Great Article Featuring Loudoun IWLA

As posted in the AshburnPatch

The modern realities of urban and suburban life – lots of people, little open space, and all those community rules – often leave sportsmen gearing up for activities struggling with one question: where?

Where can I site-in my firearm? Where can I practice archery? Where can I learn new tips and techniques from fellow outdoor enthusiasts? Where can I take my kid to learn about the outdoors and do all of things I did while growing up?

For residents of Ashburn, the Loudoun Chapter of the Izaak Walton League of America (LCC-IWLA) provides an oasis for outdoorsmen to take part in such activities. The LCC-IWLA also serves as a gathering place for people dedicated to conservation and the preservation of a way of life that supports the safe and ethical use of all that the great outdoors provide.

The League’s “legacy is wrapped around liberty and conservation, and that they’re tied together in a very unique way,” said LCC-IWLA President John McWilliams, during a recent visit at the chapter grounds. “This country was founded on some basic principles, with liberty being the one everybody maps to, psychologically. Part of liberty is the ability of people to get out there and do the things they want to do, and conserving and enjoying the outdoors is an important part of that idea.”

Founded in 1922 in Chicago, the Izaak Walton League draws its name from the 17th century author and fisherman who famously penned The Compleat Angler, a collection of stories celebrating fishing in his native England. Originally started as an organization dedicated to preserving local fishing streams, the IWLA was one of America’s first conservation organizations, and has grown into a nationwide organization focusing on preserving outdoor America for future generations.

The IWLA sponsors programs such as the national “Save Our Streams” education and outreach program dedicated to preserving watersheds, and advocates for laws and regulations that protect the environment and support the economy.

Carrying on this tradition, the local 501(c)(3) nonprofit chapter was chartered in 1951 as “defenders of Loudoun’s soil, air, woods, waters and wildlife.” The chapter’s original property was located at the present day Olde Izaak Walton Park, which in a sad twist of modern suburban-sprawl fate, is now wedged between the Bloom grocery store on King Street and the Route 7/15 Leesburg Bypass.

In 1965, the LCC-IWLA moved to its present day location just 6 miles south of Leesburg on 84 sprawling acres. The current property provides its members a veritable outdoorsman’s paradise with ranges for rifle, pistol, skeet and archery, as well as campgrounds, picnic pavilions, and a fully stocked fishing pond.

The LCC-IWLA maintains the property in ways that are true to its conservation ideals. The chapter’s skeet range is run in complete compliance with EPA regulations for lead management, and became the first EPA certified range in Virginia. The chapter has undertaken efforts to restore native plant species on the property, and has stocked the pond with approximately twenty species of native fish.

“It’s important for us to provide more training on proper conservation, by focusing on bringing back native species, not just on our property, but in surrounding areas as well,” McWilliams said.

But even the current property is not immune from the never-ending encroachment of suburbia. Several large houses border the chapter grounds, including one that sits almost on top of the rifle range. The close proximity of such neighbors makes the LCC-IWLA’s commitment to safety all the more important. For example, the chapter spent $200,000 to make the range, arguably, the safest in the state. Such a commitment to safety and open communication with neighbors has helped the chapter develop some unlikely supporters.

“We’ve had several adjoining properties change ownership the last few years, and [the new owners] have all become members,” McWilliams said. “I think they appreciate what we’re doing here.”

Perhaps most important to the mission and goals of the LCC-IWLA are the chapter’s education and outreach programs. With a heavy emphasis on youth education, the chapter sponsors many programs that are open to members and nonmembers alike, such as the National Rifle Association’s Youth Hunter Education Challenge. The course, which is free of charge and open to all 10- to 18-year olds, provides training in the use of various firearms, archery, wildlife identification, hunter safety, ethics, and map and compass orienteering.

The chapter sponsors the Scholastic Clay Target Program for youth interested in skeet shooting, as well as a conservation scholarship program for the children and grandchildren of chapter members. The LCC-IWLA grounds are often made available to organizations such as the Boy Scouts of America and local 4-H clubs for events and training.

These programs, in addition to the bucolic chapter grounds and the long-standing traditions of hunting and fishing in Loudoun County, have helped the LCC-IWLA become the second-largest IWLA chapter in the United States with approximately 1,000 members. Annual memberships for adults cost $135 per year, with discounted rates available for families, youth, students and seniors. Members are required to contribute nine hours of direct service to the LCC-IWLA, usually involving the maintenance and upkeep of the chapter grounds, or pay an additional workday fee.

“We’ve seen an increase in membership the last few years, partly due to the economic downturn,” McWilliams said. “It’s a pretty good deal for members to be able to come out here with their friends and family and enjoy the property.”

“Seeing children identify trees, birds, and other wildlife, and watching them appreciate that connection to the environment by understanding what different animals eat and where they live can have a profound impact on their development … If we have any legacy ourselves it will have been our ability to preserve and continue these things for future generations.”

To learn more about the LCC-IWLA, including how to join and additional information about its conservation and education programs available to the public, please visit its Web site.

To learn more about the national IWLA, please visit that Web site.

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