Trailblazing through the thick of it.

“Do not go where the path may lead, go instead where there is no path and leave a trail.”

Waldo Emerson might have reneged on his famous quote had he scrolled through these “before” pics of Pye Acres. It takes more than philosophy to be a trailblazer. The power saw is mightier than the pen. So, too, is elbow grease.

The most ambitious trail project on Pye Acres is now complete.  These “after” pics represent only a few waypoints on a new 3/4-of- a-kilometer trail loop that borders a marsh, a sunny cedar ridge and the northeastern property line.

Speaking of Waldo, a 15-year search for the original land survey spike has been akin to finding that of the same namesake. The proverbial haystack (log-stacks) buried the needle that we’ve been missing. In Waldo’s wisdom to a leave trail, we announced an amazing find — an iron bar that, over 100 years ago, was staked into the top corner of this 138 acre piece of earth. That inch-wide landmark motivated Pye family teamwork to punch out another clear path forward.

Trail tenacity conquered 5-acres that were toppled into a tangled mess, presumably in the wake of a microburst long before the property was ever Pye Acres. We now have a scenic route to a parcel of young forest potential (pines, maple, poplar, ash, birch and cedar) that was previously unnavigable by way of hunting boots or snow shoes, let alone an ATV.

The recent sound of the Stihl is music to wildlife’s ears. All critters value new trails which opens more travel corridors and adds to the choice of feeding and bedding zones. Cedar brush piles are fresh browse, and new clearings bring on regeneration. The grunt work to achieve this is called land stewardship.

Most importantly, trailblazing is perspective. Creating a footpath with the labour of a 4×4 and power saw, and the warmth of Carhartt wear and a coffee Thermos is spoiled modern outdoors work life. I put myself in the thick of the woods, and in the thick of a pandemic, to untangle the weight of little worries while I dig up the roots of early settlement. This land was cleared for pasture (not tiny trails) in the world war era of plagues and hardships. There couldn’t be a more humbling time to walk in the footsteps of the original trailblazers. They gave us confidence to set a new direction as we break trail on a bright future ahead.


When volunteers look upstream

An inspired outdoors day is thanks to a conservation volunteer who always looks upstream.

The quiet leadership and vision of the unselfish environmental achiever sees a meandering creek and a sleepy meadow as a place for otter slides and blue bird houses — not parking lots and plazas.

Throughout my conservation career I have worked with hundreds of volunteers – special people with outdoors dreams as big as their outdoors heart. Their down-to-earth approach to giving back inspires everyone in the organization to go the extra mile. Volunteer attention is persuaded merely by the enthusiastic expression of an idea or a vision and a plan that is executed on the humble call for help.

The volunteer vision is never blinded by disenchantment or neglect. They choose not to talk all day about the work that “someday, somebody needs to get done” – referring to those employed by tax dollars. Instead, leaders choose to get hands dirty, feet wet, back bent and everything else it takes to put in the sweat and tears in the act of ambition. A volunteer is a citizen caretaker for what others simply take for granted. Leaders make the time to purse their ideas and initiative to create dreams people never knew we could achieve. As the saying goes, “those who can do, do, and those who can do more, volunteer.”

Volunteer elbow grease and grunt work is commissioned at-most on the reward of Timbits and coffee or a post event beer.  As one of my conservation volunteers once joked, “it’s amazing how much I will work for a slice of pizza and a t-shirt.”

Predictably, annual attention on volunteer action is placed around the hand-off of the hardware that the grunt work behind conservation is eventually obliged to receive. From Atikokan to Arnprior, local conservation club trophy cases display the dusty old plaques, conservation cups and towering “volunteer of the year” monuments tooled together from a wooden base, bolts and doweling, topped with a plastic gold-coloured figurine. The awards have legendary names, endearing stories and some are even accessorised with antlers or a vintage beer stein. The infamous hardware comes out of the display case for club awards nights’ grip and grin photo ops, then gets engraved with the letters of names that will never be read by people out and about everyday in the outdoor legacy that volunteerism founded. The awards dinner attention is lovely, but the conservation volunteer worked their ass off for nature — not the trophy.

However, if volunteer awards were the mark of greatness, members of the Ontario Federation of Anglers and Hunters reached that status in every award presentation imaginable including the nation’s highest honour. In 1978, the Order of Canada was awarded to late OFAH President Jack O’Dette for his volunteer conservation service.

