Outdoors enthusiasts packed the Allen County War Memorial Coliseum over the weekend for a reminder of the experiences that await on the region’s rivers, lakes and trails.

The All American Outdoor Expo led the year’s list of major shows as the Coliseum and community struggle to emerge from pandemic retreat.

Fort Wayne Outfitters owner Cara Hall welcomed visitors, offering a rack of kayaks, lines of bicycles, stacks of T-shirts and other reminders of the opportunities that abound in and near the Summit City.

Hall said her company sold out of kayaks in 2020, the first year of the pandemic. “In 2021 then, we did get probably 70 to 75% of what we ordered, and we still have some for sale,” Hall said.

“It’s been hit or miss. Paddles and accessories are still kind of hard to find, but we have a good selection now and it seems like our spring orders are on track.”

Bicycles also sold quickly in that first year of the pandemic, and also are becoming more available. “We’re starting to get some of them in,” Hall said. “I’ve getting some of the Linus bikes and mountain bikes. Hybrids are a little bit harder to find; that’s not a mountain bike and not a road bike.”

Emma Altimus of the Fort Wayne Outfitters sales team climbed a ladder to a shelter atop a car for a photo, and lingered there to answer questions. Other vendors also found time to welcome visitors and address their inquiries.

Capt. Paul Coutcher of Summer Bandit Charters brought his craft into the Expo Center, and even allowed a visitor to climb into the captain’s shelter of the Lake Erie vessel.

It was a family outing for the captain, wife Patricia, and the children, who offered their jewelry made from fishing tackle. The captain welcomed the show’s stream of visitors and offered firsthand notes on Western Basin walleye and perch. Taking full advantage of one-to-one time with potential charters, Coutcher explained charter arrangements and said he does not venture onto the lake in rough weather.

Curly Hodson of Three Rivers Fly Fishers tied fly after fly, answered question after question, and invited guest after guest to the club’s next fly fishing and fly tying show, Feb. 12 at Classic Cafe in Fort Wayne.

Those interactions were all according to plan for Expo Director Dave Marquart. The show’s longtime manager said the pandemic has presented challenges, especially with supply chain and labor issues. “I’ve got stuff sitting in China. It’s paid for. I can’t afford to ship it here,” he said. He advised visitors to buy what they need when they see it, rather than wait for new inventory.

The pandemic also has occasioned a renewed awareness of outdoor activities, he said.

“You’ve got to book a campground a year in advance because everybody’s gone back to basics,” he said. “The old-school, family kind of entertainment and some of the basic stuff we all used to do is coming back stronger than ever.”

Fans of everything outdoors have opportunities to explore their hobby with two more Coliseum events in coming weeks. The Fort Wayne RV & Camping Show is Feb. 3-6, with the Fort Wayne Boat Show Feb. 11-13. Follow www.memorialcoliseum.com for updates.

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