With over 50,000 women attending outdoor workshops, phrases like “mother-daughter weekends” and “word-of-mouth marketing” take on a new meaning.
Reaching Outdoor Women
Facilities across the United States and Canada are realizing the benefits of hosting Becoming an Outdoors Woman (BOW) as well as the National Wild Turkey Federation’s (NWTF) Women In The Outdoors (WITO) workshops. The workshops are designed to provide women a safe, friendly environment in which to learn a variety of over 200 outdoor-based activities, such as shotgun shooting, archery, fly fishing, bird watching, turkey hunting, wildlife photography, canoeing, boating and more. The courses are taught in a noncompetitive manner by trained experts and professionals.
“We see a lot of mothers and their daughters attending the workshops together,” says Patty Foster, national WITO coordinator. “It is a great chance for them to learn a new skill and connect with each other while enjoying a weekend away.”
Participation is increasing as more women become interested in outdoor sports. In fact, in 2008, both organizations have scheduled almost 500 workshops with an average of 100 women per workshop.
WITO’s programs are organized by regional coordinators and include support from state agencies, local NWTF chapters and other conservation organizations. “We started the Women In The Outdoors program ten years ago with 18 events in a year. We are celebrating our tenth-year anniversary in 2008, and we are hosting over 425 events across North America,” says Foster. In ten years the WITO program has grown from a few hundred members to almost 51,000.
Gains From Retreats
The workshops range from a day to an entire weekend retreat. Typically, the workshops are held at facilities that can provide shooting ranges, flat open areas, fishing and boating areas, various habitats, meals, housing and showers.
For multi-use facilities, such as Eagle Bluff Environmental Education Center, located about 2 1/2 hours from St. Paul and Minneapolis, Minn., there are several benefits to hosting the workshops.
“We typically host one larger BOW weekend event and then one or two of the Beyond BOW smaller workshops each year,” says Don Schoepski, director of operations. “The WITO group also utilizes our facility by hosting one event a year for the past nine years.”
Since doing these events, Eagle Bluff has increased occupancy by 25 percent. “The people who have been here for the BOW event have returned to use the facility for interests of their own,” says Schoepski. “We now have over-the-weekend programs, and have seen an increase in the number of small groups, such as church, scouts, and quilting groups using our facility.”
Not only do quilters, family reunions and other camps utilize Eagle Bluff, but it also has academia studying the health of the forest as well as team-building programs for college sports and corporations.
Additionally, a few years ago Eagle Bluff began hosting a Saturday evening dinner each month called Dinner on the Bluff. “We listen to the concerns and interests of the community and then seek a guest speaker to address those topics,” says Schoepski. “It is another way for people to come here and experience Eagle Bluff.”
Eagle Bluff also offers seasonal getaways, such as Haunted High Ropes, Maple Syrup Making and adventure getaway weekends that include ropes courses, a climbing wall and canoeing.
Several environmental education learning centers have seen the benefits of offering outdoor education programs for women. One such place–Lorado Taft Field Campus of Northern Illinois University–hosts outdoor education programs for fifth- to eighth graders, conference programs on the weekends and during the summer and BOW workshops.
“We have had more exposure to some of the ladies who would not have been here if it wasn’t for the program,” says Tom Vargo, conference coordinator at Lorado Taft Field Campus. “We have had some family reunions and a group called Camp Crop-a-Lot which does scrapbooking.”
The BOW and the WITO programs are developed with aid of fish and game commissions, departments of natural resources and state wildlife management agencies, as well as local conservation clubs.
“In the past we have partnered with the chamber of commerce, fish and game commissions, wildlife resource divisions, and corporations,” says Foster. WITO corporate partners include Bass Pro Shops, Browning, Matthews Bows, Realtree Outdoor Products, The Outdoor Channel, Mossy Oak, Dick’s Sporting Goods, Remington Arms, Winchester and Leupold and Stevens Inc.
Strong Ties Increase Revenues
Other groups that have benefited from hosting a BOW program include all-access facilities, such as Recreation Unlimited in Ashley, Ohio, which serves individuals with disabilities through sports recreation and activities.
By leasing the facility to other organizations, such as BOW, Recreation Unlimited is able to generate additional income during traditional down times. “We have a wide variety of activities, including outdoor, environmental, challenge courses as well as a lake, woods and prairie,” says Paul Huttlin, CEO of Recreation Unlimited. “It is because of this and the exposure through the BOW program we have seen an increase in other state programs such as Project WILD, boating and Project Learning Tree being hosted at our facility.”
“We benefit because the facility is utilized, and we gain exposure to our mission camps,” says Huttlin. “Plus every guest becomes aware of our facility, and they could become a volunteer or a donor or have a loved one with disabilities and then use our facilities as well.”
The Springbrook Conservation Education Center in Iowa hosts full-time educational programs, school groups, governmental and nonprofit meetings and retreats, as well as American Wilderness Leadership School, Hunting and Conservation Camp for Boys, Mentored Outdoor Experience, Outdoor Journey for girls and BOW.
“BOW has added awareness of our facility to various groups throughout our state, and that has been the biggest effect,” says A. Jay Winter, training specialist at the education center. “We have had positive relations with groups as well as individuals.”
These positive relationships have also generated word-of-mouth marketing, which has helped Springbrook increase its user base. In fact, word-of-mouth marketing is often the only marketing some smaller facilities can afford.
Eagle Bluff has also experienced the benefits of this type of marketing. “We talk about our facility throughout the event,” says Schoepski. “We let [the people] know how to reserve our facility if they want to use it for their school or interest group’s event.” Eagle Bluff also sends out a few mailings notifying past participants about workshops that may be of interest.
By hosting a WITO or BOW program, multi-use facilities have broadened their user base, increased occupancy and revenue, and developed a strong standing in their communities. “Hosting a workshop is great public relations and good for the community,” says Foster. “Plus it helps the facility become well-known as the place to host an event.”
To find out how your facility can host a BOW event, call 1-877-BOWOMAN, and for a WITO event, log on to http://www.womenintheoutdoors.org. Click on staff contacts to find the representative for your state.
Tammy York is the president of LandShark Communications LLC in Greater Cincinnati. She left her state public-relations position to pursue her passions of outdoor recreation and marketing. Her upcoming book, 60 Hikes Within 60 Miles of Cincinnati, is due out in spring 2009. You can reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org.