Over 40 years later, the volunteer proof is carried out over the shoulder of apprentice turkey hunters who just put their shotgun bead on a bird that many people said would be impossible to bring back to Ontario. The volunteer legacy is heard in the haunting bugle of Elk throughout some of Ontario’s most scenic highlands. Tens of thousands of volunteer hours are invested annually in the restoration of cold-water streams that send currents over species that could otherwise be gone without them. Meanwhile, on late nights and early mornings (even during holiday weekends and in the stress of a global pandemic) volunteers keep the pumps running and fish fed in community hatcheries that release millions of fish annually in hundreds of public lakes and rivers.

Protecting our natural resources from the spread of invasive species has been the work of government and OFAH partnerships for years – but that partnership success is ultimately delivered through the engagement of caring volunteers.  The OFAH is supported by cottagers, anglers, hunters, farmers, trappers, boaters, and campers who help deliver conservation education, monitor lakes, survey wildlife, report invasive species sightings, plant trees, clean up litter, build nesting boxes, contribute to research, and devote their lives to improving their local forests and wetland areas. They sit on the volunteer boards for various outdoor associations, and they also attend trails, land use and recreation committees while burning work and home life candles at both ends.

Full-time working volunteers juggle demanding careers, caregiving as well as all the special causes and committees that call their name. Student volunteers step up for experience and retirees get the volunteer work done while keeping themselves active.  Young or old, the volunteer satisfaction strikes the same chord.

The gift of mentorship

Just one look at the smiling faces of children who catch their first fish or fling their first arrow at local events, and people can understand how outdoor community volunteers make a difference for our future environmental leaders. For years, a two-minute-online-sell-out of 240 OFAH Get Outdoors camper spots (with subsidized camper registration fees backed by volunteer fundraising) was a result of good-hearted volunteers. Youth mentors went first to their fulltime employers to book their personal vacation days for volunteer time. They gave up paid work to work hard for free – on the shores of OFAH Get Outdoors Summer Leadership Camp. They invested their own gas money, brought their own boats and trailers, scrubbed dishes, hauled equipment, ran registration and camper rotations, and after they coached all day on the archery and rifle ranges and over various fishing spots, they ran evening hikes and led fish and wildlife talks. Most importantly, they gave young people the volunteer gift of mentorship, adult conversation, and attention.

Volunteers are undisputedly the most committed team members that OFAH and our conservation partners know. They are the unpaid, unsung heroes who take on the heavy lifting that membership dues, sponsorship fees, lottery funds and donor dollars could never afford. The OFAH exists on volunteer passion.

Volunteer motivation comes from many paths – a passion for the cause; a desire to give something back; a sense of belonging; and emotional self worth and the validation of a simple pat on the back.

It is fitting that National Volunteer Week, April 18 to 24, leads right into trout fishing time. For the volunteer who always looks upstream, this is the place to celebrate their personal pride in conservation. Their volunteer commitment shines on their face on banks of an outdoors oasis.

Here, the trout stream air sings to the tune of crisp clean cold waters trickling downstream. Over endless time, the creek lives calmly by the peaceful sound of its weaving waters washing through stick jams, picking up speed across the sandy flats and pebble stone bottoms, then gurgling into the auspicious pools and undercuts. And standing on the bank above, another perfect note blends in with the creek’s sweet harmony — the whisper of father and son bonding over a game plan for the perfect presentation to catch the attention of a speckled trout perhaps hiding there.

If you just mentally escaped to the trout stream, you have pride and respect that comes from the heart and your first-hand experience in the woods and on the water. You believe in doing your part to protect natural places.  Your volunteer spirit starts upstream. It is carried downstream to others who learn, by your caring example, why they need real life outdoor escapes, too.  

Keep up the great work.


