MDC summer workshop helps women discover nature

JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. – Some things are better when shared. The Missouri Department of Conservation’s (MDC) recent Discover Nature Women summer workshop showed that nature is one of those things.

With the program’s highest attendance ever, more than 130 women participated in the 2011 event held at Windermere Conference Center in Roach, Mo., June 3-5. Some attended to gain valuable outdoor experience, some to spend a weekend with friends and family and others to make a grandmother-mother-daughter getaway.

“Discover Nature Women (DNW) provides a safe and friendly environment where women experience hands-on outdoor skills training at the beginner level, taught by a team of longtime professionals,” said MDC Education Programs Supervisor Kevin Lohraff.

Courses include fishing, basic hunting, an introduction to firearms, archery, shotgun shooting, camping, canoeing, map and compass reading, fly tying and Dutch-oven cooking. DNW offers a two-year program that allows participants to complete four courses each year for a total of eight core courses. The weekend is targeted to women 18 years and older, along with young women age 14-17 when accompanied by a woman 18 years or older.

“Not everyone has a chance to learn these outdoor activities or someone who can teach them,” Lohraff said. “Discover Nature Women is about helping women do things they might not be able to do otherwise.”

A family affair

Many women attend DNW to learn and spend time with family. It was a tri-generational outing for Sandi Rice’s family. Rice, who lives in Pittsburg, Mo., attended with daughter Christy Jolly and granddaughter Jessica Jolly, who live in Kansas City. Rice had attended a previous MDC women’s event, but her daughter made the decision to come to DNW.

“I just thought, ‘What a great opportunity to do this together,’” said Christy.

Grandmother and mother were thrilled to share the experience with Jessica, who tied her first fly during the program and took it fishing at her grandmother’s nearby home that evening.

Elizabeth Gann of Waynesville, Mo., came with her sister, Shirley Beer, who lives in Pittsburg, Kan.

“We don’t get to see each other very often,” Gann said. “This is a great way for us to spend some time together and do something we don’t normally do.”

Gann said she initially thought the workshop would teach her some outdoor skills she could practice with her husband, who hunts and fishes.

“Then I thought, ‘No, this is about learning things for myself and spending time with my sister,’” Gann said.

Girls’ weekend outdoors

Friends Amy Huff of Fenton, and Stephanie Allstun of Ballwin, made the trip to learn outdoor skills from experts along with other women at similar skill levels.

“The instructors here are just so knowledgeable,” Allstun said. “They live it; they breathe it; they love it.”

“I wanted to be taught by someone with patience who was a good teacher,” Huff said. “They made me feel comfortable that I was learning it the right way.”

Huff said she looks forward to using her new archery skills with her 10-year-old daughter, Aubrey Stuart, who started learning archery at Meramec Heights Elementary School this past year. Her school participates in the Missouri National Archery in the Schools Program, which is coordinated by MDC. Stuart was the top fourth-grade girl at the Missouri state tournament. She placed 20th out of 188 fourth-grade girls at the National Archery in the Schools Program national tournament in Louisville, Ky.

Experience to last a lifetime

Lori Gale of Festus attended DNW with her friend Amanda Sloan. But for Gale the weekend was about more than just fun. Gale is a year away from finishing her degree in fisheries and wildlife management at Oregon State University, and she received an internship credit for attending the workshop. Ultimately she wants to work in a wildlife-related field, possibly as a conservation agent.

“It was nice coming here and talking to experts in the field,” Gale said.

While she has prior experience in outdoor activities, Gale said the workshop built on her own knowledge, solidifying some of her fishing and compass skills.

Always something to discover

“Discover Nature Women is just another way MDC makes Missouri a great place to hunt, fish and enjoy nature,” Lohraff said.

“Whether novices or experienced outdoorswomen, participants gained practical outdoor skills that will help them discover nature long after DNW’s conclusion,” said MDC Education Outreach Coordinator Amy Francka. “All weekend I heard nothing but positive comments from the women who attended the event. Most women were first-time attendees and already wanted to know when they could register for next year.”

For more information on MDC’s Discover Nature Women program, visit www.missouriconservation.org.