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Tourism no small fish to local economy.

Every spring, the Dryden area becomes the hub of fishing activity in the northwest. Thousands of anglers flock to the area to fish the waters for walleye, northern pike, muskie, perch, smallmouth bass and lake trout.

Dryden has a legendary reputation for excellent fishing and hunting that has kept anglers and hunters coming back for more than half a century.

The area is especially known for its abundance of walleye and northern pike. Hunters come for the moose, deer and bears. Fewer come to hunt grouse and duck.

Tourism is no small fish to Dryden's economy. From May to October, the population nearly doubles in size, says Walter Huber, owner of Huber's Lone Pine Lodge on the Wabigoon-Dinorwic Lake chain.

Huber typically sees about 1,000 visitors pass through his lodge each season. Multiply that by 200, the approximate number of lodges and outfitters within a two-mile radius of the city, and you have an impressive industry.

Beginning the May long weekend, Rob Puddicombe, manager of Dryden's only Pizza Hut outlet, sees his business increase by as much as 25 percent. In addition to the anglers and hunters, three or four tour buses also make a regular stop at the restaurant.

Tourists go into Dryden not only for meals, but also for groceries, gas, bait and souvenirs.

"Off the top of my head, I'd say they spend about $1 million each summer," says Sharon Finch of the Polar Star Lodge.

The figure is actually much more dramatic, says Jim Dayman, Dryden's economic development officer.

"Tourism is big to us," Dayman says.

"In 1990-1991, tourism represented over $60 million annually," Dayman says.

And though Dayman has no current statistics, he is certain that amount has increased.

In 1998, the total value of retail and service spending in Dryden amounted to $240 million. That amount comprises three categories of consumers: those in the city and within a 25-mile radius of Dryden; the Trans-Canada Highway traffic; and the traditional tourists who come to spend time and money in the city or region, largely from the Midwest and north-central United States.

"Two out of every three dollars spent in Dryden is spent by non-residents," Dayman says.

As far back as the 1940s, outfitters and lodge owners in the Dryden region have been welcoming sportsmen to the area.

"It's a well-established industry," says Rick Lindmeier of the chamber of commerce. Lindmeier operated a camp on Eagle Lake for 30 years.

In the early days, there were far fewer lodges and the tourists came into town by train. Few of the old camps remain.

The Polar Star Lodge is one of the more seasoned camps operating in the area. Midway between Wabigoon and Dinorwic Lakes, the Polar Star operated under another name before the Finch family purchased it in 1958.

Today, Nora Finch, now 85, runs the fishing and hunting lodge with the help of her son and daughter.

"She (Nora) still cracks the whip," says daughter Sharon Finch.

During its 60 years of operation, the Polar Star has undergone several modernizations. It has 16 cabins and the only fully covered, fully enclosed dock within a 50-mile radius.

But while many of the other camps are multiplying business through the Internet, the Polar Star still draws in a full house, largely through word of mouth and repeat business. Many of their patrons have been coming back for 40 years, and now their children and grandchildren are taking up the tradition.

Even before the Internet, the Polar Star's good reputation spoke for itself. "My dad went to sports shows maybe twice (to market the lodge)," says Sharon Finch.

Sports shows in large American cities, such as Chicago, Milwaukee and Indianapolis, have been the traditional means of marketing for camps and lodges, while some operations rely on sporting magazine advertisements and direct mailings.

Advertising on the Internet has meant increased exposure to those who live in smaller centres and are unable to attend sports shows.

"Twenty-five per cent of my business now comes from the Internet," says Huber of the Lone Pine Lodge.

Most of Huber's guests are from the Midwest United States, while a smaller number come from California and Europe.

The Midwest and north-central United States used to be the target market for most of the region's lodge owners and outfitters, but the Internet has broken that market up even wider.

"We had inquiries last week from Russia," says Marilyn Bilsbarrow of the Patricia Region Tourism Council.

Another change Bilsbarrow has observed in the last 10 years is an increased concern for the environment and wildlife, among the sportsmen and operators alike.

"Many of the guides are happy to point out a bald eagle's nest or a loon and her babies," Bilsbarrow says.

The numerous lakes are well-maintained by outfitters and the Ministry of Environment, Lindmeier says.

Since the industry depends on conservation, many of the operators promote catch-and-release. Some lodges offer rewards to fishermen who release a trophy fish. Huber informs his guests that buying fish from local fishermen is less expensive than fishing their own. Finch finds that most of her American guests practise catch-and-release without incentives.

Ecotourism is new to the region and is taking some time to gain popularity.

"I'd like to see it (tourism) go that route, but the area's meat and potatoes are still hunting and fishing," Bilsbarrow says.

A couple of groups that visit Huber's lodge come strictly to take pictures of wildlife and the scenery. Such groups, usually European, make up a negligible amount of his business, Huber says.

Most of the outfitters and lodges shut down around mid-October. The Finch family stays in the region, providing lodging to snowmobiler and to workers, if there is construction at the Weyerhauser mill.

Huber, who came to the area 20 years ago, spends the winter at his wine estate in British Columbia.

And those few wily walleye, who managed to survive the season, can breathe a sigh of relief until next year.
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Copyright 2001, Gale Group. All rights reserved. Gale Group is a Thomson Corporation Company.

Article Details
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Author:Faye, Donna
Publication:Northern Ontario Business
Article Type:Brief Article
Geographic Code:1CONT
Date:Jul 1, 2001
Previous Article:Long-term care facility in the works.
Next Article:From a fur-trade hub to a tourist destination.

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