By LISA HOOVER
WADDINGTON -- Organizers are preparing for the culmination of months of planning as up to 9,000 fishing enthusiasts are expected to pour into the area Aug. 8 for the Bassmaster Elite Series tournament.
Rooms in hotels, motels, and even private homes have been snapped up by fans planning to attend the festivities. Lots of port-a-potties are on order, law enforcement officers say they are ready, and local businesses are hoping to see an economic boost of up to several million dollars.
The competitors, along with hordes of fans, will descend on Waddington for the four-day tournament, along with the “Taste and Talents of the North Country” festival and several concerts.
The tournament has taken “a little over a year” of planning, according to organizer Bob Giordano, who is also a FISHCAP Advisory Board member. Giordano and other FISHCAP members had attended previous events elsewhere in the U.S. and spoken with BASS officials to “put a bug in their ear,” leading officials to make a trip to scout the area.
BASS, an organization dedicated to advancing the bass fishing sport through advocacy and events, originally considered Ogdensburg, but “felt it didn’t have a big enough green footprint” for the event, leading to the Waddington selection, Giordano said. They chose Waddington because of its “beauty and outstanding location,” he said.
Giordano said the event arose from FISHCAP’s mission to bring tourism into the North Country. “What better way to highlight it?” he said.
Tournament and festival planners have been preparing for the logistical realities of hosting an event this big, according to Alison Power, tourism, marketing, and outreach coordinator at the St. Lawrence County Chamber of Commerce.
Planners have been “trying to look as far ahead as possible,” Power said. “We tried to think this through as much as possible.”
While the highlight of the Bassmasters Elite tournament will be the fishing, “it’s so much more than that,” said Giordano.
BASS organizers are “so impressed with the festival” put together by organizers that they are “using our festival” as an example for other host towns, according to Giordano.
Various government organizations have been involved in planning and have signed off on event activities, according to Giordano. “It’s not just the Village of Waddington,” he said.
“If we do between 8,000 or 9,000 each day we’re going to be happy,” Power said of the number of expected guests.
A list of accommodations, including local hotels and private homes for rent, have been posted on fishcap.net and added to other promotional materials, Power said. “I know a number of those have already been rented,” she said.
Many homeowners have offered their homes for rent during the event. “I’ve gotten more calls from people looking to rent than looking for places to stay,” Power said.
All bassmaster contestants will be lodged at the Quality Inn, Power said.
Organizers have also thought about basic necessities like bathroom facilities and medical care, according to Power. While she didn’t have an exact number, “a lot” of port-a-potties are on order, she said. The restroom facilities will be “sufficient for the anticipated crowds,” as required for event permits, Giordano said.
A tent will be set up for those looking to get out of the sun, and “I think Red Cross will be there in case it gets hot,” Power said.
A “full law enforcement presence” will be on hand to protect attendees and assist with any problems, according to St. Lawrence County Sheriff Kevin Wells. Multiple agencies will participate in the effort, although the sheriff’s office will be the lead agency, Wells said.
“We’re ready for whatever event,” he said. The Office of Emergency Services has also been involved in planning, and Wells confirmed that the Department of Health has signed off on the event as required.
Wells also noted that no backpacks or coolers will be allowed into the event area.
Planners are also working to control traffic to the area. Shuttle service will be available from designated parking lots set up by the village of Waddington, as well as from Fort Drum on “Military Appreciation Day” Saturday, Power said. Shuttles will also run from Ogdensburg on Saturday, with stops at a local winery, the Frederic Remington Art Museum and the chamber of commerce’s beer, food, and wine fest.
In addition to the shuttles, traffic on main thoroughfares through Waddington will be controlled by volunteer flag holders to keep traffic flowing and a “preferred detour” will be set up around Waddington, according to Wells. Those that do pass through Waddington are asked to “be patient” with the higher than normal traffic flow, Wells said.
While the event has had significant costs, the area should see an economic benefit from the event, according to Power. The St. Lawrence County legislature has invested $75,000, which was part of a fund set aside for economic development, according to Power. None of that funding comes from taxpayer money, she said.
The overall costs of the event are “at least a couple hundred thousand dollars,” Power said, but the organizers have “tried their best to offset as much as possible” through sponsors, fundraising, and a 50/50 raffle to be held at the event. “We are hoping to break even,” she said. The village of Waddington paid a host fee of $60,000 to BASS, according to Giordano.
Power reports that other such events have garnered an estimated $1 million to $3 million dollars for local economies, although she acknowledges that most host towns are probably larger than Waddington. “It’s my understanding they are more like Watertown” in size, she said. “I have a feeling this is more rural than usual.”
Giordano reports that the number may be higher than that. The minimum the Bassmasters events have brought into economies in the past is $2 million, with some events bringing in as much as $5 million or $6 million, he said.
He hopes the economic impact to the area may extend beyond an immediate influx of cash. “Hopefully people will want to buy homes and do business here,” he said. Other FISHCAP events have prompted people to buy homes in the area, he said. He feels he is one of those implants. “I came up here and met people and bought a house,” he said.