Gene Chague: State parks and forests have a new 'friend'


A new non-profit organization in the Berkshires aims to aid state parks and forests.

According to CEO and founder Ryan Aylesworth, the Western Massachusetts Public Lands Alliance was founded in July to use philanthropy, volunteerism, education, and advocacy to sustain and enhance the quality of outdoor recreation, public access, infrastructure, environmental education, historical preservation, and natural resource conservation within the state parks, forests, and wildlife management areas of western Massachusetts.

Its primary purpose is to serve as a regional-scale "friends group" for public lands managed by the Commonwealth in Berkshire, Franklin, Hampshire, and Hampden counties. Aylesworth believes our state lands are chronically under-funded, resulting in crumbling infrastructure, reduced public access, inferior recreational and educational opportunities, and inadequate resource management. WMPLA was founded to reverse this deeply troubling trend.

Before founding WMPLA, Ryan was the President & CEO of Audubon International, a 501(c)(3) not-for-profit organization that has been administering a wide range of rigorous environmental education and certification programs for over nearly 30 years. Prior to that, he worked for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service — first as a biologist in the Northeast, and later heading up the agency's governmental affairs program in the Midwest Region. These professional experiences, combined with a deep passion for the outdoors that began as a youth growing up in the mountains of northwestern Maine, have fostered Ryan's belief that effectively conserving and enhancing public lands requires regional-scale collaboration involving diverse programs, organizations and stakeholder groups.

In addition to the professional skills that Ryan brings to the table, WMPLA benefits from the leadership of a Board of Directors comprised of individuals with extensive professional experience in areas such as education, natural resource management, business, communications, and government. Members of WMPLA's leadership also have close ties to the people and communities of the Berkshires and Pioneer Valley. This is especially true of Jonathan Butler, president of the Berkshire Chamber of Commerce and former town administrator in Adams, who recently joined WMPLA's board of directors because he understands how substantially improving how public lands are managed will benefit the region's tourism-based economy.

Of interesting note, one of WMPLA's board members recently learned that the Lee Sportsmen's Association had roughly 100 pheasants die as a result of a predator (speculated to be a fisher cat) tunneling into its pen. These pheasants had been acquired from the Austerlitz Club. The LSA leadership told the WMPLA board member that they were distressed because this meant that the club was not going to have the number of birds needed to continue stocking various public lands open to hunting for the duration of the upland bird season.

In response to this news, WMPLA generously offered to make a $1,500 donation to purchase an additional 100 birds from the Austerlitz Club in N.Y., and provide the LSA what it needed to save the hunting season. As a result of this generosity, WMPLA is now well on its way to forming a valuable and lasting relationship with the LSA, which they plan to replicate with other clubs and outdoor recreational groups including hikers, anglers, campers, birders, Nordic skiers, snowshoers, bikers, etc., that use our state parks, forests and wildlife management areas.

They have an interesting web site ( where you can learn all about the organization, what it does, who serves on its board, what's on its priority list, etc. Incidentally, the October Mountain State Forest is on its priority list. Check them out.

The Onota Boat Livery is once again having its seasonal ice fishing contest. Entrants must sign up by Feb. 1, and the contest ends on March 15. Participants must be at least 18 years old and purchase at least $25 worth of store merchandise. They may fish anywhere in the Berkshires and all fish caught must be through the ice and brought to the Livery for measuring. Contestants must have previously entered the contest. In the event of a tie, the prize will be divided equally amongst winners.

The prizes include $50 Onota Boat Livery gift certificates for the largest pike, largemouth bass, smallmouth bass, trout, pickerel, perch and crappie caught. Atlantic salmon and tiger muskies have been discontinued from the contest. Log on to the Livery's web site at for a listing of the derby rules.

To prevent needless killing of nice fish, may I suggest that before going out, you check the Onota Boat Livery leader's board or call them (413-442-1724) to see what the leading fish are. Also bring a copy of the minimum weights which qualify for a State Sportfishing Award (page 22 of the Fish & Wildlife Guide). Bring along a scale, too. That way you know whether or not you caught a money/pin fish and if not, you can release it unharmed if you wish.

Incidentally, the Onota Boat Livery will be preparing a list of upcoming ice fishing derbies when the information is received from the derby organizers. I will list it as soon as completed.

The Berkshire Beagle Club, on Sleepy Hollow Road in Richmond, will be holding its Annual Rabbit Hunt next Saturday. Entrance fee is $10 per person and that includes a dinner. Weigh-in by 4 p.m. Contact John Demary if you wish to enter and/or donate some raffle prizes. Prizes go for the largest cottontail and snowshoe rabbit. No hunting is allowed on the Beagle Club grounds.

The Lee Sportsmen's Association (LSA) adult archery league starts on Thursday, Jan. 15, at 6 p.m. and runs for eight weeks. For additional information call Mary Smith at (413) 243-2710. The LSA's next pistol course will be held on Monday, January 12 and Monday, January 19 from 5:30-9:30 p.m. For additional information call Larry Karlquist at(413) 442-7807.

Contact Gene at 413-637-1818.


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