“It’s basically Girl Scout camp. You’ll love it.”
As we sat around her fire pit, Kelly Cox excitedly told me about a statewide outdoor workshop run by the Florida FWC and sent me the link to sign up. Cox heads the policy of the Everglades in Florida Audubon. She is also a good neighbor and friend here in Tavernier. So, when I had the chance to join her and other women outdoors in Florida for a weekend in the wilderness, I didn’t hesitate.
The actual name of the Girl Scout camp is FWC’s Become an Outdoors-Woman – BOW for short. A modest $175 covers cabin accommodation (sleeping style) and gourmet dining for three days and two nights. There are clean bathrooms and showers. It also includes all workshops and night activities.
When the week came, Cox’s mother, Suzy, joined us in the festivities. She said, “Being over 60 with more free time on my hands, I decided to step out of my comfort zone and try something new.”
We traveled to the Everglades Youth Conservation Camp in West Palm Beach to start our long weekend stay camp away. The gardens are gorgeous – set around a freshwater lake full of fish, surrounded by native flowers and plants and full of opportunities to enjoy.
The stated goal of the BOW program is to allow anyone to learn more outdoor skills and become more comfortable in the wild. The courses are exclusively for women but are open to all, and run by FWC officers and scholars who volunteer their time to share their skills and knowledge. I had no idea what I signed up for, but I left with a great spirit, some new skills, and great memories.
“Women are the most underutilized population group in outdoor recreation, and programs like BOW are essential because they reduce barriers to entry for those activities,” Cox said. “In addition, the workshops are safe, affordable and fun. They foster a supportive environment where women can try out new outdoor activities in a judgment-free manner.”
The courses are designed for people who have never experienced these activities before but would like to learn, says the FWC website. It is also suitable for those who have some experience but would like to improve their skills or learn new ones. Workshops cover everything from fly fishing and small game hunting to the basics of boating and backpacking survival skills.
I chose an eclectic mix of courses, ranging from water environment and outdoor photography. This was followed by fire starters, modern turkey, small game, clay shooting and alligator hunting. I wrapped up my education in the weekend to cook meals over a campfire.
Cox aptly described the BOW experience as a mixture of summer camp nostalgia with the challenge of trying new things outdoors. She used the weekend as an opportunity to gently express her fear of guns and loud noises – under professional supervision. I’ve watched patient FWC women who regularly hunt and shoot Cox and support her through her anxiety. She ended up firing five rounds of mud in a row and felt very supported.
“That’s why I do what I do,” said FWC Arms instructor, Diane.
The random text updates I sent to my family included exclamations like, “Have the best time with your big girls. I’ve been laughing nonstop,” as well as, “I just learned how to skin a squirrel—in jacket and pants style—and summon a turkey to kill.” And finally, “I Shot with a gun. Who knows?!”
Each workshop lasted three and a half hours – enough for a solid first experience. I don’t think I could have made a fire or hunted anything or challenged the wilderness – until now. Although I do not intend to subscribe to Naked and afraid Anytime soon, I feel more ready to be adventurous and try new activities.
Last night, FWC’s Sandy Clutter wore a cameo that read “Camp Like a Girl” while leading the band on Old Boy Scout songs. Joined by Susie Cox, she dances around the fire and invites the audience to join in the cheers around the pie man and meet a bear. The energy was contagious.
“When was the last time you had a s’mores candy around a roaring campfire, listening and singing old camp songs?” Suzy asked. “Lots of smiles and sticky fingers on the way back to the cabins!”
She’s right. I can’t remember the last time I felt so relaxed and free. And now, I can’t wait to do it again. If you’re feeling inclined, the next weekend will be in the Ocala National Forest in October. Register at https://myfwc.com/education/programs/outdoors-woman/.