive director Carl Roe: During Roe's watch, the Mentored Youth hunting Program expanded, more emphasis was placed on opportunities to hunt small game, improvements made to the deer-management program by the reduction of antlerless allocations in some Wildlife Management Units and seasons extended in Special Regulations Areas, the automated license system was established and major land acquisitions were made to the State Game Lands system.

- 7. Passage of House Bill 1125 protects landowners who allow hunting on their property: Gov. Tom Corbett signed into law the bill introduced by Rep. Neal Goodman of Mahanoy City and cosponsored by Rep. Doyle Heffley of Palmerton that protects landowners from lawsuits if a hunter who has permission to hunt on their land injures another person or injures himself. Because of a suit brought against a landowner several years ago in the Lehigh Valley because of an accident caused by a hunter, many landowners had become reluctant to open their land to hunting.

- 8. Shooting sports in general and shotgun sports in particular continue to grow: In less than three years, Keystone Shooting Park on the grounds of Martz's Game Farm, Dalmatia, has become one of the premier training sites in the nation for national and international competitors; North Schuylkill graduate Brady Simms of national champion Lindenwood University and Nativity graduate Joe Recla of Bethel University made immediate contributions as freshman scholarship athletes; and regional competitors won nine gold medals and 21 total medals at the Pennsylvania State Sportsmen's Association Pennsylvania State Championships at Valley Gun and Country Club in Elysburg.

- 9. Schuylkill County Chapter of Trout Unlimited honored for conservation work: Impressed by the conservation work of the chapter after seeing some of its projects during its annual spring conference in 2012, the Pennsylvania Outdoor Writers Association awarded its 2013 Conservation Award to the chapter.

- 10. Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Commission holds Mentored Youth Trout Day: Putting a twist on the Pennsylvania Game Commission's Mentored Youth Hunting Program, the PFBC held its inaugural Mentored Youth Trout Day on 11 specified waters in the Southeast Region, including Locust Lake, the Saturday before the Regional opening day. Because of the overwhelming success that saw more than 3,700 adult anglers register more than 5,110 youngsters the program has been expanded for 2014 with the Southeast Region event Saturday, March 22, and the statewide event Saturday, April 5.

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