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LENOX -- Butterflies, beavers, a bonfire and background natural sound supplied by crickets on the premises.

That's the menu for Mass Audubon's sixth annual midsummer Crickets Gala, a major fundraiser set for 6:30 this Saturday evening at the 1,300-acre Pleasant Valley Wildlife Sanctuary on West Mountain Road.

Overseeing the event, enhanced by four food trucks from area purveyors and live music, is Becky Cushing, the new Berkshire Sanctuaries director. Cushing, 30, succeeded Rene Laubach when he retired at the end of May after 29 years in the post. He is expected to appear at the gala.

The goal for the fundraiser is $25,000, including a silent auction with items such as Red Sox tickets, a stay at a New York City condo, and a guided trip on a skiff to see osprey off the South Shore community of Westport, home to Mass Audubon's Allens Pond Wildlife Sanctuary, led by Cushing, who used to work there.

Food trucks include How We Roll from Pittsfield, offering egg rolls, sliced duck breast and other specialities; Southwestern cuisine from Lakota Bar-B-Q of West Stockbridge; Ernie's Hot Dogs, long familiar from its Pittsfield locations, and Lenox-based Chocolate Springs, with its confections for sweet-tooth palates.

According to Kathy Lloyd, operator of How We Roll with her husband Gabe, the gala is not just an opportunity to showcase their food.


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"I've been going to Pleasant Valley since I was about 11," she stated. "It has always been a very special place for me and my family."

Cushing, a native of Saratoga Springs, N.Y., who now lives in Pittsfield, said she shared with Laubach an early attraction to nature and wildlife -- for her, it started when her grandparents hosted her at their Chatham summer home on Cape Cod. Cushing recalls canoeing, watching piping plovers from the beach and searching for snails and for horseshoe crabs, learning to distinguish males from females when she was 4 or 5.

"Being exposed to the outdoors, having curiosity about animals and plants, was really important getting me into this line of work," she explained, adding that the sanctuary's educational and public programs are among her top priorities for expansion.

As a teenager, Cushing was a counselor at Mass Audubon's Wellfleet sanctuary for two summers, worked at the Allens Pond site as a volunteer coordinator and helped to open the organization's new Great Neck Wildlife Sanctuary in Wareham.

"I was very ambitious in my 20s," she acknowledged, noting that her Great Neck experience "showed me how much I loved the project management side of things, and that I had a lot more to learn from the science side."

Having graduated from Middlebury College in environmental science and conservation biology, she returned to school, earning a master's in the field naturalist program at the University of Vermont so she could pump up her qualifications to run a sanctuary.

After graduating in 2011, Cushing worked for the Nature Conservancy in Vermont in land stewardship and volunteer coordination before learning by word of mouth about the Mass Audubon opening in the Berkshires.

After two months in her Pleasant Valley-based position, which includes responsibility for Canoe Meadows in Pittsfield and the Lime Kiln Wildlife Sanctuary in Sheffield, Cushing said she has been surprised to discover "how few people know we are here or know what Mass Audubon's mission is. There's so much potential to bring more people here and be out in the community more."

She intends to enhance existing partnerships with other area environmental groups by co-leading programs or sharing volunteers and interns.

"I'm interested in getting out into the community," said Cushing, "getting to know the people who already love this place and also finding new people who will love this place once they know about it."

Her longer-term goals include establishment of a visitors' center with interactive displays and exhibits, especially useful on rainy days.

Conservation and land-protection programs, advocacy work and the summer camp for children are "so compelling that I think if we can share that story and mission with more people, raising the profile, that will be a huge step in the right direction for fundraising efforts," said Cushing. "There's certainly room to grow."

Tickets for Saturday's Crickets Gala at $75, including food, wine and beer, can be purchased at the sanctuary on the evening of the event, or in advance by calling (413) 637-0320 or online: www.massaudubon.org/pleasantvalley. A $175 VIP ticket includes a donation to the sanctuary's special project for the year involving education and outreach.

To contact Clarence Fanto:

cfanto@yahoo.com

or (413) 637-2551.

On Twitter: @BE_cfanto