On glistening trails overlooking Lake Superior, a woman races behind a team of sled dogs. Nearby, other women snowshoe through the still, icy woods. Inside, a first-time archer scores a bull’s-eye and her newfound friends applaud.
And there are always smiles.
All weekend at Becoming an Outdoors Woman (BOW) workshops, you will hear empowered women roar with laughter and victory as they learn outdoors skills in women-only classes.
The workshops are wildly popular.
“For 20 years now in Michigan, BOW has given women the opportunity to learn the skills needed to enjoy outdoor activities like fishing, backpacking, snowshoeing and hunting in a safe and supportive atmosphere,” said Sharon Pitz, BOW coordinator for the Michigan Department of Natural Resources (DNR).
Since 1991, when the first Becoming an Outdoors Woman program was developed in Wisconsin as a way to break down barriers for women, the nonprofit has expanded to 44 states and nine Canadian provinces.
Today, nurses, engineers, college professors and other professionals – from millennials to matrons in their 90s – are eager to learn the skills needed to more fully enjoy the outdoors.
Exploring the great outdoors
Experts say the reason fewer women participate in hunting, fishing, backpacking and archery is because most haven’t had the chance to learn the skills necessary to enjoy the outdoors.
BOW aims to change that.
“BOW is a great way for women to connect with nature and foster an appreciation for Michigan’s amazing natural resources,” said Carol Rose of the Michigan Wildlife Council.
Established in 2013, the Michigan Wildlife Council is dedicated to building awareness among the public about how Michigan’s wildlife and natural resources are managed and how those activities are funded.
In fact, hunting and fishing, two BOW activities, contribute directly to the conservation of Michigan’s natural resources, with hunting and fishing licenses funding the bulk of the state’s conservation and wildlife management activities. Taxes do not pay for the management of our natural resources.
“Every time a hunter or angler, whether they are experienced or new, young or old, purchases a license, tag or permit, it funds wildlife management activities such as habitat improvements,” Rose said. “So getting people involved in these types of outdoor activities not only brings them closer to nature, but it is helping to pay for critical work.”
Women who want to explore the outdoors are lining up for BOW programs.
Some have never tried these outdoor activities, while others are beginners hoping to improve their skills.
“There’s no judgment on your skill level and everybody is supportive,” said Wendy Brink of West Bloomfield, who attended her first BOW workshop last winter. “The ones who have been there before encourage the newbies, and the newbies encourage each other. It’s a ton of fun.”
The 63-year-old and her friend made the trek to Marquette in February, joining 80 or so participants from across Michigan and surrounding states. For $195 apiece, the weekend included two nights at Bay Cliff Health Camp near Marquette, family-style meals and three activities among 20 outdoors classes offered.
On Saturday, Brink ventured outside for strolls around the grounds overlooking Lake Superior, but opted for indoor programs on perennial gardening, mosaics and wood-burning artwork.
“All the instructors were very patient and the classes were great. We all commented on how well-fed we were all weekend, too,” Brink said.