In case you haven't noticed, it has become more and more difficult for hunters and other users to gain access into our local state forests.
Our aging population of deer hunters who in prior years were able to drive up into the mountains and state forests are being shut out from them and are forced to hike great distances to hunt. Roads are being gated with no parking allowed near them and some of the roads are in serious states of disrepair. The exclusion of hunters is counterproductive to Massachusetts Fisheries & Wildlife's efforts to properly manage the deer herd.
After several years of prodding by Fisheries & Wildlife Board Chairman George "Gige" Darey and Berkshire County League of Sportsmen President Mark Jester, Department of Conservation and Recreation (DCR) Deputy Commissioner Matt Sisk visited the Berkshires to see first-hand what the problems were and whether they could be rectified.
At the September Fisheries & Wildlife Board meeting in Tyringham, Sisk reported the following changes.
At Beartown Mountain: At the main road that goes through the park, DCR will install four gates. They will leave the main gates open in the north and south ends of the park until Jan. 1, harsh winter weather permitting. Four gates to dirt side roads will be strategically placed around the two roads that join Benedict Pond Road. These areas are where you can park. DCR is also trying to get a place to park other than along the main road. The gates will be up and running for this year's deer hunting season. The south end of the park has the most treacherous road due to the hills and road conditions and DCR is going to put an additional gate there. In the event of serious weather, DCR will close the gate to the southern access but leave the north gate open.
At October Mountain: Schermerhorn Road, which accesses the mountain from behind Woods Pond, has long been closed due to its condition so DCR will do two things: Patch the road well enough so that the gate can be open for this fall. It still will not be in great shape. The second, long-term project is to get enough money to actually redo the road.
At Pittsfield State Forest: The West Street gate still remains a problem and there are some historical and neighborhood issues there. This upcoming season, the gate will continue to be where it is and closed. Opening that gate and placing another gate further up may cause heavy illegal use that would put a strain on police forces. There is also a question as to who owns the road — Pittsfield, Hancock or the Commonwealth of Massachusetts? Depending on how much they own there, DCR is looking to expand the road, improve the culvert for drainage and possibly add some more room for parking that won't restrict the gate. Parking is prohibited in front of the gate because the rangers, EPOs and state police need to access it during emergencies. They hope to expand the shoulders and possibly get a few cars in there.
Ten yards up from the gate on Brickyard Road (which goes into New York and back into Massachusetts), there was grass up to one's waist. This gate has traditionally been open but access to the parking lot was terrible because there was no defined area. The grass has since been mowed opening up a wide area which has been laid down with gravel. This access point is better and more vehicles are now able to get in there in a safer way. DCR will leave that gate open as long as possible. They will leave the entire loop and main gates open and ask hunters to park on the left-hand side of the road, leaving the snowmobile trail open.
At Mount Greylock: The gate in Lanesborough will be opened up as far as Jones Nose during deer hunting season. Regarding the other gate off Route 2 to Jones Nose, it was determined that it is too steep and there is no good place to put another gate.
DCR is not going to close the parks during hunting season but they do want to give people a greater sense of awareness. There will be some signage at all the main gates informing people that the roads during snowfall are treacherous. It is hoped that the signs will increase awareness to non-hunters that DCR will not maintain these roads as well as they do during peak season, and that four-wheel drive vehicles are needed.
There is no policy as to when to close the roads due to the depth of snow. DCR feels that the additional signs will warn people about the roads and by doing so will enable them to keep the gates open longer.
Both Darey's and Jester's efforts have paid off and they are very thankful for Sisk's assistance. Although not perfect, the situation is better than it was. They urge users "not to be stupid when you are up in these places. DCR Deputy Commissioner Sisk really stuck his neck out for the sportsmen."
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The Onota Fishing Club will be having its annual game dinner on Sunday, Dec. 6, at the ITAM Lodge in Pittsfield. The menu is roast venison, bear, turkey, rabbit, fresh and salt water fish, homemade sausages, chowder and chili. Appetizers will start at 1 p.m. and dinner at 2 p.m. Partial proceeds from this year's dinner will be donated to The Eagle Santa Toy Fund. Tickets are $25 each and are available at PortSmitt's Lakeway Restaurant or by contacting Ray Westerman at 413-464-1853. If anyone is interested in donating venison or bear meat in exchange for dinner tickets, contact Chris Porter at 413-496-0105.