BOW weekends connect women to outdoors

We have spa manicures, and we get dirt under our nails. Our cheeks are ruddy from wind, and eyeliner enlarges our eyes. We wear jackets in camouflage colors and delicate pinks when we head outdoors.

We want a thick red fox hat in our closet, with mittens to match, and the knowledge of how to gut a freshly killed pheasant. We are humane society members who prefer to build birdhouses and vow to never fire a gun.

The lack of sound pollution as we swoosh through woods on skis or snowshoes delights us, and the thought of hearing a lone wolf howl excites us. About 75 of us stand motionless and silent on frozen marshland before bedtime, hoping to hear an owl hoot.

Women certainly are not alike in their appearance, passions, professions or politics. But during a Becoming an Outdoors Woman weekend, these differences are put aside for a while. We concentrate on what we share: awe and respect for our environment.

Friends, sisters and mother-daughter combos come here, to the Treehaven Field Station near Tomahawk, to learn something new as they tighten their bonds. For some young women, this is a rite of passage, a chance for Mom to expose a new generation to the natural world and its traditions.

That was the case for veteran hunter and educator Tammy Koenig of Fall Creek, whose harvests include 70-plus deer, six wild hogs and five black bear. She attended with daughter Brittany, who had just turned 18 (the minimum age required of BOW registrants).

“If you have a passion, don’t stop here,” she advised the others. “There is a huge void of women in the outdoors who are willing to instruct others.”

The University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point, which owns Treehaven, has organized BOW weekends since 1991. The concept has evolved from a popular but small annual event to a year-round and multi-state/Canadian effort. For some, this is a regular pilgrimage and a growing sisterhood.

About 100 women – including Linda Dightmon, the Arizona Wildlife Federation’s 2007 Conservation Educator of the Year – came to this month’s BOW weekend. She borrowed winter clothing, ice fished for the first time and was thrilled to catch a small bluegill (which she threw back).

“Driving a car on the lake – that’s not right,” she said, laughing about the experience. Coming to Wisconsin was this avid hunter’s way to stretch her zone of comfort and learn something new.

She helps organize BOW events in her home state, where sessions include what to do if you’re lost while hiking, how Arizona’s numerous ecosystems differ – and how to “stay fresh” when enjoying the outdoors.

The latter refers, among other things, to coping when nature calls and no toilet is near. “May sound silly, to you and me,” Linda says, “but it’s a barrier for some people who would otherwise enjoy the outdoors, which makes it important to address the concern.”

We chat about young generations that prefer video games to hiking. “If we can help the mothers feel comfortable out here,” Linda says, “then they’ll bring their children.”

The BOW atmosphere is nurturing but not condescending, active but not competitive. Some of us use power tools for the first time, construct a quilt rack, fire a rifle, run a dog sled, shoot a bow and arrow.

A few, like Yvonne Esparza, an accountant in Winthrop Harbor, Ill., will move from lack of experience to expert. She has been to about 20 BOW events, shot her first .22-caliber rifle here and now is a certified rifle markswoman and instructor.

Twenty BOW workshop choices were set up by the UW-Stevens Point College of Natural Resources, and only a few were repeated, so that makes it easy for a student to attend the next winter and have a different experience.

The workshop goes beyond “how to” advice. At Corky Severson’s dog sledding session, students spend 90 minutes of classroom time to learn about their Mindoro teacher’s equipment, animals, philosophy. The format is relaxed and conversational. Then students mush solo, several times, with a team of dogs.

Treehaven provides simple four-person, bunk-bed rooms, with shared bath. Staying at a motel in Tomahawk or Rhinelander, both about 15 miles away, is another option. The weekend BOW price started at $240, which included meals; occasionally sessions involved an extra fee (like $125 for sewing a fox fur hat or mittens, or $25 for dog sledding).

The next BOW events are a one-day outing at Mackenzie Environmental Center, Poynette, on April 26; a Beyond BOW outdoor sports immersion program at Central Wisconsin Environmental Station, Amherst, June 7-8; and the annual summer BOW workshop, Aug. 22-24 at Treehaven.

Group/corporate BOW retreats also can be created. For more: www.uwsp.edu/cnr/bow, 877-269-6626.

Treehaven, a natural resources facility, encompasses 1,400 acres of forest and wetlands. It is an outdoor classroom for forestry to wildlife management students, who come here for up to six weeks per semester. Programs also are set up for the public.

Upcoming topics include wolf ecology, snowshoe and cross country weekends for families, fly tying and archery. For more about Treehaven, W2540 Pickerel Creek Ave., Tomahawk: www.uwsp.edu/cnr/treehaven, 715-453-4106.