When Massachusetts Department of Fish and Game Board Chairman George "Gige" Darey of Lenox entered the Lenox Sportsmen's Club last Saturday, he thought it was going to be a fundraiser for the National Archery in the School program, as well as a plug for the Massachusetts Heritage Foundation which helped to fund it.
What he saw were 75 friends from the Berkshires and beyond, including Lenox town officials, friends, local sportsmen and women, Steve Williams (the former head of USFWS and now a national director of Wildlife Management Institute), Walter Bickford and Dan Peters (both past commissioners of F&G), current Commissioner Mary Griffin, Representative George Peterson, Deputy Whip of Mass. House of Representatives Bob Durand, Wayne MacCallum, Director of Mass Fish & Wildlife, fellow F&G Board members and others.
Berkshire County League of Sportsmen President Mark Jester began the program by explaining NAIS. First developed in 2002, it is a program which teaches kids the fundamentals of archery from grades 4-12. It is a two-week program which is part of the school physical education programs. Currently, there are five NAIC programs in schools in Berkshire County. The hope is to expand to all local schools.
Jester mentioned that NAIS has reached over 2 million kids in more than 11,000 schools in 47 states. By 2017, more than 91 2 million kids will have participated in this program. Statistics show that a large percentage will continue in outdoor activity. In 31 states, there are more than 100 schools participating in this program with no accidents.
He then asked seven boys and girls to shoot at targets in the indoor range. The attendees were amazed as these kids fired their volleys, all hitting the bull's-eyes. They took a couple more shots and the room was full with applause.
MacCallum spoke about how the non-profit Mass. Heritage Foundation was established a number of years ago. He, Darey and F&G Board member Mike Roche learned about the program in Kansas and brought it back to Massachusetts. Funds are used for such projects as wild brook trout restoration and other worthy projects.
Then the focus of the meeting shifted when Scott MacWilliams of Lee took the floor. A month ago, he was visiting Gige and his partner Ginny Akabane when he learned that their young bird dog passed away unexpectedly. Gige told Scotty confidentially that he not only lost a great companion but also a way of life, for he had been hunting dogs since he was a young teenager.
This really affected MacWilliams, who called DFW Western District Manager Andrew Madden about getting a dog for Gige. Madden put him in touch with MacCallum, who put him in touch with Roche. They all liked the idea.
Roche took the floor and said that he goes back a long ways with Gige and relayed a story of how, when he was 6 years old, his father and Gige took him hunting with them after school and how Darey carried him out of the woods sound asleep.
Upon receiving MacWilliams's call, he searched across the nation for an "old man's" dog.
"I was selfish," said Roche, "because my world depends upon Gige going bird hunting, and now we are going to do something about that."
When word got out about the plan and the need to raise $3,000 to buy and ship the dog, people rushed to make contributions. Roche found the 3-year-old Brittany Spaniel, named Eclair, in South Dakota.
"Like Gige," Roche said, "her mother came from Brittany, France."
The dog was then brought in the room and presented to Gige. Following a huge round of applause, Gige looked at the floor and was silent for several seconds. He was obviously overwhelmed and had been taken completely off guard.
"I really don't know what to say. I had no idea this would be happening," Darey said.
He recounted how he grew up and spent his whole life hunting and fishing in this area and how the Lenox Sportsmen's Club ended up being where it currently is. Incidentally, it is across the railroad tracks from the 818-acre George L. Darey Housatonic Valley Wildlife Management Area.
Not only did they collect enough donations to get the dog, but there was also enough left over to make a $6,000 contribution to the Massachusetts Heritage Foundation.
Stockbridge Sportsmen's Club is holding a firearms safety course next Sunday starting at 8:30 a.m. The cost is $75. To register call (413) 232-7700 or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.
Pittsfield Sportsmen's Club is having a venison steak dinner at the Luau Hale on Tuesday, March 26 at 7 p.m. Cost is $25.
Nick Wildman from the Mass. Department of Environmental Restoration will speak on dam removals and river restoration in and around the Berkshires at the Taconic Chapter TU meeting at Zucco's Family Restaurant, this Thursday evening at 6 p.m. This is free and open to the public.
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