Women's outreach effort on right course

July 09, 2006|By CANDUS THOMSON

WYE ISLAND — WYE ISLAND-- --Ava Worrell leans over and makes a confession.

"I'm having steering issues," says the Baltimore resident. "I keep going this way and that."

But given the stiff breeze churning up mini-white caps around this Eastern Shore island, it's no surprise.

And let's face it, when you're learning the strokes to paddle a kayak, this way and that is a darn sight better than upside down and backward.

Luckily Worrell is not alone this bright Saturday morning.

Ten women are bobbing alongside her in a protected cove, learning how to get their plastic boats to stop, go and track in a straight line.

Not all kayak maneuvers are on the lesson plan, however.

"None of these boats have a protective skirt, so we're not doing any rolls," shouts instructor Jen Cline over the wind, which rustles the leaves like a sheet of cellophane. "Please tell me we're not going to do any rolls today."

Watching the novices' every move are several experienced paddlers - all of them employees of the Department of Natural Resources - who glide effortlessly between the beginners to offer suggestions and encouragement.

Within 20 minutes, everyone is comfortable enough to shove off for deeper, less protected waters. Another session of "Becoming an Outdoors-Woman" is well under way.

BOW began in Maryland in 1995 as an outreach program to boost hunters' numbers - and increase revenue from license sales. It was modeled on the Wisconsin version, which started 15 years ago and has spread to almost all 50 states.

Though it may have its roots in deer hunting, Maryland BOW has expanded to include camping skills, fishing, photography and now paddling sports. The one-day paddling and outdoor cooking course proved so popular that BOW coordinator Karina Blizzard had a waiting list.

"We get women mostly in the 35-55 range with little to no experience," Blizzard says. "Some women come grudgingly with a friend. Some women come and aren't sure it's for them. We get a lot of single moms who want to learn about the outdoors so they can teach their kids."

All of the instructors are volunteers, most of whom work in the Forestry Service, state parks, the Wildlife and Heritage Service or as Natural Resources Police officers. The donation of their time helps keep tuition low, ranging from $60 to $175, depending on duration and level of instruction.

BOW also gets support from organizations such as Quail Unlimited, the Baltimore County Game and Fish Protective Association and the Maryland Legislative Sportsmen's Foundation.

"We've never raised our prices in 11 years," Blizzard says. "We realize that this is a luxury for some women."

The paddlers spend about two hours working their way along a portion of Wye Island's 30-mile shoreline. Turtles sun themselves unconcerned, osprey swoop down to catch lunch and ducks show the women the art of effortless liquid locomotion.

"They make it look so easy," says one woman to the laughter from others.

Soon, it's time for a lunch break - a campfire stew - prepared by the instructors and eaten under the shade of oaks and birches.

As the women share observations and stories about their "other" lives, Blizzard notes that all but three of them are repeat customers.

"They really bond and form groups to do these activities with the people they've met," she says. "That's important to us because we not only want to expose them to these activities, we want them to pursue them."

The next BOW workshop is Oct. 7-9 at the Western Maryland 4-H Center in Garrett County. The program will offer 20 courses.

"We try to make this a sampling of what's out there," Blizzard says. "If you don't know what you might like, you can get your feet wet, and then take a course later on that concentrates on one skill."

Tuition is $175, which covers lodging, food and equipment. A few scholarships are available. For more information, contact Blizzard at 410-260-8559 or kblizzard@dnr.state.md.us.

Fear for the turtle

When it comes to critters and whether we have enough of a particular brand, it's a good idea to err on the side of having a few too many.

Not like suburban white-tailed deertoomany.Morelike,hope-we-have-enough -honey-roasted-peanuts-to-get-us-through-the-Ravens-game too many.

That's why DNR's diamondback terrapin emergency regulations seem a bit strange to me.

Tomorrow night the agency will have a little get-together at its Annapolis headquarters to talk about its turtle protection program. The agency doesn't really want to have this meeting or these regulations. The legislature forced the issue last session.

The proposal, which you can find on the agency's Web site (www.dnr.state.md.us), would expand the closed season, increase the minimum size and require turtle-catchers to have permits and report their catches.

Sounds pretty good. Yet, there's a disturbing sentence in the DNR proposal: "The status of the terrapin statewide is undetermined but is in decline in some areas."

Let's add what we do know:

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