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Finding Home on the Range
The Washington Co. Chapter of the Izaak Walton League and NWTF share the importance of enjoying, conserving, and sustaining the outdoors.
by Beth Vollmer and photos Courtesy Washington County Chapter of the National Wild Turkey Federation (NWTF)
As the weather begins to break for the warmer, and dreams of sunny afternoons and temperate evenings start to become a reality, litanies of outdoor activities abound. While the scads of hiking and fishing spots in the area are certainly no secret, pairing those with the year-round chance to practice archery, trap, or target range shooting while learning about, and engaging in, conservation practices, is the perfect way to pick that New Year’s resolution back up. And we’ve got just the place for you.
The Washington County Chapter of the Izaak Walton League of America in Clear Spring was founded way back in 1922 by 54 devoted anglers for the purpose of conserving the outdoors for generations to come. One of 350 across the country, the Washington County Chapter is situated on an expansive 40 acres. The land is made use of with an indoor archery range, indoor rim fire range, outdoor archery range, a 50-yard firing, 100/200-yard rifle range, trap range, still target shotgun range, a pistol range, sporting clays course, and a fishing pond with frontage on the Conococheague Creek for hiking or fishing.
The chapter’s mission statement concerns the preservation of the woods, wildlife, and the waters. Hunters, fishermen, and sportsmen alike provide their support to conservation by purchasing licenses and hunting and fishing equipment through the Pittman-Robertson Act. The act allocates a portion of the taxes of these items to the secretary of the interior, who in turn allocates these proceeds to individual states’ fish and game department.
Beyond conservation efforts, outdoor ethics is also a very important facet of the chapter, and is why there are many programs offered that focus on the education and support of ethical behaviors, environmental protection, and the conservation of fish and wildlife for the future. The Washington County Chapter of the IWLA also supports the community by giving back through education programs about the outdoors, and offering supervised shooting activities for youngsters. For the young avid fisherman, the youth fishing derby on the first Saturday in May is always a big draw, and all free and open the public. For the derby, each child gets a theater ticket for a door prize, then the kids head to the pond to fish, and come back to the clubhouse for lunch and prizes. All the fish that are caught can be taken home with them.
The Washington County Chapter also supports the local Boy Scouts, Cub Scouts, and the Washington County Chapter of The National Wild Turkey Federation (NWTF ) by hosting its JAKES Day (Juniors Acquiring Knowledge, Ethics, and Sportsmanship). Most of the events are chapter sponsored and are open to the public, such as 3D archery shoots, sporting clay shoots, and trap and still target shoots. The chapter is also an avid supporter of the NWTF WITO (Women in the Outdoors), and hosts the Boy Scouts of America’s spring jamboree — and in the summer, The Fellowship of Christian Athletes has its summer camp at the facility.
However, the crown jewel of the Washington County chapter is the Wounded Warrior Day of Appreciation, held each year in May on Armed Forces Day, for veterans suffering with PTSD. It is open to the public. Chapter President Tom Forman says, “All in all, it is one of the most humbling and emotional experiences I’ve ever taken part in, and the one that we look forward to the most each year.” The goal of the day is to show appreciation for the service and sacrifice of each veteran, as well offer them the chance to relax and unwind. The day begins by greeting the veterans when they arrive, conducting a changing-of-the-colors ceremony, and giving them a specially- made IWLA shirt signifying the day and the event. Then the veterans are served a breakfast of pastries and fruit, followed by a lunch of hamburgers, hotdogs, pizza, and fried chicken. Afterward, they can disperse to the pond where they can fish, play horseshoes, sit by the campfire, play cards, or just sit and take in the scenery.
Brian Pikerowski, president of Washington County Longbeards Chapter of the National Wild Turkey Federation, is also a member of the Washington County Chapter of the IWLA, and utilizes its facility and grounds for events — and to keep his personal marksmanship on target. Here, the NWTF holds the afore-mentioned youth event, JAKES Day, in the spring. This junior membership event of the NWTF for those aged 6–16, grants registration for a $10 fee and includes a one-year NWTF membership. The adults supervising the child may attend for free and the NWTF encourages those supervising to consider joining to participate in future adult activities. All attendees receive door prizes with chances to win outdoor hunting and fishing gear.
This perfect-for-bonding experience includes archery, fishing, survival skills, turkey calling, marksmanship, wild animal identification, and the demonstration of K-9 recovery by the Maryland State Police. In addition to giveaways and raffles, there is also a drawing for five kids to go on a guided spring turkey hunt with several youths harvesting their first turkey as a result. Last year, two brothers were fortunate enough to get selected, and both bagged a turkey with their father.
The Women in the Outdoors Program (WITO) is held in June at the Washington County Chapter of the IWLA. This event is designed to familiarize visitors with outdoor activities such as marksmanship, archery, fly fishing, cooking over an open fire, turkey hunting, and more. There are also raffles for many outdoor-related items such as coolers, jackets, and firearms, and is exclusively for the adult women members.
Brian easily draws on memories of past WITO moments that left him proud to participate in the program — such as the year there was a steady downpour, but it did nothing to discourage everyone from participating, leaving him impressed with the dedication of all in attendance. He remembers seeing and feeling a sense of accomplishment from each person as they tried something new. Watching someone who had never shot a firearm before, be able to load, shoulder, fire, and hit the target safely is rewarding, he says. “The more knowledge and personal experience a person has, the more chance they may want to participate in hunting and shooting sports,” Brian adds. He also notes that by increasing or maintaining the amount of people in the woods, the more conservation efforts are likely be used to improve the landscape for future generations. These outreach events are gaining in popularity and were awarded best JAKES and WITO events in the state of Maryland for two years in a row at the NWTF Maryland State Awards banquet.
Obviously, Brian encourages participation in hunting and fishing and says, “They play a big role in homeostasis in the wild so it’s important to follow game laws that have been established by local and federal authorities. In other words, there needs to be a balance in nature.” He adds that it is unhealthy for certain species to have too many of any bird or animal, but on the other hand, harvesting too many birds and wildlife would be disastrous to the ecosystem. To that point, the NWTF was founded in 1973 with the mission of conservation, and what happens in future decades will be instrumental in not only enhancing wild turkey populations, but also in the continuation of hunting and having a quality wildlife habitat for many species.
Being part of America’s Colonial Forests, which is dedicated to preserving healthy hardwood forests, and wildlife survival in the winter while stopping the loss of an animal’s habitat, Maryland NWTF is leading a collaborative effort to solve these problems with the “Save the Habitat. Save the Hunt” initiative, in addition to utilizing contributions from its generous volunteer base. The NWTF has deemed six areas of the country “America’s Big Six of Wildlife Conservation,” focusing efforts on six impacted wildlife habitat needs.
By organizing various events targeting various demographics, The Washington County Chapter of the Izaak Walton League and The National Wild Turkey Federation hope to spread the gospel of the importance of conservation and sustainability to every corner of the county and beyond. And it’s good to know you can have fun in the process.