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Just an out-and-out great week

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Updated: September 20, 2012 10:18AM

As Mark Zona and family waited in the White Sox’ reception area, he happily asked his wife, Karin, to pull out the cell phone so he could show pictures of big smallmouth bass they caught the previous week in Traverse City, Mich.

Some smallmouth topped 6 pounds, dwarfing their boys. Zona casually dropped that he had been fishing with Kevin VanDam, the greatest competitive bass fisherman.

In my world, this is life as it should be. That started a great few days mainstreaming traditional pursuits in the outdoors, nationally and locally. Zona, the Homewood native and host of ‘‘Zona’s Awesome Fishing Show’’ on the Outdoor Channel, was at U.S. Cellular Field to throw out the first pitch Aug. 11 for the first camouflage Sox cap night.

I hoped it was an MLB first, but James Lilliefors, author of Ball Cap Nation, found instances with the Brewers and soon with the Royals of camo-cap giveaways.

◆ Then on Wednesday, Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar announced the preliminary results of a national survey showing a 9 percent increase in hunters and an 11 percent increase in fishermen, changing decades of a slide.

“Seeing more people fishing, hunting and getting outdoors is great news for America’s economy and conservation heritage,’’ Salazar said. “Outdoor recreation and tourism are huge economic engines for local communities and the country, so it is vital that we continue to support policies and investments that help Americans get outside, learn to fish or go hunting.’’

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s 2011 National Survey of Fishing, Hunting and Wildlife-Associated Recreation found nearly 38 percent of Americans participated in wildlife-related recreation in 2011, an increase of 2.6 million participants from the previous survey in ’06. They spent $145 billion, 1 percent of the nation’s gross domestic product.

I suspect the major causes are the extended recession and a return to mainstreaming hunting and fishing to their rightful places.

The preliminary report is at

◆ Also on Wednesday, word came that Salazar authorized the establishment of the Hackmatack National Wildlife Refuge along the Illinois-Wisconsin border. That has broad potential for multiple outdoor usages, including the traditional ones, near the major population centers of Chicago, Milwaukee, Madison and Rockford.

◆ On Thursday, Salazar, Sen. Dick Durbin and other officials announced 12 Millennium Reserve conservation projects, including work on Northerly Island I’ve been waiting to see for nearly a decade.

The ambitious nature of those projects makes me skeptical, especially coming as part of a series of election-year announcements. But there’s potential to greatly alter one of the great urban wilds, the Calumet area.

◆ At the Cell, I hiked to the 500 level. Fernando Camacho and his wife, Debbie, were taking in the view and snacking.

‘‘I love [the camo cap],’’ Camacho said. ‘‘I heard they had four or five types. I’d like them all.’’

He’s a hat collector, a fisherman and an occasional hunter.

The Carpentersville couple gets to a few games each year. I asked how a Sox family survives in the Cubs country of the northwest suburbs.

‘‘I have a hat that says, ‘2005 World Champions,’ and the other guys don’t,’’ Camacho said.

If the cap fits, wear it. In camo, it’s even better.

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