Becoming an Outdoors-Woman (BOW)

My BOW Story

A little over three years ago I became the park naturalist at Lake Guntersville State Park in Alabama.  This job allowed me to teach my passion for natural resources to all ages and group sizes through guided hikes, school programs and field trips, community outreach, and large scale events like the long running Eagle Awareness weekends.  It was truly a dream job, and it led me to meeting many amazing people and opportunities.  It was this position that led me to BOW.  When I was invited to be an instructor at Alabama BOW, I was familiar enough with the program to be honored and excited about the prospect of teaching there.  However, I never could have predicted the impact that teaching the Backpacking and Hiking 101 class would have on my life and career.

Park naturalist moments, 2015-2017

My first session teaching at BOW I was nervous, and I knew I had two full classes of students depending on me to give them a good introduction to hiking and backpacking.  This task alone was overwhelming considering how extensive these subjects can be, but I faced the challenge head on and gathered every piece of gear I could find to incorporate into my course.  I had handouts, a PowerPoint, and lots of ideas about how everything would go.  I didn’t use most of them, including the PowerPoint, and by my second class I almost completely changed my course outline.  I started focusing on having the students learn through experiential education like starting campfires and setting up tents.  I followed feedback from each class, and continued to tweak and improve any aspect I could.  After six classes I feel I have a system down that works well for most students, but I will always attempt to make improvements to involve more learning styles and new hiking and backpacking techniques.  Each fall and spring I look forward to BOW, and I love the mutual learning and fellowship that each BOW weekend provides.  BOW always seems to come at a time when I need a retreat or renewal in my life, and this was especially true in the fall of 2017.

One of the opportunities my position as park naturalist led me to was a promotion to park management.  A long commute to Guntersville, and missing evenings with my husband were the main catalyst behind leaving a position I loved to accept a promotion at Monte Sano State Park in Huntsville.  As a park manager I had a wider variety of responsibilities, but none of them utilized my passion for environmental education and I quickly grew to miss teaching.  Fortunately, the position did still allow me to teach at BOW, and the fall 2017 BOW weekend brought relief from the burdens of park management at a time in my life when I needed it most.  Monte Sano is a beautiful park with amazing staff, and every day as a manager there I felt I made a difference in the visitors’ and staff’s experience at the park.  However, I knew it was simply a job and no longer a vocation, like the park naturalist position had been.  Just before that BOW weekend I submitted my resignation to understanding managers, but the decision to leave Alabama State Parks was one of the most difficult choices I’ve ever made.

At the time, I only had a vague idea of what I would do with my life.  I didn’t have another job lined up, and my husband and I were really taking a leap of faith that I could build a business around my passions for outdoor recreation and environmental education.  Even though, I’d decided to start a business I really didn’t have a true plan or even a clear idea on what this company would be.  I spend much of that weekend at BOW reflecting on the decision I’d made, but no one outside my supervisors was aware of my resignation yet so I didn’t discuss the subject with others.  Regardless, one of my students recognized my passion, and suggested I leave the parks and start a business teaching hiking and backpacking skills to women.  I was awestruck, but my new path became clear almost immediately.

My supportive husband, David, and Butterfly Outdoors images

BOW inspired me to create Butterfly Outdoors, and while the company is still developing I am grateful for everything BOW has provided in my life from this inspiration to friendships with fellow instructors and students.  BOW may not inspire a new career path in your life, but I do believe it can impact any woman willing to step outside of her comfort zone and learn something new.  The rest of this post should give you the information to decide if BOW is right for you, and if you do come to Alabama BOW I hope you’ll join me in my next session of Backpacking and Hiking 101.

Backpacking and Hiking 101, spring 2018

What is BOW?

Becoming an Outdoors-Woman (BOW) is a non-profit organization operating in 36 states and 6 Canadian provinces.  Typically BOW is sponsored by a state’s department of conservation and natural resources, and at the state level it usually includes a three day workshop providing women an introduction to outdoor recreation, such as: hunting, fishing, camping, canoeing, motorboat operation, tracking, Dutch oven cooking, rock climbing, and much more.  In Alabama, BOW offers two workshop weekends each year, and Alabama BOW provides resources throughout the year to its participants.  This three day multi-skill workshop is the original BOW format started in 1991, and most states offering BOW follow a similar format.  Some states may offer single day classes on specific skills, as well as full weekend workshops designed to further develop known skills.  These more advanced workshops are known as Beyond BOW.

BOW 2018, curtsy of Hope Grier

Origins of BOW

In the 1980s many states began to notice women were under-served by their conservation and natural resource departments, which was reflected by low numbers of female hunters and anglers.  While the problem was recognized, the cause was still a mystery, but in 1990 the a conference at University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point set out to determine the reasons women weren’t getting outdoors more.  The “Breaking Down the Barriers,” conference utilized natural resource managers, hunters and anglers, and university staff to identify barriers women face in outdoor recreation.  Many of the identified barriers were insurmountable, but others involving lack of learning opportunities spurred a course of action that has grown into what are now known as BOW and Beyond BOW.

Becoming an Outdoors-Women, otherwise known as BOW, was founded by Dr. Christine Thomas in 1991, when she and a group of volunteers lead the first BOW workshop series at Treehaven Field Station, in Wisconsin.  Since this initial weekend of outdoor learning and adventure, BOW has grown into a thriving organization operating throughout the United States and parts of Canada.  Ultimately, BOW is dedicated to helping women interested in outdoor recreation break through barriers to learn new skills in a safe and supportive environment.

Who does BOW serve?

BOW is for adult women interested in learning new outdoor skills, seeking fellowship with other women, and developing greater confidence and self-reliance.  Some states offer programs to teenage girls as well, and you don’t have to be a resident of a state to participate in BOW activities.  Every year Alabama BOW workshops get students from across the southeast as well as other regions of the country.  Here are few more photos from spring BOW 2018, and check out the links below for more photos and information about BOW opportunities in Alabama and other states.

BOW 2018, curtsy of Hope Grier and Brook Barnes

Click here for BOW opportunities across the US, Canada, and Worldwide

Click here for Alabama BOW

Sources:

Ferrell, P. (2010). Becoming an Outdoors-Woman: From the Beginning. Stevens Point, WI: Becoming an Outdoors-Woman.

University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point, Becoming an Outdoors-Woman (2018). Retrieved March 7, 2018, from https://www.uwsp.edu/cnr-ap/bow/Pages/default.aspx

Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources, Becoming an Outdoors-Woman (2018). Retrieved March 7, 2018, from http://www.outdooralabama.com/becoming-outdoors-woman-bow

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