Carmen Pardo was ready for competition. After taking four half-day outdoor skills courses at the recent Becoming an Outdoors Woman workshop, she cast a fishing line to demonstrate her new skill and vie for the title "Ms. BOW Alaska 2008."
The hook-free end landed on a "moose," her teammate sporting twig antlers.
"Oh no!" Pardo exclaimed, getting a laugh from the crowd. "This raises the age-old question - should I fish or should I hunt?"
Pardo was one of 60 women who attended the Becoming an Outdoors Woman workshop at Rainbow Glacier Camp in Haines Aug. 1-3 to learn just those things - how to fish and hunt and develop other outdoor skills.
They came in varying ages, shapes and sizes, fitness levels, and outdoor experiences. Each participant took four half-day classes, choosing from 22 options, including fly fishing, field-dressing a deer, shotgun, kayaking, chainsaw, outdoor survival, backpacking, archery and more. Most of the women were from Juneau or Haines, though a few, like Pardo, who lives in San Francisco, were attending with local friends.
The women's workshop is a nationally known program that has been sponsored in Alaska since 1995 by the Alaska Department of Fish and Game and the nonprofit Outdoor Heritage Foundation of Alaska. Courses are developed locally. Often held farther north, this was the first time this kind of workshop had been in Southeast Alaska for more than 10 years.
"I think it fills a niche that Juneau's needed a long time," said participant Kristen Kranendonk. "I caught my first fish!"
Kranendonk was one of a number of women who said they've been fishing before, but someone else - usually one of the men in their lives - always prepared the line. Now, they feel confident heading out to fish on their own.
"You don't have to wait around for your husband or your guy friends - you can just go fishing," said Julie Peters.
Women in other workshops also felt they'd gained skills that would make them more independent. Jen Karnik said it was a special moment when she tasted the deer cooked up by the Dutch oven class and realized it was the backstrap she'd taken off the deer that morning in the field dressing class.
"It was one of those moments I realized that I'd gone beyond what I'd been comfortable with," she said. "I'd dealt with a dead and bloody animal. Then it was cooked by someone else, and it tasted fantastic."
It took more than a year of planning and lot of community support to put the weekend of workshops together, said regional coordinator Nancy Long, who works as information officer for Fish and Game in Juneau. The basic logistics were challenging - finding a good location, pulling together volunteer instructors, and getting all the gear, supplies, and people to Haines.
Then there's the matter of money. Participants paid $250 and the cost of their transportation to attend, but that didn't come close to covering the true cost of the event, which is supposed to be a self-supporting program. Cash contributions, loans of equipment like kayaks and skiffs, auction and raffle items donated by area businesses helped make the workshop possible. "We could not have done it without the wonderful and generous community support," Long said.
If financial contributions were critical, so were the contributions of time and talent provided by the many volunteer instructors, such as Juneau resident Michele Elfers, who served on the organizing committee and taught a fly fishing course.
"It was really fun," Elfers said of her experience organizing and teaching the workshop. She said she is ready to do it again.
A lot of people who weren't at the workshop went the extra mile to help make these workshops a very special experience for the participants, organizers said. For instance, Elfers noted, volunteers from the local Trout Unlimited chapter spent perhaps 20 hours hand tying about 80 flies - Humpy Hookers, Clouser Minnows, and others - that were given as gifts to the women in the fly fishing class to help them continue with the activity on their own.
"The women were really touched," Elfers said.
"Every instructor I had was incredible," said Lissa Kramer, who took field dressing a deer, intro to hunting, salmon and gravlox preparation, and archery. But she said the other participants were also a huge part of making the workshop a special experience. Everyone actively participated and supported one another, she said.
"People jumped in to help strangers whose names they barely knew," she said, like stepping forward to be sure others' lox that needed turning late in the evening got turned.
"There was no competition," Kramer said.
Well, OK, maybe there was a little competition, back at the Ms. BOW 2008 contest. Participants were to demonstrate appropriate outdoor dress and the skills they'd learned. These elements would be 20 percent of their score. Eighty percent depended on the quality of their bribes to the judges.
True to the idea of learning to do things on their own terms, almost every team turned the individual competition into a group skit. Pardo's group didn't offer any bribes, but they brought down the house. Never mind that she wasn't from Alaska, she and her team received the crown - a cut-up piece of gray foam sleeping pad with red and blue beads, fishing lures, and a ring of spent 20-gauge shotgun shells.
Patti Harper is a writer and editor who works for the Alaska Department of Fish and Game. To learn more about the workshop, visit the Fish and Game Web site at: http://www.sf.adfg.state.ak.us/region3/programs/bow/index.cfm/FA/bow.home