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A Weekend of Exploration

My experience of Becoming an Outdoors-Woman

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After getting familiar with the equipment, participants take aim at a floating gar in the bowfishing workshop. Photo by Eric Fowler

By Renae Blum

As part of the communications team at Nebraska Game and Parks, I have been aware of the Becoming an Outdoors-Woman Weekend Workshop for a long time, a three-day event featuring a variety of outdoors skills workshops for women. Each year I received e-mails encouraging employees to attend, but always resisted.

I’ll admit it: I am not an “outdoors woman.” My hobbies – reading, cooking fancy recipes, watching foreign films – are usually indoor ones. I also have trouble learning skills like dancing or knitting that involve physical coordination or mimicking an instructor’s movements. I could see a lot of potential for embarrassment in this.

The thing is, though, I wanted to spend more time outside. My job has convinced me that some of the best experiences in life can be found outdoors. So I checked out the workshop list. As it happened, there were four workshops that fit activities I’d already tried and wanted to learn more about (camping, kayaking) or wanted to learn (biking).

Being an introvert, I didn’t relish the idea of going alone, so I asked my good friend and roommate, Emily, to come with me. She’s not an “outdoors woman,” either, but loves taking walks around Holmes Lake. She’s also a steadying presence, easygoing and more impervious to potential embarrassment. If she went there was a good chance I’d have fun, even if I hated the workshops themselves.

She said yes.

After getting familiar with the equipment, participants take aim at a floating gar in the bowfishing workshop. Photo by Eric Fowler

Day One

Driving into Ponca State Park, the site of the 2019 event, was the first sign I was going to enjoy myself. The park is thickly forested, with tall trees curving above the road. It felt like an outdoors getaway.

Our first workshop was on kayaking. I had kayaked once before, briefly, and still remember hanging on every word of the safety instruction, and the helpless feeling when my kayak was shoved out into the water. Once I was out there, though, I found that it was fairly intuitive, and was eager to try it again. This time around, I got tips on technique and buying gear. Our instructors, Christy Christiansen and Julie Geiser, were excellent, sharing stories of their own experiences along with in-depth instruction.

We had about one-and-a-half hours on the lake. With more time to enjoy the experience, I found that kayaking lent itself to something I was already doing in my free time: meditation. Everything slowed down. I became more aware of what I was seeing, feeling and hearing. It was just – nice. And unlike the typical meditation session, I enjoyed every moment of it.

Later, before dinner and wine tasting, staff offered white bass, bluegill, pike, crappie, drum and smoked trout just off the grill. It was my first taste of freshly caught Nebraska fish. If you’ve never tried some, you’re missing out.

Volunteers demonstrated how to clean fish, and then cooked it for the women in the bowfishing workshop. Photo by Renae Blum

Day Two

Camping Hacks was our first session of the day, and I was hoping I could learn something my backpacking dad might not know. I did! For example, a mixture of candlewax and dryer lint in an egg carton makes great tinder. We also discussed ways to keep kids entertained during a camping trip and different food and water containers you can find around the house. It didn’t translate directly to the backpacking Dad and I have done, but it gave me insight into something different.

Due to high winds and flooding conditions, our next session, River Kayaking, was cancelled. Pushing back my disappointment, I joined the bowfishing group. I’d tried archery once before, and though I had terrible aim and bruised myself with a mighty thwack to the arm, I wasn’t opposed to trying it again. After wrangling with the equipment a little, I started enjoying myself. By the time we moved to aiming at a plastic gar in the river, I’d gained some technique and hit the target several times in a row. I found myself grinning, enjoying the adrenaline. Later, we relaxed by the shore, learning how to clean fish and nibbling on freshly cooked carp.

That evening, the participants gathered in the headquarters to judge desserts made that afternoon by women in the Dutch oven cooking workshop, a delicious way to finish the day.

Photo by Eric Fowler

Day 3

Our final workshop was Introduction to Biking. I hadn’t biked since early grade school, and to my surprise, it was harder for me than I expected. I struggled to get going, to stay upright. Tears sprang to my eyes. Instructor Jennifer Greer came to my rescue, taking me aside for one-on-one instruction so I could learn at my own pace. By the end of the session, I can’t say that I felt totally confident on the bike, but came away feeling that this was something I could conquer if I spent more time with it.

Looking back now, what stands out to me is that these workshops weren’t just meant to be fun, though they were. The primary goal seemed to be empowering women to create their own outdoor experiences when they got home, backed up with practical knowledge and hands-on experience.

Photo by Renae Blum

I’m not going to say that Becoming an Outdoors-Woman will transform you instantly into an “outdoors woman.” I’m still deciding if I’m going to give biking another go, and would need more help to get into bowfishing. But Emily and I have already decided: We’re renting kayaks and getting out on Holmes Lake this summer. I can’t wait.  

The 2020 Becoming an Outdoors-Woman workshop is Oct. 2-4 at Fort Robinson State Park. For more information on this program, visit OutdoorNebraska.org/bow.

Other Workshop Opportunities

The four workshops I selected, on camping, kayaking, bowfishing and biking, were just a few that were offered. A number of workshops had a hunting focus, such as Hunting with Handguns, Beginning Shotgun Shooting, Rifle Marksmanship/Muzzleloading, and Deer Processing. Those interested in fishing had several other opportunities as well, with workshops covering fish cleaning and cooking, fly-fishing and advanced fishing tactics. Rounding out the workshop list were sessions covering a variety of other outdoor interests: canning and preserving, birding and bird identification, photography, hiking and backpacking, reading the woods, and more. The selection of workshops differs from year to year; to learn what is offered this year, visit OutdoorNebraska.org/bow.

Volunteer instructor Doug Ellis of Allen teaches Liz Lancaster of Cody in the Beginning Shotgun Shooting workshop. Photo by Eric Fowler

History of BOW

By Julie Geiser

A program that is near and dear to me is the Becoming an Outdoors-Woman (BOW) program. I have been blessed to be a part of this program since it started in Nebraska 29 years ago and am proud of what the program has accomplished for thousands of women across the state.

The BOW program empowers women to pursue outdoor adventures by giving them the skills needed to do so. An annual workshop is held the first weekend in October, and BOW provides many other events throughout the year.

Nebraska was the second state to offer the BOW workshop. The program was developed in 1991 by Dr. Christine Thomas at the University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point College. Thomas’ research showed that women would rather learn outdoor skills in a non-competitive environment taught by other women.

Carl Wolfe teaches camping and outdoor skills at the 1992 BOW course held at the Nebraska National Forest at Halsey. Photo by Bob Grier

The program is designed to break down barriers, allowing women of different backgrounds and ages to enjoy outdoor activities in a non-intimidating, friendly environment. The annual three-day workshop is a weekend of hands-on experiences, new skills and new friends. Activities such as archery, fishing, shooting (shotgun, rifle and muzzleloading), big game hunting, turkey hunting, photography, Dutch oven cooking and camping are only part of the line-up of classes.

The workshop is held at Ponca State Park and Fort Robinson State Park on a rotating basis, which allows women to experience Nebraska’s state parks in two unique settings.
To provide women with the next steps for their outdoor pursuits, BOW has expanded with Beyond BOW. The Beyond program offers a series of “how-to” learning sessions that focus on outdoor skills and conservation knowledge.

These classes are offered throughout the year, and women can participate in the entire series of how-to classes. Those with more experience can hit the field to go on mentored hunts, fishing trips, camping or kayaking adventures, to name a few.

About renae blum

Renae works for the Nebraska Game and Parks Commission and has written for NEBRASKAland Magazine and the Lincoln Journal Star.