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'Outdoors-Women' bait their own hooks

June 12, 1999|By ANDREA ROWLAND

Sparking fire from Fritos. Casting a fly-fishing line. Hunting deer and cooking "Sloppy Does."

It's all part of "Becoming an Outdoors-Woman."

Three Washington County residents recently received Governor's Citations for their work on the committee that spearheads the national program in Maryland.

Nancy Smoger, of Clear Spring, and members Karina Blizzard, of Smithsburg, and Letha Grimes, of Hagerstown, work for two of the seven Department of Natural Resources divisions represented on the committee.

Committee Chairperson Smoger is the statewide education coordinator for the Wildlife & Heritage Division. Blizzard is an education specialist for that department.

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Grimes is a Fisheries Service technician. Other members work in divisions ranging from Natural Resources Police to Land & Water Conservation.

The committee plans every aspect of the program, which builds skills and boosts self-esteem, Smoger said.

"You'll gain the confidence and know-how to do anything you want," she said.

Grimes said she will never forget the 80-year-old woman who learned how to hook up a trailer and operate a motor boat. For the first time in her life, the woman said, she could go boating without depending upon someone else, Grimes said.

"If you give women the information, the opportunity and the confidence, they can do it," Smoger said.

The "Becoming an Outdoors-Woman" program was spawned by a seminar at the University of Wisconsin that pinpointed 21 barriers to female participation in the outdoors, Smoger said.

The barriers include shortages of activity-related clothing and equipment for women, lack of knowledge about how to use the equipment, and confusion about where to go to learn the skills, Smoger said.

While Blizzard said there has always been a need for such a program, Grimes said the rise in the number of single parents has amplified that need.

Moms want to enjoy, and teach their kids, outdoor activities that have long been perceived as male-oriented, she said.

It's about catching the trout and cleaning it, too.

"It's amazing," Grimes said. "These women just jump right in."

Launched in 1991, the program has mushroomed in Maryland since the state began participating in 1995, Smoger said.

The DNR has hosted six weekends since 1995, and more than seven workshops are scheduled for 1999 alone. About 700 participants have completed the one-day and weekend workshops, Smoger said.

Following national guidelines, the committee plans 30 to 40 classes per $175 workshop, she said. The workshops are held statewide at facilities that can accommodate 125 people and a variety of activities at the same time, Smoger added.

The courses fall under the categories of fishing and related classes, hunting and shooting, and non-harvest activities such as backpacking and canoeing, she said.

The hands-on skill-building classes are geared toward novices, Smoger said. Participants must be 18 years old, and men can attend.

"They'll still get the 'Becoming an Outdoors-Woman' T-shirt," Smoger joked.

Care is taken to choose "the best instructors to teach women," she said. These volunteer teachers are patient and objective, and refrain from intimidation tactics and "macho attitudes."

All instructors are evaluated by class members at the end of the workshop, Smoger said.

In addition to the classes, participants enjoy wild game dinners, fashion shows featuring hard-to-find outdoor wear for women and the Outdoors-Woman Olympics.

The only competitive aspect of the workshops, the relay event, is designed to utilize the skills participants learn from the classes, Smoger said.

Team members race to complete such activities as setting up tents, extinguishing candle flames with water-gun blasts, and fly-casting through hula-hoops, she said.

"They have a blast."

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