Mountain Folk Spring to Life in MorrisApr 01, 2022 09:00AM ● By Chris Espenshade
As area residents finally stow their snow shovels, dust off their fishing rods, and search for those turkey decoys—and as camp owners return to the fresh air of Tioga County—they all find April is a great time to mark the arrival of spring with a celebration of and in the great outdoors. On April 16, Nessmuk’s Sporting Goods and Blak Forge Armoury, LLC, will sponsor the second annual Nessmuk’s Spring Festival at 1803 Route 287 in Morris (half a mile south on Route 287 from the Routes 414/287 intersection). Neatly sandwiched between the trout opener on April 2 and the spring turkey opener on April 30, the free event will offer a variety of outdoor-themed activities for the entire family. Running from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m., the festival includes a free hot dog roast featuring local, grass-fed beef from nearby DeCoursey Farms.
The best guestimate from last year’s organizers and attendees is that 300 people attended the first event—this at a time when covid fears were extreme. Organizer Zack Buck hopes to see substantial growth for the second Spring Festival. He says it serves several functions. The gathering celebrates a successful year in business for Nessmuk’s. It is an opportunity to thank loyal customers and spread awareness to others. The festival also highlights the many outdoor opportunities of our area, as well as the diverse people and organizations linked to outdoor recreation in the region.
Among the vendors and organizations scheduled for this year’s celebration is the Morris Rod & Gun Club. Members will be offering kids the opportunity to build their own woodcraft fishing rod. The children will then use the rods to do a little trout fishing, with club members teaching participants how to clean the fish, followed by cooking and eating the fresh trout.
Mark Losinger, a member of the Pennsylvania Foragers Club, will be demonstrating how to identify and forage for some of the Keystone State’s many edible wild foods. The club’s motto is “Pennsylvania is full of wild food and medicinals. Let’s help each other have a more plentiful harvest.”
There will be a living history, mountain man encampment, and a modern hammock camp. There will be demonstrations of Dutch oven cooking over a wood fire. Tom McGuinn, of Tom’s Rods and Flies in Mansfield, will demonstrate fly-tying and rod repair. Tom started his business in 2018, providing “custom rods and flies for advanced and everyday fly-fishing.”
Rose Moore, owner of Moore’s Sporting Goods in Wellsboro, and fresh from her stint on season eight of the TV show Alone, will be participating for This is My Quest, a nonprofit focused on outdoor education. Rose, the president of This is My Quest, says “our focus is on providing opportunities in the outdoors for traditionally underrepresented youth and adults.” She’ll be providing instruction on trapping and fire starting.
Spring Festival will also host various outdoor-themed artists. There will be smoked cheese from Smokey Bottom Specialties, and outdoor and wildlife art by Bill Fidler. Hunting and fishing guides and outfitters will have informational booths, and there will be door prize drawings throughout the day.
The event takes place on the green behind the 1870s-era building occupied by Nessmuk’s Sporting Goods and Blak Forge Armoury. Blak Forge Armoury has been here for fourteen years. The business features gunsmiths Zack and Bill Bennett, and they do a combination of repairs, heirloom restoration, and full custom builds.
Zack sought out instruction in blacksmithing and gunsmithing as an offshoot of his historic reenacting and his desire for an affordable flintlock musket reproduction. A Mansfield University graduate, he transformed his former hobby into a career as a means of maintaining a strong link to the outdoors and hunting, thereby avoiding an office job in a city. A life-time resident of Tioga County, Zack has deep roots in the region, and was pleased to locate this business in Morris, among the trout streams, state game lands, and hiking trails.
Nessmuk’s Sporting Goods joined Blak Forge in Morris last April. Covid hindered the shop’s rollout, but it has since quickly developed a strong customer base. The store offers hunting, fishing, and hiking supplies, as well as local expertise.
The store is named for Nessmuk, the pen name of outdoor writer and poet George Washington Sears (1821-1890). A resident of Wellsboro, Nessmuk was an expert in woodcraft, a pioneer in minimalist camping, and a driving force behind the development of ultra-light pack canoes. Naturally, Nessmuk’s Sporting Goods has several of Nessmuk’s publications for sale.
The building itself has its own story to tell. Constructed in the 1870s, it originally served as a hall of the Knights of the Maccabees. The Knights was formed in the 1870s as both a fraternal organization and as a way to provide affordable insurance to its members. The overall organization was known as the Supreme Tent, and local chapters were designated Camps. Zak and Bill worked to maintain the materials, design, and feel of the original building as they shaped it for their own use.
If you are looking for an opportunity to learn about the many outdoor-related organizations and pursuits available locally—whether it be trapping, slinging your hammock from a tree, or Dutch oven cooking over a fire you make yourself—Nessmuk's Spring Festival will satisfy. Its consistent message is one of welcome to everybody, to friends and customers old and new, and especially welcome to those seeking fresh engagement with the outdoors.
Many of the activities and vendors will be under tents, but the organizers are hoping for a sunny day. People who love the outdoors know there's no such thing as bad weather, only bad gear.