I block several weekends out on my calendar every year as my time to refuel my energy cells, reconnect with nature, forge new friendships and, hopefully, inspire a new generation of outdoor women.
I am a fanatic for programs encouraging women to break out of their comfort zone and get outdoors. Fortunately, two such programs exist in Illinois, the Becoming an Outdoors-Woman program offered by the Department of Natural Resources and the National Wild Turkey Federation’s Women in the Outdoors program. Both programs provide instruction on a multitude of activities (see Side bar), and allow participants time to explore the basic skills necessary for full emersion into the activity.
BOW is presented annually as two adventure-packed weekend events—a northern Illinois event held in June at Lorado Taft Campus near Oregon and a September event at Pere Marquette State Park. Numerous one-day WITO events take place around the state throughout the year.
Who attends these programs? I’ve talked with women citing a desire to join their newly retired spouse on a deer hunt and newly engaged women wanting to improve their fishing skills. There have been multi-generational families of women looking for a weekend away where they can reconnect and learn, and school teachers interested in improving their knowledge about nature. And, according to Mitch Ingold, BOW coordinator for the Department of Natural Resources, there has been a recent upswing in the number of participants from single households.
“Women as the head of a single household want to become more involved in their children’s extra-curricular activities and knowledgeable about the types of recreation their children are interested in,” Ingold explained. “We’re also seeing an increase in the number of older women who view BOW as providing experiences with the types of activities their grandchildren are interested in pursuing.”
That perspective was reinforced by a participant who commented: “My daughter wants me to take her camping. As a single mother, I don’t have time or money to learn these (camping) skills individually; having so much information provided in a single weekend is perfect. I was nervous about this weekend, but it was a great experience. I will definitely register for other BOW events. Best time I've had in years.”
Key to these programs is the manner in which the information is delivered, with a focus on the instructors providing a supportive, safe, non-threatening and non-competitive learning environment.
"The program is tremendous,” one past participant commented on an evaluation. “Everybody is super friendly, and the instructors were all very passionate and helpful. I will definitely be back, and I am telling all my female friends about it.”
“It is our responsibility to introduce women to the outdoors and teach them about conservation,” said Cindy Spillman, once a ‘hunting widow’ whose interest in getting into the woods was piqued listening to hunting stories. Attending WITO events, she became more comfortable outdoors, and now enjoys the quality time she spends in the woods hunting with her husband. “I figured if you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em.”
Spillman's interest in outdoor recreation continued to grow, and she now serves as a Regional Director for the National Wild Turkey Federation, coordinates a number of WITO events each year, and enjoys taking her niece and nephews hunting.
“Women are an integral part of the education of our youth,” Spillman continued. “Many youth today spend the majority of their time indoors and are not aware of the opportunities available to them in the outdoors. It is important women and youth become involved in our efforts to conserve wildlife habitat and preserve our hunting heritage.”
Looking for a weekend to learn about yourself?
Interested in learning a new outdoor skill, or improving your skills in an area already of interest?
Want to spend quality time with a friend or women of the family?
Think your children or grandchildren might be impressed when you suggest your next outing involve fishing or camping or a home-cooked meal over the campfire?
Want to meet women who share your interests in natural resource activities?
If your answer to these questions is a resounding YES then check out the calendar of upcoming events and make plans to attend a BOW or WITO event.
It’s an enriching experience you won’t soon forget.
--Kathy Andrews is the Editor of OutdoorIllinois magazine for the Department of Natural Resources and can be found instructing classes in nature crafting, outdoor cooking, reading the woods and a host of other topics at Becoming an Outdoors-Woman and Women in the Outdoors events.
Examples of classes offered at past women’s events in Illinois:
Shooting Sports: Firearm Safety, Shotgunning I & II, Rifle Marksmanship, Handguns, Muzzleloaders, Archery I & II, Turkey or Deer Hunting, Pheasant Hunting
Fishing: Basic Fishing, Fly Fishing, Bass Fishing
Water Sports: Boating Safety, Canoeing I & II (river trip), Kayaking, Water Skiing, Discover Scuba Diving
Outdoor Skills: Basic Camping, Backpack Camping, Outdoor Cooking, Backpack Cooking, Orienteering I & II, Outdoor Survival, Wild Edibles, Medicinal Plants, Trailering, Birding, Hiking, Horseback Riding, Bicycling, Wilderness First Aid, Knot Tying, Mammal Trapping, Rapelling & Rock Climbing, Self Defense, Fitness in the Outdoors Arts
Nature Crafts: Nature Jewelry, Native American Pottery, Native American Finger-weaving Nature Photography, Nature Sketching
To learn more about upcoming events visit these sites:
Becoming an Outdoors-Woman
Sponsored by the Illinois Department of Natural Resources
Friday afternoon-Sunday noon with 4 classes lasting 3.5 hours each
Women in the Outdoors
Sponsored by the National Wild Turkey Federation
One day sessions with classes lasting approximately 75 minutes each