Becoming an Outdoors Woman
A Retreat for Experience and Empowerment

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For roughly the past 15 years, Eagle Bluff Environmental Learning Center, near Lanesboro, has partnered with the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources to present a weekend of helping women feel comfortable doing “typical” male outdoor activities like hunting and fishing. The workshop provides a safe space for women to learn and enjoy these activities.

This fall, the Being an Outdoors Woman (BOW) workshop will run from September 9-11. Participants will check in Friday and have dinner, a welcome session and a campfire. This gives them a chance to “mix, mingle, hang out and eat good food,” according to Colleen Foehrenbacher, Eagle Bluff’s executive director. Then there are six 3-hour classes offered throughout the weekend, spanning three main categories: basic firearms and fishing, nature appreciation, and adventure.

Foehrenbacher says that the program helps introduce women to different outdoor activities that require skills, equipment and knowledge that you get from an expert. “If we give people these intro classes, then they feel empowered to go and do it on their own,” she says.

Safe and supportive learning

The workshop started as a result of a conference titled “Breaking Down Barriers,” which was hosted in 1990 by University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point professor, Dr. Christine Thomas. Thomas wondered why women made up such a small percentage of those who hunt and fish. She found over 20 barriers, including simply not knowing how to do these activities. So she set out to create a program where women could learn the skills in a safe and supportive environment. Her efforts have now grown into a program that is offered in 37 states and 6 Canadian provinces.

The first BOW weekend in Minnesota was in 1995, at the Gunflint Lodge, close to the Canadian border. BOW is offered twice a year, and the retreats are offered at many locations throughout the state.

Minnesota’s current BOW coordinator, Linda Bylander, took over in 2004 and grew the program to 60 workshops a year. “Women love the passion behind the instructors—all volunteers—who just really want the women to learn these skills,” she says. “It’s the best way of learning a new skill without having to have equipment, knowledge or fear. The instructors
are so sincere. It’s a safe, supportive, non-intimidating atmosphere.”

Building confidence and friendships

Participants come out of the program having not only learned or honed new skills, but they feel empowered with an improved sense of confidence. “It’s like a springboard,” says Foehrenbacher. “Participants are empowered to try things on their own afterwards.” She has helped coordinate the programs and has also participated. She continues to meet up with friends she’s made through the programs to hunt and fish.

Bylander agrees. “You get to meet many other women who have the same interests,” she notes. “Women want to do these sports but might not have friends who also would enjoy them. We have a ton of friendships that form because of these events. And someone who comes alone always feels like they’re connected.”

See you in September?

Courses offered at BOW include basic firearms and fishing, hiking, archery, high ropes and canoeing. Special at the September workshop are three presenters. Sara Holger, Minnesota Master Naturalist instructor from Whitewater State Park will discuss forest bathing. Simone Schara will present on pheasant hunting. And Linda Radimecky, Area Interpretive Naturalist at Afton State Park, will teach a fly fishing class

The registration cost covers lodging for two nights, all meals, all instruction, all equipment, and not to mention, “You’re surrounded by people with similar interests,” encourages Bylander.

“For many women who have done these and other programs, they say it is life-changing,” adds Foehrenbacher. “It is really cool!”

Registration is open on the Eagle Bluff site (eaglebluffmn.org).

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