Above: Women in the Woods Elk Camp in Colorado.
Photos by Ryan McSparren.
By Kassi Smith
The ray of light as dawn breaks over the High Rockies. The distorted reflection of mountain giants just below the waters’ surface. A held breath as the first mallard sets for landing.
These experiences are visceral, and they are ubiquitous.
Like many, I wasn’t born into a family that recreates outdoors; but even so, my earliest memories are of escaping into wild spaces. Before the age of 10, I would walk myself to the park and forego playgrounds for the surrounding woods or marsh. During season-long stays at the farm I would wander up into the pastures, meander through barns and collapsed outbuildings and eventually find my way into the trees. Though I was never taught to navigate, I didn’t think twice about following my feet as far as they would take me. I caught snakes and frogs, talked to cows and deer, climbed trees, caught bugs and returned only when the sun went down.
In my teens I started backpacking. In my early 20s, I started hunting.
In my mid-20s, I began to realize how fortunate I was for the experiences I’ve had.
In my late 20s, Women in the Woods gave me the opportunity to share those experiences with others. At the beginning of 2019, we started producing blog posts highlighting women who have made careers in the outdoors. Shortly after came virtual events with specific educational focuses, giving women the opportunity to ask questions in a format that was fun and relaxed. Finally, as the world started reopening, I continually brainstormed ways to get folks together in person in the field. Women in the Woods Camp started as many things do: making the right connections at the right time.
Using the network of people I’ve met through my time volunteering for BHA, I started pitching ideas for themed camps. We’re still in the early days of what I hope is a long and fruitful endeavor, but so far with an elk camp, fly fishing camp and waterfowl camp in the books in Colorado, I am excited to see what comes next both here and across our many other chapters.
Recreating in the outdoors is not gendered, and conservation reaches far beyond our imposed societal norms and expectations.
Recreating in the outdoors is not gendered, and conservation reaches far beyond our imposed societal norms and expectations. Women in the Woods is just one part of a much larger push towards introducing people to the importance of protecting lands, waters and all that inhabit them. It may be counter intuitive, but my goal is not to increase the number of folks in the field. I don’t like seeing people in my hunting or fishing spot any more than the next person, but we can’t avoid the fact that in order to protect and advocate for the North American Model of Conservation, we must step up and provide the growing number of hunters and fishers every opportunity to do so ethically, safely and mindfully. And as the number of hunters and anglers increases, there’s nothing I love more than people who seek opportunities to educate themselves and then bring what they’ve learned back to their families and friends.
Over the last year, and in the coming years, this is the bar to which I hold each Women in the Woods event. As an organization we have long recognized that by targeting everyone equally we are only strengthening the number of individuals who put in time, effort and money in to protecting what we all hold dear. Before each event I go back to what I wrote over a year ago when I was first ruminating on what direction to take the Women in the Woods series. At the time I wrote:
“I want Women in the Woods to extend our reach. I want it to be the extra push to get people from curious to committed. By building confidence, dedication and engagement, we can expand the community of conservationists on the ground fighting for our public lands and all that inhabit them. Women in the Woods is our opportunity to strengthen our community around the public lands, waters and wildlife that have shaped our values and identities.”
This still rings true for me, and I hope it will for long as I am able to hold the torch.
Kassi Smith has been a volunteer for BHA since 2015 and currently sits on the board for the Colorado chapter. She lives in the San Luis Valley area, enjoying rural life and the myriad public land opportunities it offers.
This article first appeared in the Winter 2022 issue of Backcountry Journal. Join BHA to get 4 issues a year right in your mailbox.