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Area residents become outdoors women

By DEBORAH CORRAO / L’Observateur / September 29, 1998

They come from all walks of life – attorneys and artists, real estate agents and reporters, computer consultants and choir directors. The onlycriteria for attending is they must be women.

It’s the semi-annual Becoming an Outdoors-Woman Workshop sponsored by the Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries, and it’s catching on like wildfire. In its fifth year, it’s an opportunity for women 18 and overfrom throughout Louisiana and nearby states to come together to commune with nature and enjoy a weekend of comradery in the piney woods of Camp Grant Walker in Pollock near Alexandria.

It’s a time that women can demonstrate their unique abilities and to test themselves in an environment that, until recently, has been dominated by the male of the species.

Women exchange hairspray and high heels for hats and hiking boots, attending their choice of 40 workshops ranging from firearms to falconry, from campfire cuisine to canoeing, from wildflowers to wilderness survival.

Upon arrival, the 20 or so women who have signed up to take Wilderness Survival are whisked into the woods to set up a makeshift camp of plastic tarps on frames of branches they find in the woods. They spend the nightalone with enough supplies to fit in their fanny packs.

Those who make it through the night are rejuvenated. “I know if I cansurvive this, I can survive anything,” one participant says.

Denice Petit of Paradis spends a lot of time outdoors. She’s taking acourse in boating/trailering.

“I like to just get out in the boat, and sometimes my husband’s not home to put it on the trailer and launch it for me. If I can learn how to back up atrailer, it will all be worth it,” she says, laughing.

Her 18-year old daughter Annie takes falconry. “Some women don’t like tohunt,” she says. “But I’m interested. I’d like to go hunting with my father.”Others are there to get in tune with nature.

“I’m learning a lot of things I never knew before,” says Suzanne Loupe of Paradis as she constructs a rustic wooden birdhouse for her backyard. “Thebackyard wildlife course taught me a lot of things that I’ve always just taken for granted.”Kim Berendt of Destrehan says, “Birdwatching really sparked an interest for me, and it is something I will now pursue at home. There are a lot ofshore birds that visit the pond on the golf course behind my house.”Berendt says she is also impressed with the level of knowledge by the instructors in all of her classes.

Of the 40 instructors, about half are men. Some are volunteers, someemployees of Louisiana Wildlife and Fisheries. Both men and womeninstructors come back year after year because of the positive feedback they get from workshop participants.

And participants say they’ll keep coming back, not only for the knowledge, but also because it’s just plain fun.

“It’s wonderful to be able to network with other women from across the state,” Berendt says. “It’s great to spend time with women from allbackgrounds and to share experiences with each other in various areas of study.”Becoming an Outdoors-Woman is limited to 125 women and costs $125 per person to attend. Regular participants know to get their applications inearly as the workshop is limited to 125 women and classes fill up quickly.

For more information, you can call 504-765-2916.

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