I am the turkey hunter

I am the anticipation of a new tale – a tale of a fanned out feathered tail — the display of a wild birds’ boss bravado in the turkey woods. I am the back against an oak with a shotgun to the shoulder. I am the heart rate that red-lines when a gobble shocks the air. I am the hen talk behind the decoys, seducing a long beard as it struts its best spur forward into a courtship trap. I am the cluck, the yelp, the purr and the cut, slowly raising the barrel as a Tom reaches range. Boom! I am the adrenaline, the double arm pump, the successful hunter with a notched tag and a bird over the shoulder, walking back in the footsteps that came here in the dark before dawn. I am the chef presenting a bird on a platter with the play-by-play story that brings priceless value to this delicious family meal. I am the self reflection upon spring times before wild turkeys were brought back. I am the conservation connection, proudly reminding others that hunters help make outdoor dreams happen. I am a guide to the future, calmly mentoring while peering over an apprentice’s shoulder, feeling our hearts race as their first turkey lines up with a steady aim. Boom! Again, I am forever part of a treasured outdoors memory. I am the confidence that youthful fascination and commitment to nature are proudly moving forward. I am conservation.


Association growth is more than just optics

As written for CSAE Trillium’s Forum newsletter — February 14, 2020.


If you kept your eyes on CSAE Trillium’s recent Winter Summit, you would have caught the 2020 Vision theme. That double entendre is not lost on association leaders. We are serious about looking to the future with absolutely perfect vision, especially at the dawn of a new decade by the same namesake.

Reflection on three power packed Winter Summit days requires the same eye prescription. Look back closely. Dovetailed neatly into the dynamic schedule of networking, keynotes and breakout sessions were the concepts that will skyrocket association success in the years ahead. Email marketing, member value propositions, pricing strategies, social media and video engagement, corporate storytelling, positive work environments and empathy about mental health. 2020 Winter Summit covered it all.

Ten years of CSAE Trillium Winter Summit workshops on topics like branding, recruitment, retention, market segmentation, etc. set the backdrop for my first ever CSAE presentation. Titled Gone Paperless Membership (read that in the enthusiasm of Gone Fishing), I proudly expressed how modernizing the traditional membership experience in a 92-year-old conservation organization is now achieving what I previously thought was the impossible. Get ready for it. We are finally selling memberships to the 30 and 40-something crowd!

We’ve all heard big business marketers and data analysts refer to age demographics with a wide variety of catchy handles. Gen Xers are latchkey kids. Gen Y are Millennials or trophy kids. Personally speaking, I am a Gen Xer, and I prefer to identify as a Dukes of Hazard kid. Meanwhile, Gen X parents, the baby boomers, remain the breadwinners of many membership-based organizations including the Ontario Federation of Anglers and Hunters. Fail to crack the code on the Millennial mindset, then brace yourself for hits to your membership base. It’s just that simple.

In late 2017, my organization introduced Paperless Membership. In less than 30 months, we sold over 9,000 of these modernized memberships — ages range from 6-years-old to 90-years-old! Forty percent are in fact brand new members to our organization which is one of the best new member acquisition efforts we have experienced in years. New members are now in the proud company of thousands of long-time members and all enjoy the Federation experience delivered directly to their mobile devices or computer.

The average age of OFAH Paperless membership is 47, about two decades younger than the core membership base that we assumed would always insist on everything mailed and in hard copy. Not entirely so. Many fixed-income members are managing their emails and mobile apps just fine, and they need a price break too. OFAH Paperless options provide a 50 percent savings over traditional memberships at a time when more long-time members are pushing their Federation for a senior’s discount.

Popular membership advantages include outdoors insurance coverage and corporate member discounts but also tangible products like Ontario OUT of DOORS Magazine and membership cards. The biggest stack of paper and stamps comes from our renewal series and membership engagement campaigns. Going paperless immediately helped the OFAH decrease membership costs while improving membership retention, communications and overall engagement. I’m not trying to shamelessly promote the OFAH here, rather making the point that if we can modernize our basket of benefits and membership fees, your association can too!

Almost half of all OFAH Paperless memberships sign up for a long-term commitment like three-year memberships or online auto renewal. As a Gen Xer, I live by the set it and forget it approach. Renewal notices are a pain in the ass for everyone, and I’m glad organizations I care about have more dollars to put toward “the cause” thanks to impulse triggers for auto renewal and incentives for multi year membership commitments.

It’s an ironic contradiction when I confess the first thing the OFAH did to officially launch Paperless Membership – we went to the printer with a direct mail campaign! We have always stayed true to traditional marketing and it certainly helped present the concept of Paperless Membership to our traditional base. But nothing drives new generation member response better than email marketing and paid social media. Less is more. Success is in simplicity.

