Where is a girl to go if she doesn't know how to filet a fish, doesn't know the first thing about shooting a shotgun or doesn't know anything about animals such as snakes? Where is a girl to go if she wants to have fun while learning more about the natural world? Well, she could sign up for Outdoor Journey, a three-day, two-night workshop aimed at teaching outdoors skills to girls twelve to fifteen years old.
Donise Grygiercyzk: Some of the girls came and they're like, Donise, I don't want to be here. And I'm like, you're going to love it. But I've never touched a firearm before. I'm like, you're going to love that experience, you need to learn it. So it's interesting the perspective on some of those girls who are farm girls and have lived out in the country their whole entire life and there's other ones who are city girls who don't get to see the stars at night. So when they come out here too and they see stars and they're super bright and there's so many of them they're like, I can't believe it. It's a whole different atmosphere when they come out here.
Over 2,000 girls have participated in Outdoor Journey since it began in 1992. There is a $100 registration fee but most of the girls are sponsored by Pheasants Forever or the Department of Natural Resources and receive financial assistance through a scholarship.
Jared Wiklund: I think the main thing for Pheasants Forever is getting kids involved in conservation. We've seen kind of a generational gap, especially in the last few years, of kids getting outside. With video games and new technology we just don't get as many kids outside anymore. So it is important for Pheasants Forever and I think it is important for the outdoor community as a whole that we sponsor some of these young women to go to camp, learn about conservation, learn about the world that surrounds them and that way they can get involved at a later stage in life with the outdoor lifestyle.
The goal of the camp isn't to turn young women into deadeye shots or anglers capable of reeling in trophy lunkers. While that may eventually happen, for now the idea is to simply introduce the girls to a variety of outdoor activities in an environment that puts an emphasis on fun.
Grygiercyzk: Video games nowadays have taken over everything, not just video games but all technologies. So these girls that are coming here, they don't get to have their cell phones with them except for at night to call their parents. They get to learn about the outdoors. They see the trees, they see the nature. I think that is very rewarding for them.
One downside to the camp is that you can only attend the camp once and it is only for girls twelve to fifteen years old. That was a real problem for Lydia Richter who attended camp at age twelve with her mother who came along as a chaperone. Even though Lydia couldn't come back, her mom had such a good time she continued to chaperone at the camp year after year after year. Finally, when Lydia turned eighteen she was able to return to Outdoor Journey and take part in the fun again as a chaperone and for four years now, along with her mother, she has been doing just that.
Lydia Richter: I was a little jealous, yeah, but now we come together and it's a blast. I would cry if I missed this every summer.
The camp is divided into three groups with each group rotating through every activity. There is such a variety of things to do that it would be safe to say there's something for everyone. But that doesn't seem to be an issue, as it would appear that every girl enjoys every activity.
Kelsey: Well, I have gone canoeing, we learned about camping, safety and a lot about guns and archery and we had to take a little test but it was really easy and it was fun.
Eva: It was fun but like when you shot it would kind of like push your shoulder back. But it wasn't that bad so I liked it.
Gracie: It's really easier for me to learn when we're doing like hands on activities. So that is a better way for like me to learn instead of reading like out of a book.
Cassie: Well, I waited for it to go the highest it could and then drop just a little bit so it hit right when it hit like that. Then it just went boom. Yeah, it was pretty exciting. I was the only one that got it until like a few minutes ago.
Besides being able to try their hand at a number of outdoor activities, the girls can earn their Iowa hunter education certification, which is mandatory for any hunter born after January 1972. The girls learn how to load and fire a rifle and shotgun, the importance of asking permission from a landowner to hunt an area, and to have to take a written exam where they have to answer such questions as what type of arrowhead do you use for big game? And what are the funds of the Pittman Robertson Act used for?
Marlowe Wilson: We're giving them the basics in hunter education. It's not going to make them proficient at all of it. They still need to be mentored, so to speak, with an adult of some sort that has got experience. And today's day and age everyone is getting opportunities for all different things. It isn't the traditional where the boys went out hunting with dad. Now the whole family is going and that's a good thing.
Outdoor Journey is just that, a trip down a path that will lead young women to a better appreciation of the natural resources found in Iowa, resources they will be more likely to enjoy and protect.