Gene Chague | Berkshire Woods and Waters: Quick reactions by local angler earns high praise from paddling community

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Recently, we received a letter from Tim Minkler of Stockbridge. Tim is a paddler and he and his small group of fellow paddlers recently experienced an event on Stockbridge Bowl. His letter follows:

"If you paddle a canoe, kayak, paddle board, surf ski, row a skull or swim in local lakes, I recommend every time you see a fisherman or fisherwoman in a motorized boat you say THANK YOU.

"When we are on the water, they are our guardian angels. I have been fishing, swimming, boating for over 70 years and never realized how important and how lucky we are to have "Fishermen on the same lakes when we are practicing our sports. My recent revelation took place on July 5 on Stockbridge Bowl at 7 a.m. when our usual early bird group of paddlers entered Stockbridge Bowl at the boat ramp.

"After about 20 minutes on the water and a long way from the boat ramp, one of our group lost most of his muscle strength, his left arm went numb and he fell out of his kayak. Luckily, Dave Benham, one of the top bass fisherman in the county, was nearby and saw the kayaker fall in. Dave knew this was not normal on a very flat lake.

"Dave drove over to the kayaker and asked if he was okay and quickly found out that he had some serious medical issues. Dave tried to get him into his bass boat, but because of his condition he was not successful, so Dave threw him a rope and pulled him to shore.

"Just about the time they got to shore two of our group appeared on the scene and helped situate the kayaker on Dave's bass boat for a quick trip to the boat ramp. Before they left for the boat ramp, they called 911. Upon arrival at the boat ramp the Lenox EMTs had just arrived and quickly transported the kayaker to the emergency room at Berkshire Medical Center.

"When I got home after this event took place, I thought what a great guy Dave Benham was for coming to our friend's rescue, but also realized, for the first time in my life, that 99% of all fishermen in motorized boats would probably have done the same thing. Most fisherman also have a cell phone, which many of us do not carry when we are on the water.

"So just two simple words when you see a fisherman or fisherwoman on the lake: THANK YOU, because you may be the next person who has a medical emergency and needs their help."

Well done Dave "DJ" Benham and thanks to Tim Minkler for giving us the heads up on this positive story. Incidentally, the stricken paddler has recovered and is doing well.

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I'm sure local sportsmen know DJ, for he is the owner of Dave's Sporting Goods Store in Pittsfield and he has won more than his fair share of bass fishing tournaments.

To handle circumstances such as this, the state of Massachusetts has certain boating regulations in effect. Most of the state equipment carriage requirements are similar to federal laws. Here are a few: Motorboats must have on-board life preservers, fire extinguishers, signaling devices (horn), visual distress signals, and navigation lights. Additionally, the state requires that all motorboats (with the exception of personal watercraft) be equipped with an anchor, manual bailer, and line (rope). A paddle or an oar is required on boats less than 16 feet in length.

Motorboats towing skiers must also be equipped with a boarding ladder. In Massachusetts, life preservers are required to be worn by youth less than 12 years of age, personal watercraft users, waterskiers and canoeists/kayakers from Sept. 15 through May 15. A boat owner or a boat's operator is responsible to ensure that passengers on-board wear life preservers as required.

The Great American Outdoors Act is now the law

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The historic and bipartisan Great American Outdoors Act (GAOA) became law after being signed on August 4 by President Trump.

American Sportfishing Association (ASA) President Glenn Hughes attended a ceremony at the U.S. Department of the Interior headquarters, hosted by Secretary of the Interior David Bernhard, celebrating the bill's enactment.

"The sportfishing industry sincerely thanks President Trump and Secretary of the Interior David Bernhardt for championing this critically important effort for conservation and outdoor recreation," said Hughes. "Without their leadership, the GAOA which will benefit the nation's public lands for generations, could not have become law."

The Baker-Polito administration also applauded the passage of the bipartisan legislation which ensures permanent full funding for the Land and Water Conservation Fund (LWCF) Grant Program and addresses deferred maintenance in national parks across the country including the state's Cape Cod National Seashore, Minuteman National Historical Park, Lowell National Historical Park and Boston National Historical Park.

"Massachusetts has incredible natural resources and open space throughout the state, and our Administration is committed to continuing to invest in our parks," said Gov. Charlie Baker. "We're grateful to the Massachusetts' congressional delegation for its support in passing this historic legislation that will help ensure the Commonwealth's national, state and local parks maintain their environmental and recreational benefits."

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"This legislation ensures funding for the LWCF is stable and secure in perpetuity, ensuring local parks in Massachusetts can make important improvements," said Lt. Gov. Karyn Polito. "Parks and historical sites across the Commonwealth will receive significant funding and critical maintenance as a result of this legislation, and we applaud the Massachusetts congressional delegation for its work to conserve these precious natural resources for generations to come."

The GAOA permanently funds the LWCF at $900 million per year to secure public access, improve recreational opportunities, and preserve ecosystem benefits for local communities. The legislation will also appropriate $1.9 billion per year for five years in non-taxpayer money for deferred maintenance at properties managed by the National Park Service, United States Forest Service, the Fish and Wildlife Service, the Bureau of Land Management, and the Bureau of Indian Education.

"Massachusetts is home to an abundance of national parks and historical sites and beautiful state and local parks close to home that offer unique recreational opportunities, critical habitats that support our biodiversity, and important landmarks for our country," said MA Energy and Environmental Affairs Secretary Kathleen Theoharides. "The GAOA will help ensure that the Commonwealth's natural resources are preserved for the continued enjoyment of the public."

Massachusetts is home to 15 official National Park Service sites that welcome over 10 million visitors annually. Locally, it is estimated that Massachusetts has a backlog of approximately $244 million in deferred maintenance at National Parks properties across the state.

Aimed at supporting and preserving conservation programs, the LWCF continues its mission to protect parks and public lands, sustain working landscapes and rural economies, and increase access for recreation for all Americans. The legislation ensures non-taxpayer funds collected annually from offshore energy receipts to be spent only and fully on their intended purpose — the improvement of access to public lands.

LWCF funds can be used for designing, acquiring, and developing outdoor recreation facilities, and the commonwealth will be looking at ways to use these funds to address climate change, promote equity, and improve the health of community residents. Since being authorized by Congress in 1964 the LWCF has funded 523 projects in the commonwealth from the Appalachian Trail to the Cape Cod National Seashore and many projects in between including parks and recreational infrastructure totaling almost $117 million. In Massachusetts, the EEA administers LWCF grants on behalf of the National Park Service and offers these funds through a competitive grant program to municipalities with an up-to-date Open Space and Recreation Plan, as well as to the Departments of Conservation and Recreation and Fish and Game.

The Baker-Polito Administration has made investing in parks and open spaces a priority, and recently announced $4 million in MassTrails Grants to 55 local trail projects throughout the commonwealth. The grant program, created by the administration, supports the state's vast network of trails with projects dedicated to the construction, maintenance, and improvements for a variety of public trails, including hiking trails, bikeways, and shared-use paths.

Gene Chague can be reached at or 413-637-1818.


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