Modernizing membership experiences also means modernizing membership services. Never stop expanding your organization’s reach and relevancy; that includes keeping up with the changing ways that future members want to communicate with, and importantly, how they prefer to pay, your organization. PayPal, live chat, text messaging, online banking, e-transfers are standard expectations for the new audience your organization needs to attract.

The jump to digital put the OFAH in a position to reinvent itself, not just in terms of an attractive new price point but in terms of a bolder corporate statement and membership call to action. We are now presenting a straight forward membership pitch that puts the member value proposition on the organization’s significance, not the swag. Price point and millennial-focused marketing are the game changers. Technology was the enabler. Upon reflection, we were doing what many organizations may need to confess too – that is beating our head against a wall trying to sell a membership experience that a younger generation may never want, and if they did, they are not prepared to pay the price on the traditional membership menu.

Hindsight is 2020 and it’s just as valuable as the take home messages from the 2020 Vision theme of Winter Summit. Congratulations to all of the dedicated CSAE Trillium staff, volunteers and sponsors who had the vision for this outstanding event. The CSAE excitement was certainly clear to see.


The cold hard truth about ice fishing


A frozen lake warms the Canadian spirit. Brave the barren hard water flats and auger a hole. Refresh in wide open winter air and escape in the idle concentration of bottom bouncing a jig head and minnow in the depths below. That’s ice fishing. It doesn’t earn celebrity attention for the technical tinkering or athletic agility that other outdoor sports demand; yet there is accomplishment of the Olympic-degree, as in the personal challenge, and I suppose, the physical and mental stamina that Canadians take for granted in expressing their fascination for hard water angling. Ice fishing is a culture. It’s a community. It is a conservation connection.  Ice fishing makes us a student of winter landscapes and ecology. The understanding of lake depth contours, shoals and structure, the movement of bait fish and the elements of food chains. Anglers contemplate an under water world of aquatic life in lakes locked down tight with a winter hard top. Walking on water isn’t as humbling as perhaps walking in the footsteps of our frozen past.  Ice fishing makes us think about the harsh and lonely winters of early settlement. Fish pulled from icy waters fed hungry children but also gave Canadians, and their nation, character and strength. Today, the icy grip of winter can lead to isolation. In a society that is finally talking about the dangers of being on thin ice in a mental health sense, ice fishing inspires a much-needed social occasion. There’s comfort food and conversation being served in those ice shanties with hours of undivided attention on topics that go deeper than bait and hooks below.  Family fishing — on the rocks or in a boat — is real life promotion of the rural virtues of our past. It welcomes a new generation to trek across frozen lakes in pursuit of fish, in need of nature and in search of self.

O Captain, My Captain!

Ray Keery set the course for my life’s direction.

Such a defining statement is by no means a random choice of words. I have carried Ray Keery in my heart since I was 14 years old. There is no other influence more deserving of such profound credit. He is the kindest man I have ever known… also the humblest man I have ever known. That’s why I am always compelled to tell my Ray Keery story.

Some people will say that Ray Keery founded Skills Canada but I say that Ray Keery is Skills Canada. He exemplified Skills Canada’s core foundation of leadership. Skills Canada is now a national organization, and Ray Keery is a national treasure in the grassroots promotion of what this country needs the most – an education system that invests in skilled trades and student leadership experiences.

It has been 30 years since my time in shop classes but delivering this kind of big picture education message feels totally natural for me. Ray’s passion for vocational advocacy was contagious, and his Skills Canada team members always tried to channel his wise words and echo his heartfelt belief. Even during his celebration of life, Ray would appreciate that we are jumping up on his soapbox.

However, no one could ever communicate the importance of technical education, personal leadership development and school board and industry partnerships better than Ray Keery. His crusade to promote the Skills Canada and Vocational Industrial Clubs of America (VICA) model was like his very own oxygen. His energy was refueled everyday on his relentless passion for his students and education. When Ray Keery came to a meeting to speak about his ideas to give kids a chance in the skilled trades, people were in store for a visionary awaking. He did more than push for a program to support students and education, he lived it.

In the years between Grade 9 and Grade 13 (yes, I too, did a high school victory lap), there was no one that I spent more hours with than Ray Keery. We were inseparable because he never stopped opening new doors that took the ODCVI Skills Canada team places together – places like Ohio State Skills Olympics, Ohio State VICA Summer Camps, as well as US VICA Skills Competitions in Louisville, Kentucky. Meanwhile, closer to home, my high school travel schedule was like a professional job. Weekends, evenings and lunch hours spent preparing for competitions and awards nights, speaking at local schools and school boards, industry associations and local service clubs, travelling to Skills Canada provincial events and building team based obstacle courses and delivering leadership programs in Haliburton Forest Wildlife Reserve.

