BY DOYLE DIETZ
On her 1980 album “Roses In the Snow,” Emmylou Harris told us that the “Darkest Hour Is Just Before Dawn.”
For the men, women and youth of Schuylkill County who collectively identify themselves as sportsmen, their hope is 2021 brings the light of a new dawn. Certainly, 2020 has been the darkest hour so far as enjoying outdoors activities ranging from a variety of fund-raising and educational events — the biggest of those to take a hit were the Schuylkill County Sportsmen’s Association Youth Field Day and the Schuylkill Conservation District’s Bear Creek Festival — to club picnics and shoots.
Like the rest of the conscious factions in our society, guidelines were followed when scientific evidence was presented for putting personal freedoms on hold. When the “Odd Couple” in Harrisburg issued some regulations that seemed at best to be unfair — especially to small businesses, including shops and restaurants — and at worst ruthless, many sportsmen opted to quietly enjoy activities without fanfare or publicity.
Clearly, Pennsylvania is not a one-size-fits-all state, and some regulations that may be necessary in a metropolis such as Philadelphia should not be forced on locals such as those in Schuylkill County. And to see just how different the two are look no further than the voting support in November’s presidential election.
When one thinks about it, club members getting together for private 3-D and trap shoots — or even weekly gatherings for cigars and drinks — is in the DNA. After all, for years the Molly Maguires held meetings and conducted activities under the noses of authorities in Schuylkill County without having to deal with the arbitrary-selected number of 25 people per gathering, so holding 3-D shoots pales in comparison.
Where the real challenge came in was working within guidelines of the state regulations to hold public outdoors events for sportsmen. And despite the challenges, including some last-minute regulations that forced two postponements, far and away the biggest attraction was the year-long Bruce “I Go Fishing’’ Schneck Memorial Fishing Tournament at Sweet Arrow Lake, Pine Grove.
This replaced the former Family Fun Fishing Event and the response was outstanding as anglers turned out knowing there was the opportunity to win cash and other prizes by catching tagged fish. Mostly, it was a way for people to enjoy the outdoors by pursuing an activity that had increased participation this year according to Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Commission statistics for license sales.
“Bruce’s compassion for teaching youth was second to none, as he realized they were the key to the future of outdoor recreation,” event coordinator Craig Morgan said. “He and fellow Trout Unlimited members always assisted with registration at the Family Fun Fishing Event, and for many years provided prizes for the kids.”
There is no question that Blue Ridge Rifles Muzzleloader Club, based in Summit Station, got the biggest bang (pun intended) out of being able to circumvent the on-again, off-again, ever-changing guidelines. A member club of the Pennsylvania Federation of Blackpowder Shooters, each Memorial Day Weekend since 1976 Blue Ridge holds one of Pennsylvania’s largest muzzleloader shoots.
In addition to attracting competitors from Pennsylvania, there are regular attendees from Maryland, New Jersey and New York — which brings thousands of tourist dollars to the area. This year, however, the event was moved to Fourth of July Weekend, when restrictions were eased from those in place during Memorial Day.
With its 22-acre club grounds comprised of woods, open fields and a range, Blue Ridge had no problem providing more socially distanced camp sites than there were campers. To assure social distancing for shooters, they were spaced out by leaving every other backer board vacant on the target frames along the firing line.
Finishing the year was the Schuylkill Conservation District’s 65th anniversary celebration with festivities at Sweet Arrow Lake County Park. Founded in 1955 by Dr. James S. Shadle, the district has evolved from having an emphasis on soil conservation to one of all natural resource conservation efforts, and among its efforts today are erosion and sediment control, watershed protection, abandoned mine land remediation, environmental education and farmland conservation planning.
For one day, people could put aside the challenges brought on by the darkness that was 2020.
Dietz is parliamentarian of the Pennsylvania Outdoor Writers Association. Contact the writer: email@example.com