Several years ago, a college professor in Wisconsin started a program to teach outdoor skills to women. Professor Christine Thomas, of the University of Wisconsin – Stephens Point, called the program “Becoming An Outdoorswoman.” Since Thomas started the program 18 years ago, Becoming An Outdoorswoman (BOW) has grown in popularity and expanded into 38 states. In West Virginia, the Department of Natural Resources (DNR) has conducted the BOW program for 13 years.
Last weekend, the semi-annual BOW program was held at Watoga State Park. Sixty women from across the region arrived on Friday and stayed until Sunday to enjoy classes in the great outdoors.
Billie Shearer is the DNR coordinator for the BOW program. On Saturday morning, Shearer was preparing to lead a fly fishing class on the Greenbrier River.
“It’s a national program for women, trying to get women more involved in the outdoors,” she said. “I think guys make more tension on them and women like the environment with other women who have the same likes as they have.”
Shearer said BOW is a popular program in West Virginia.
“It seems like we’re getting more and more interest,” she said. “This time, we have a lot of new participants – even out-of-state people. We have people from Virginia and Maryland. We have 60 participants here and the instructors. That is really good for the fall because we usually don’t have that many in the fall.”
Ellissa Munsey, from War, was attending her sixth BOW.
“I love the outdoors,” she said. “My goal is to walk the Appalachian Trail and this is a good way to learn about things to do. I did beginning canoeing and that was very interesting. I’ve done the Dutch oven and overnight backpacking. I’ve got Intro to Backpacking tomorrow and I’ve done quite a variety. I like meeting new people and getting to learn some skills that I’ve never attempted or done. I don’t know why every woman doesn’t try it.”
Each BOW session, given in the spring and fall, includes four half-day training sessions, starting on Friday afternoon. Attendees at last weekend’s session had a list of 29 classes to choose from, including Beginning Fishing, Bow Hunting, Introduction to Camping and Shotgun I and II.
Michael Lynn, from Lexington, Virginia, talked about the variety of classes.
“It’s just a great way to learn new skills, meet a lot of women who enjoy being in the outdoors – and what’s not to like about coming to Watoga?” she said. “They offer a big variety. I sometime take the same class – I like to take fly fishing here – it’s a great class. I’ve taken canoeing, stream ecology, nature study – it’s a wide range. There are a lot of classes related to shooting and hunting skills. So, there’s something for everybody. You just have to come back, year after year, to get it all.”
Lynn said BOW provides a good learning environment for women.
“It’s a great way to learn, if you’ve been wanting to do something and you’ve been a little hesitant about trying it on your own,” she said. “It’s a real supportive environment. You can learn the basics, you can learn good safety, and you can meet other people who want to do what you want to do.”
Sharon Bundy, from Clarksburg, was enjoying her first BOW session.
“I did the archery – that was a first time for me, so I enjoyed that,” she said. “My husband shoots a bow, but I don’t shoot anything. So that was a nice class for me to take and it gave me the basics. If I could get me a little bow, I could probably shoot at targets, not an animal. I’m learning more and more about fly fishing, which I enjoy doing. I’ve pole-fished before, now I’m rod-fishing with a fly rod. I love being outside and meeting new people. It’s great – it’s a woman’s weekend.”
Bundy explained why she didn’t ask her husband to teach her outdoor skills.
“Well, that’s his thing, that’s his time,” she said. “What I’m going to learn is going to be on my time. If we want to do it together, then we can.”
Friday was Bundy’s first visit to Watoga State Park.
“It’s a very nice park,” she said. “I’ve only got to see what I can see going to the classes, but I plan to drive around a little bit before I leave. I might want to bring my family here for a visit.”
Alisha Goff, from Charleston, has attended spring and fall BOW sessions for seven years.
“We have everything from bird watching to shotgun, rifle, fishing, how to skin and gut your own deer,” she said. “My favorites are Dutch oven and fishing – I love fishing. We had a great stream ecology class. The mountain biking class is always fun – they’re all fun. There are lots of classes that are offered, and you only have four classes every weekend, so you have to come back. We’d like more people to come out and join us.”
Jill Fox, from Parkersburg, was another first-timer.
“I love it, it’s fantastic,” she said. “I’m learning a lot of new stuff. I’m a lot less afraid of things that I was afraid of – creepy crawly things. I’m becoming a little more ‘one with nature.’ It’s been a really neat experience. I caught a fish that I didn’t expect to catch. I took photography and I fell in love with taking pictures. I didn’t realize I’d have that much of an interest in it. Stream ecology was really awesome because I was actually picking up bugs, which I never thought I’d do. It was neat because we caught a lot of fish and got to see all the different types of fish and learn what’s out there. So, it’s a little less scary when you know what’s in the water.”
Fox plans to recruit her mother into BOW.
“I regret not trying to get my mom to come with me this year,” she said. “I think she would have loved it. It’s really for all ages. Women of every age can come and it’s just really phenomenal.”
BOW costs $150 per weekend, which includes lodging and dinner on Friday and Saturday night, four half-day training sessions and all equipment. If you bring a recruit, the cost is $125 for both the veteran and the rookie. For more information on the BOW program, call Bille Shearer at 304-558-2771 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.