Many people do not know that Ray Keery was part of my life beyond the scope of Skills Canada. We ran the roads around Lake Simcoe together when he was involved in the bait fish industry. He brought me into his important friendship with Ohio State VICA Director, Jeff Merickel who also became a great friend and another important role model in my life. I was proudly there, along with some other ODCVI classmates, to surprise Ray during a special reception at his Masonic Lodge. Ray and I even shared the Orillia Opera House stage in a production of West Side Story. He played a powerfully convincing Officer Krupke!

Sharing some of my history with this incredible man underscores the obvious; Ray Keery went above and beyond the life changing role of a caring high school teacher.

Ray Keery passed away on August 11, and it was a privilege to present Robert Frost’s “The Road Not Taken” at his funeral service. My first discovery of this great poem came from Dead Poets Society. This epic 1989 Academy award-winning film, staring Robin Williams as Mr. Keating, is an inspiring Hollywood representation of a legendary teacher who wasn’t afraid to break the rules. Mr. Keating empowered students to deliver their barbaric “yulp;” to see the world from a different view; to find their true self; and to seize the day. While watching that movie, I thought, wow, Mr. Keating is one hell of a teacher… but he doesn’t have a thing on Mr. Keery.

I am sure that I speak for hundreds of students who walked the tech halls of high school, feeling like we had been given a purpose, and most importantly, a place to be who we were meant to be thanks to the Skills Canada vision. Welding, drafting, machine shop, auto shop, electrical and construction trades were the subjects that called our name, and Mr. Keery, ODCVI’s Head of Technical Education, called out to our leadership potential. We knew we were part of something great, and Mr. Keery brilliantly forged the path to opportunities that no other high school experiences could have ever delivered.

My career aspirations put conservation over carpentry but the mentorship of Ray Keery provided life’s most transferable skills. Because I admired how Ray always stayed true to his cause, he motivated me to pursue a cause-based career of my own. I was fascinated with his dedication to building programs from the ground up. It was a proud day when, a few years into my professional life, I was able to tell Ray about my enthusiasm for a new province-wide youth conservation and leadership program that I authored with the DNA of his Skills Canada dream. How fortuitous that the teambuilding obstacle course our high school Skills Canada team constructed in Haliburton Forest also served the first OFAH Get Outdoors Summer Leadership Camps.

This is not the first time I have expressed my admiration for Ray. On October 7, 1994, just a month or so into my first year of college, I poured my heart out to Ray in a three-page hand written letter. To be honest, I forgot I had done so. Ray kept that letter and it just was rediscovered and delivered back to me again. To quote my 19-year old self:

“Here’s to Ray Keery, my Grade 9 woodworking teacher, my Skills Canada advisor, my public speaking coach, my guidance counsellor, my mentor, my inspiration, my partner in crime, my best friend and my everything.”

Thank you, Ray.


Back Country lanes


Back country lanes

lead to nature’s acclaim

when lilacs deliver their show

They bloom in May and colour-up our day,

As the gardens start to grow.

Lilacs’ deep purple and soft violet tones

Line the lane that leads us to home…

To Pye Acres, and all the pastimes we dabble-in

The outdoor life we adore, started half a century or more

Thanks to our dear neighbour, Madeline.

Apple trees are in sight with their petals of white

Before they reveal the fruits of their yield.

In the summer ahead, apples turn red

And serve deer hunting adventures afield.

That pre-Confederation Barn

Braved years of weathers’ harm

But stands stoically in a late May fog.

It’s historical charm, from early days of farm is accented in apple blooms, lilacs and log.

Back country roads

Deliver life’s purest loads

of stories that come from our land.

Spring lilacs that bloom are gone too soon

Like the precious time we have in our hands.

The trail to my association roots

I can take you to the exact spot on the partridge hunting trail where my Dad told me about his membership in the Ontario Federation of Anglers and Hunters.

“You see this crest,” my Dad said pointing to the OFAH emblem sewn to his hunting jacket. “This is what protects hunting.”

