BETHEL — Neil Olson had an idea 39 years ago: Bring together people with similar interests for a weekend-long gathering to swap stories with friends, meet vendors and learn about the latest news in the trapping trade.
He never suspected that nearly four decades later, campers and tents would sprawl across his property for the annual New England Trappers Weekend, but they did.
“It blows my mind, to tell you the truth,” said Olson on Saturday morning at his home-turned-event-venue on East Bethel Road.
By Friday morning, Olson’s front lawn was a virtual fairground of vendors peddling everything from foods and crafts to furs and tools of the trapping trade.
Even more impressive was the acres and acres of campers stretched out in the fields to the back of Olson’s land. Trappers from across New England arrived for the weekend with their families and camping gear in tow, ready to participate in what some have dubbed “the Woodstock of trapper events.”
Many campers also brought their wares to sell in makeshift booths they set up beneath the awnings of their RVs in the camping area. Walking through the back acreage of Olson’s property was like visiting a flea market or giant yard sale, and visitors to the event were eager to see what treasures they might find.
Some, like veteran event attendee Alexis Rodrigue, 10, of Oxford and Lisbon, said she worked all week leading up to the Trappers Weekend to craft seashell necklaces and rubber band bracelets to sell or trade. Her sweetest trade as of Saturday morning was one of her necklaces for a jar of honey.
Rodrigue, who has come to the Bethel event for the past five years, said she enjoys the children’s activities the most. She had already participated in an eel race and was looking forward to a unique fishing derby designed to take participants back a few years — or maybe a century.
“You have to use a stick,” she explained. “You have to find a sapling or something and tie a line to it with a hook. You have to find bait, but that should be easy this year.”
Each participant must first craft their own fishing pole and seek out their own bait by digging worms or finding them under overturned rocks or trees before attempting to catch a fish out of Olson’s stocked pond. Prizes were awarded for the first fish, the most fish and for the last fish, as well as for the longest pole to catch a fish. The first 50 children to catch a fish received a Zebco reel.
The weekend was full of family fun and contests, which might be why so many people come back year after year, even people who have never trapped, like Bill Schultz of Connecticut who has attended the event all 39 years.
“I come every year. It’s turned out to be a great event. (Olson’s) done a great deal for trapping,” said Schultz.
There were prizes for the most primitive campsite, the cleanest campsite, the most American campsite and the most original campsite, but even non-campers could win prizes. For instance, bearded visitors stood the chance of winning for longest, most unique or cleanest beard, and of course, there were prizes for any of the many games over the course of the weekend.
On Friday, the day ended with Trappers Post telling stories, and on Saturday, festivities wound up with a dance featuring Ball Brothers. Pete Gerard was at the event, too, offering the first session of the trappers course for new or aspiring trappers.
“People have gotten farther and farther away from the outdoor world. They don’t understand trappers,” said Olson, who hopes that his event might help to change that by making people see that trappers are just regular folks.
The Marble family of Freeman Township might be a good example of just how “regular folk” trappers are. Liz and her husband Travis, who is a Maine Guide, bring their boys, 6-year-old Landen and 13-year-old Denny, every year.
“We find it’s a great family event. The boys look forward to it all year,” said Travis Marble. “It’s always been part of our lifestyle. We’re pretty grateful every year that we’re able to do it.”
In addition to enjoying the activities and atmosphere, the Marble’s keep a list of items they want to pick up for their business and their hobbies. They walk around and talk to vendors and make purchases. Sometimes, the boys luck out. This year, a vendor gave them each a pocket knife when the family purchased a coyote trap.
“I just like the environment and walking around and seeing different things,” said Denny Marble.
The weekend closes on Sunday morning with a church service led by trapper/pastor Lloyd Waterhouse.
On the heels of the 39th Annual New England Trappers Weekend, the Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife has issued new statewide regulations for trapping in 2015, specifically designed to help protect the Canada lynx population.
Included in the new regulations are:
- Lynx exclusion devices are now required statewide on all body-gripping traps that are set on dry land.
- In areas known to contain lynx (western, northern and eastern Maine), all foothold traps must be staked to the ground, and the area around the trap clear of rooted woody vegetation and debris.
- All foothold traps set on dry land statewide must have three swiveling points, and the chain must be centrally mounted.
Maine is in the process of updating Canada lynx population estimates with lynx track surveys and confirmed sightings.
The conservative state population estimate in 2006 was 750 to 1,000.
Since 2009, there were 26 lynx killed by vehicles, and only two by trapping.
Indications are that Maine’s lynx population is expanding into western and eastern range while remaining stable in their central core range of northern Maine.
In last year’s lynx survey, IFW wildlife biologists surveyed 25 towns and found lynx tracks in 20 of them.
IFW crews also surveyed six towns in 2015 that hadn’t been previously surveyed because they were outside of the lynx historic range. Lynx were found in two out of the six towns.