Mollie McRaw Wright, (left), 11, and Mary Aubrey Landrum get a rush from one of the rides at the carnival and midway during the Wings over the Prairie Festival on Thursday in Stuttgart. (Special to the Commercial/William Harvey)
Nathaniel Whitney 9, jumps up and down with bungee cords during the carnival that was part of the Wings over the Prairie Festival on Thursday in Stuttgart. (Special to the Commercial/William Harvey)
Renowned broadcast journalist Walter Cronkite once pointed out that the perils of duck hunting are great, especially for the duck. But the sport is also a major boon to the Pine Bluff area’s economy, primarily during Stuttgart’s Wings Over the Prairie Festival, which is inclusive of the annual World’s Championship Duck Calling Contest.
The celebration, held each Thanksgiving week in neighboring Arkansas County, brings in staggering numbers of duck hunters and supports Stuttgart’s billing as “Duck Hunting Capital of the World.”
“The festival and duck calling championship draws 40,000 or 50,000 persons to Stuttgart every year, and they’re from all over the country,” said Greg Gustek of the Pine Bluff Convention and Visitors Bureau.
Gustek said most attendees drive to the site, but a number fly in aboard private planes.
“Either way, they contribute to Pine Bluff’s and Jefferson County’s economy,” he said.
“Stuttgart doesn’t have enough hotel or motel rooms to house everyone, so many wind up staying in Pine Bluff motels,” he said. “I don’t have a dollar figure I can throw at you, but I can tell you that it all adds up to have a significant economic impact. In addition to the motel rooms they’re renting, they’re also shopping here for whatever supplies they might need. They’re eating at our restaurants and they’re buying gas for their automobiles at our filling stations and fuel for their planes at Pine Bluff Grider Field Airport.
“It’s a win-win situation for everyone. The duck hunters enjoy the festival and the area enjoys the economic boost they give us.”
Gustek said he prepared for the festival by advertising the city and its tourism offerings as the event neared.
“A lot of people who attend come every year and prefer to stay in Pine Bluff,” he said. “But some first-time attendees might not automatically think of Pine Bluff as a nearby place to stay. We’re not trying to take anything away from Stuttgart and Arkansas County, but they have lodging limitations like everyone else and we just want to let people know about the great lodging, restaurants and stores we have here and that we welcome and appreciate their business.”
Schedule of events
• Friday’s schedule includes the Chick and Sophie Major Memorial Duck Calling Contest for U.S. high school students at 11 a.m., Junior Women’s World Championship at 1 p.m., Intermediate World Championship at 2 p.m. and Last Chance Regional Contest at 3:30 p.m.
• The 77th annual World Championship is slated for 2 p.m. Saturday, following the Junior, Senior and Women’s championships at 9, 10 and 11 a.m., respectively.
For more information, telephone the Stuttgart Chamber of Commerce at 870-673-1602, or visit the chamber’s Web site.