I felt my Dad’s heart when he talked about his OFAH membership. My Dad called hunting and fishing his “birthright” and he told me that he proudly belonged to the OFAH because, “if anglers and hunters don’t stick together, we are going to lose it.”

That simple truth ignited my own passion for the OFAH. It also shaped my respect for anyone with the initiative to get involved in an association. Even as a young hunter, I understood the basic purpose of membership organizations. An association (or Federation) is a group of regular people, like my Dad, who pull together to take charge of their shared values and interests. I got it!

I joined the OFAH when I was 12. I was offered a professional position with this organization when I was 23 and have proudly been with the OFAH ever since.

These days I spend a lot of time wondering if membership has lost its meaning for the next generation ready to make a difference, but perhaps not ready to ever join an association. Do most people even consider why associations exist?

I reach back to 35-year old memories, including that day on the partridge hunting trail, to help retrace my earliest steps in awareness about the importance of associations.

Every summer my friends and I played baseball. Our families never paid for uniforms, equipment or sports registration fees because, behind the scenes, were my neighbours who belonged to our little village’s sports association. They made baseball participation possible thanks to their volunteer time and year-round fundraising. I was also actively involved in public speaking, travelling across the province and throughout the United States for prepared speech competitions. Every dollar of my travel costs was sponsored by volunteers of our local Lions Club, Rotary International and the Royal Canadian Legion. My first-year college tuition fees were subsidized with scholarships I received from more great community leaders and their respective associations. In many ways, I am the product of caring people who are the pillars of community service. Looking back, I guess I’ve known for years that volunteer-based associations drive civic achievements.

Bridging generations

Today, most membership associations are run almost entirely by the same generation of volunteers that have been working tirelessly since my childhood days at the ball diamond. That generation (baby boomers born between 1946 and 1964) urgently need new volunteers to fly the plane. However, associations are struggling with recruitment, particularly from my generation (Generation X born between 1965 and 1981) and the Millennials (Generation Y born between 1982 to 1995). The struggle is real and the reasons for it can be found in the great demographic divide.

I have a humble confession. Several years ago, I had to back out of a promise (a promise that I made to myself) to “someday” join a local service club. After being officially welcomed to the club, I admitted that the time and money involved in attending regular business meetings, committee meetings, and weekend club events, fundraisers and all of the other great opportunities “to give back” was not possible for this new Dad. My wife and I were balancing family life and our careers while managing a new mortgage, childcare costs and all the other pressures on the 30 and 40-something crowd.

According to association experts such as Sarah Sladek, author of “The End of Membership As we Know It,” my confession accurately reflects the realities of today’s middle-age interests, habits and expectations. This year, I joined fellow association managers in a Future of Membership workshop, hosted by Redstone Agency in Toronto, to learn more about Sarah’s insight into generational differences.

Beyond membership

Sons and daughters of Boomers are not considered “joiners” but they may be prepared to contribute on other levels for associations that see beyond membership. For instance, my family supports our local associations with event participation, donations and raffle ticket purchases. No, we don’t make time for membership meetings, but we enjoy being part of association’s online communities that keep us informed of when and how we can help. Through our personal family and friends on Facebook and email we have raised hundreds of dollars in pledges (aka “peer-to-peer” fundraising) as part of our involvement in campaigns like Movember, Relay for Life and the Kids Help Line’s Walk So Kids Can Talk. Personally addressed information and news we receive to recognize our donations to Ducks Unlimited Canada and the OFAH also motivate my family to give more to conservation.

The Ontario Federation of Anglers and Hunters is presenting new ways to get all ages involved in our organization. Some members belong to one or more clubs and others make a commitment to join and renew as individual OFAH members. The new $25 OFAH Paperless Membership has brought in thousands of new supporters from ages 8 to 82, and the average age is 47 (Generation X).

But there is more to the OFAH menu than just membership. Anyone who purchases OFAH branded merchandise, donates to OFAH programs through monthly giving, planned giving or buys our conservation lottery tickets is supporting the outdoors in ways just as meaningful as membership. The OFAH is also grateful to anyone who reads Ontario OUT of DOORS Magazine, watches Angler & Hunter TV, and engages in OFAH topics and discussion through our e-news and social media. These communications vehicles help people consider the outdoor opportunities that simply wouldn’t exist without OFAH supporters.

