Recently, a public forum was held at the Massachusetts Department of Conservation and Recreation (DCR) West Region Headquarters in Pittsfield. The purpose of the meeting was to discuss the Resource Management Planning process for the DCR Pittsfield-October Mountain State Forest Complex and hear the questions, concerns, and ideas about priority management issues related to recreation, stewardship of resources, and park facilities. The meeting room was packed with hunters, off-road vehicle enthusiasts, bicyclists and others.
Deer hunters took the opportunity to express their extreme displeasure with the way access to the Pittsfield State Forest is being denied to them. Access points from West Street, Brickyard Road, Brickhouse Mountain Road and Potter Mountain Road, which used to be open, are now being blocked with locked gates.
This forces deer hunters to park at the gates and hike over a mile to get to their hunting areas. As one hunter stated, the hunter’s average age is increasing and to force them to hike the extra miles is dangerous and not fair to them. The problem is compounded if they shoot a deer and then have to drag it all that distance back to the gate. If they should suffer a heart attack, there is no way that rescuers can quickly get to them because of the gate closures.
They have complained frequently and have held meetings with the DCR, State Representative Ben Downing, Pittsfield Councilmen, the Berkshire County League of Sportsmen and others. As a result of these meetings, the DCR agreed to open the gates during deer hunting season in order to allow access to the hunters.
The gates were left unlocked for a while but this past deer hunting season, they were locked again. The hunters complained again and were told to park outside the gates. When they did so, they were ticketed (not warned), in spite of the fact that there were no signs prohibiting parking there. When they parked along Brickyard Road in New York, they were ticketed there. One hunter claims that the gate to the Pittsfield State Forest is actually located in New York. He advocated for moving the gate farther off of the road and making a parking lot near it, away from the houses.
George (Gige) Darey, of Lenox, Massachusetts Fish & Wildlife Board Chairmen stated that the deer herd cannot be managed in an industrial state such as Massachusetts when large tracts of land cannot be accessed by deer hunters. “Too many deer result in their eating rare and endangered plants, damaging the forests, causing a rise of deer tick incidents, causing more traffic accidents and neighboring complaints”. He mentioned DCR-controlled lands in the eastern part of the State. “Look at the problems that you are having there”, he said. “Things are so bad that even the animal rights people are complaining”. He also mentioned the problems that they had in the Quabbin area and how it was necessary to open it up for deer hunting. “You should not close all of these parcels of land”, he said.
He also commented on the situation with October Mountain and the fact that if one wants to access it from Pittsfield, Lenox or Lee, one has to drive to Washington or Becket to get at it due to the roads being closed or poorly maintained.
Bob Mellace, DCR Western Regional Manager commented that in some of the gate situations, Environmental and State Police have requested that the gates be closed due to drinking parties and crime taking place in these forests. They keep getting calls and they cannot keep going there. The State Police have a big influence. He stated that it is not DCR’s intent to keep out hunters, but once you open up the gates, you open them up to everyone. You have a hunter access verses public safety issue going on.
Off road vehicle (ORV) owners and mountain bikers have access issues, too. They are also concerned that some of their trails are not being maintained or are being shut down. They questioned what is being done with the registration fees. DCR officials responded by saying that some of that money was spent locally on a Route 20 parking area and work being done along the Skyline Trail. They said that monies are coming but slowly and to be patient.
Some ORV users complained that they frequently see unregistered vehicles from Connecticut and New York riding the State Forest trails and questioned what is being done about it. DCR responded that they have a staffing problem. There is only one EPO for Region 1 and only 3 Rangers for the Western Region. They are cracking down on the bad guys but are spread thin. They did state that there were very few problems with the ORV people and that they slow down when they see hikers or hunters.
A draft RMP for the DCR properties in the Pittsfield-October Mountain Complex will be the subject of a subsequent public meeting to be held later in the RMP planning process.
The DCR will host trail planning workshops for Pittsfield SF and October Mountain SF this winter. The process will include: mapping and assessing conditions; identifying scenic, recreational and cultural destinations; identifying constraints, issues and problem areas; identifying desired experiences of trail user groups and coordinating with stakeholders and partners.
If you have comments regarding priority management issues related to recreation, stewardship or resources and park facilities, E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org. Put “Pittsfield RMP” in the subject line; or write the DCR, Office of Public Outreach, 251 Causeway Street, Suite 600, Boston, MA 02114 or call: 617-626-4974. Note: public comments submitted to DCR by email or letter will be posted on its website in their entirety. The public comment period ends on February 20.