This spring, I was asked to give a presentation to Grade 9 science students about the role of the OFAH as a non-government and not-for-profit conservation association. I started my talk in the same way I started this article. I told them that the OFAH was about people like my Dad, just everyday citizens who join together because they care about our natural resources and outdoor traditions. The students clearly understood the definition of an association when I rhetorically asked, “what is stronger, the united voice of 78,000-members or a single cry of an individual?”

My presentation included an overview of a long list of environmental achievements that were spearheaded by OFAH volunteer passion. The reintroduction of native species like elk and wild turkey, and tens of thousands of hands-on volunteer hours (invested annually) in local stream restoration, tree planting as well as salmon, trout and walleye stocking. I stressed how the majority always benefit from the minority that take the initiative to create change.

The new hope

The OFAH presentation inspired my audience of cyber-agers (Generation Z born between 1996 and 2009), and hopefully they will be inspired to support associations that represent their way of life. Generation Z also includes my two boys who have inherited their grandpa’s fascination for spring mornings on the trout stream and autumn evenings in the duck blind. There are now three generations of Pye boys putting their support behind outdoor associations that stand up for family traditions and the environment.

I believe the future is bright for associations. Today’s generation is raised to think globally about a planet that needs urgent care, and now more than ever, young people are empowered to lead movements to influence change for social and environmental causes. Every high school student takes on 40-hours of community service work so there is a stronger base of understanding about local associations and the satisfaction of giving something back. In my opinion, Generation Z is the new association hope and they have the promise to become the largest and most accomplished revolution of volunteer leaders.

Regardless of age, no one can afford to be silent. Support for an association doesn’t start with a donation or a membership, it starts with a deeply personal commitment to choose action over apathy. Right now, it’s time for all generations to get back to their association roots. It’s time to return to the trail where down-to-earth advice to get involved is passed along, and where promises to give back will keep associations strong.

My son and my Dad talking about our family hunting traditions.

Together again


May 5 is a special day. It is the day when, 16-years ago, a litter of English Setters were born beside our bed.  First, Bert. Second, Bella. Although unforeseeable on that proud whelping day, Molly’s first two arrivals had immediately found their permanent home.

Bert deserved our title of pick of the litter. What an intelligent boy. Bert was a true standout in class, character and unmatched hunting skills. Bert was big, brown and handsome.

Bella deserved our title of Houdini. In the weeks of meeting families interested in eight available puppies, Bella pulled some great escapes and disappearing acts. Bella couldn’t be picked if Bella couldn’t be found. We suspect Bella’s Houdini stunts were in response to her astute premonition. She was already with her family.

On the homestretch of the 2003 OFAH Get Outdoors Summer Leadership Camps (a program that Cathy and I proudly created) we decided that we were going to keep Bella, Molly’s last unsold puppy.20190506_154750

Cathy and I embraced life as a three-dog family but our family wasn’t complete without our boys Charlie and Jackson. The boys’ childhood was shaped by wrapping their arms and hearts around Molly, Bert and Bella.

May 5, 2003 changed our lives forever. Molly, Bert and Bella gave us years of great memories. Together, these three family members were there as we pursued dreams for the future: an engagement ring, a wedding on a rock, a deed to 138 acres, two healthy and happy boys and a brand new home.

The Pye Acres blog is where we tell the Pye family story, and every chapter captures the love of our English Setters. Honoured here first was Bert, then Molly, and then Enzo. Today we honour Bella.

We said goodbye to Bella on April 19. She showed the world how living 16-years of the best outdoors and family life is really done. She hunted last fall with the passion of a pup, and she loved our family everyday with her heart of gold.  Bella’s early instincts were right. She was born to stay with the family that loved her from the very start.

Molly, Bert and Bella… together again.



We love you, Bella.



A Timberdoodle comes home

“No one would rather hunt woodcock in October than I, but since learning of the sky dance I find myself calling one or two birds enough. I must be sure that, come April, there be no dearth of dancers in the sunset sky.” — Aldo Leopold.


This beautifully hand-carved American woodcock is the work of our special friend Mike Reader. It’s been a year since the impeccable likeness of this spirited upland game bird came from Mike’s carving studio and was delivered to our home.  As woodcock return from migration, and at dusk the fields of Pye Acres become a stage for their sky dance, I wanted to share Mike’s carving talent as well as Aldo’s words of conservation wisdom.

Thank you again, Mike. You always promised the Pye Family one of your works of art. We absolutely love this carving.