The 2021 OWAA Annual Conference was held in Vermont
at Jay Peak Resort, Oct. 4-6.

Overview: ‘Seeking Stability’

OWAA’s 2021 conference at Jay Peak Resort in Vermont was about ‘Seeking Stability.’

Few of us lived through years with more global upheaval than 2020 and early 2021. We watched as the world shut down. We clambered to make a living, to remain relevant, and to stay safe and healthy. Our members told us during this year of uncertainty that they wanted support and services in a changing world. OWAA responded, and in 2021 brought members and non-members back together again – and delivered much-loved conference staples, including:

  • Keynote addresses by inspiring speakers
  • Panels with editors who were hiring
  • Close looks at all of the latest gear
  • Hospitality events, socializing and networking
  • Pre- and post-tours
  • Sessions on ways to pay for projects and navigate the ever-changing social media world

Most importantly, there was plenty of time to do what we had been missing for the previous year year: Catch up with old friends, meet new ones, and expand our work. In the end, OWAA was overjoyed to welcome more than 150 attendees, including:

  • 60 Individual Members (media)
  • 17 Not-yet-members (media)
  • 17 Spouses/Guests
  • 14 Speakers (many of whom were media)
  • 14 Supporting Groups
  • 13 Workshop leaders (many of whom were media)
  • 12 Exhibitors
A video crew interviews an OWAA speaker.
A video crew interviews OWAA speaker and consultant Mamie Parker at the 2021 OWAA Conference in Jay Peak, Vermont.

COVID-19 Protocols

OWAA was truly excited to again bring together some of the finest outdoor media in the country when our conference reconvened among the beautiful Green Mountains of Vermont at the peak of foliage season. However, while it certainly helped that Vermont was THE most vaccinated state in the union, OWAA also continued to do everything possible to ensure the health and safety of our members, partners, friends and guests.

Thus, we implemented these plans and protocols for the event:

  • We followed all CDC, state and local guidelines
  • Vaccinations were strongly encouraged for attendees
  • Getting a COVID test 72 hours before departing for the conference was also strongly encouraged
  • Masks (or face shields) were required during all indoor events (except by those presenting)
  • All meals were in a wedding tent outside (covered but with side panels that could open for ventilation) and attendees had to wear masks when they were not seated
  • Hospitality events were outside, on ‘Alice’s Patio’ 
  • We set up indoor sessions with as much distance between attendees as possible
  • Multiple hand wash stations were available as well as ample bottles of hand sanitizer
  • Masks were available for anyone who did not have them or needed replacements
  • We also implemented a colored sticker system for our badges that allowed attendees to choose their level of comfort with interactions:
      • Red – ‘Please keep 6 feet away with masks on, as I have vulnerable ones in my circle’
      • Yellow – ‘I’m cautious about transmission, but okay with elbows and fist bumps and short close contact sessions’
      • Green – ‘Come in for the hug, I’m confident I won’t get or spread anything’
  • If someone needed a COVID test while in Vermont, we offered this guidance:
      • To go to the Vermont Dept. of Health Website to set up an account, and schedule a test (results were available 24 – 48 hours after testing)
      • Best locations for getting a test were:
        • North Country Hospital, located at 189 Prouty Drive, Newport Vermont 05855 (about a 35-minute drive from Jay Peak Resort)
        • Northwestern Urgent Care, located at 133 Fairfield St., St. Albans Vermont 05478 (about an hour drive from Jay Peak Resort – but along the route to/from Burlington)

Pre-, Spouse/Partner and Post-Tours

Thanks to Local Conference Chair Gary Moore for all his work pulling together these great pre-, post- and spouse/partner trips!

We opened a registration window (between specific dates) and registrations were first-come, first-served. Unless specifically noted, attendees were responsible for their own transportation. Trips are listed chronologically (pre-tours, those tours that may be both/either pre or post, spouse tours, and then post-tours) and then alphabetically by title.

Group pick up in Burlington and then head to Airport Park in Colchester to meet Local Motion who will outfit the group with bikes. A Local Motion guide will lead the group across the Colchester causeway into the middle of Lake Champlain and then the group will take the bike ferry to South Hero and continue their ride to Allenholm Farm and the Hive Café for lunch (about 14 miles round trip). After the ride, the group will head to the 45-acre Shelburne Museum for a tour of their wildfowl decoys (a collection of 1,400) and Vermont firearms made between 1790 and 1900. Pick up is at 8:00am and the tour should return to Burlington around 4:30pm (at which time people can take the Jay Peak shuttle back to the resort.  

  • Max six pax
  • Cost for spouse: $80

Thanks to Vermont Department of Tourism and Marketing for this tour!

Many thanks to Vermont Fish & Wildlife for offering these one-day trips on Oct. 3rd and/or 7th! More details on each will be announced in the future, as we get further details from the agency. These trips are for OWAA members only (no spouses/partners or Supporting Groups).

  • PRE (10/3) – Lake Memphremagog Fishing Trip: Guided trips for bass and pike on Lake Memphremagog (limit two pax per trip).
  • PRE (10/3) – Morning Bird Walk at Jay Peak: A two-hour morning bird walk/hike leaving from Jay Peak including a discussion of bird habitats/conservation in VT (limit 12 pax per trip).
  • POST (10/7) – Brook Trout Stream Restoration: View wild brook trout habitat restoration projects on streams in Vermont’s Northeast Kingdom.
  • POST (10/7) – Canoe the Clyde River: Canoe the Clyde River for a botany/ecological/birding/naturalist (limit 12 pax in six canoes per trip).
  • POST (10/7) – Eagle Point WMA on Lake Memphremagog: stop at Eagle Point WMA and Bluffside Farm (VLT) to see if we can find migrating songbirds and waterfowl on the lake (6-12 pax per trip).             
  • BOTH PRE & POST – Charter fishing trip for salmon and lake trout on Lake Champlain (limit two-three pax per trip, 2-4 hours).
  • BOTH PRE & POST – Walk in on collared cow moose and calf (limit two pax per trip, 4 hours).
  • BOTH PRE & POST – Boat trip on Lake Champlain to visit islands and learn about double crested cormorant management efforts (limit 2-4 pax per trip).
  • BOTH PRE & POST – Salmon fishing on the Clyde River as early October is prime time (limit two pax per trip).
  • BOTH PRE & POST – Tour conserved bear habitat near Jay Peak with VF&W biologist (limit twelve pax per trip).

We will drive via shuttle to Newport for a two hour mid-day cruise on Lake Memphremagog with a wine and cheese tasting aboard the Northern Star. The narrated trip will discuss what is being seen and the rich history of the lake going back to pre-Revolutionary days, up through prohibition when it was a major smuggling route and up to the present. The cruise will be followed by a stop at the Eden Cider Tasting Bar.  $125 per spouse/partner.

The group will be shuttled to Derby Line for a tour of the Haskell Opera House, a unique facility that straddles the U.S./Canada border. Pose for photos inside the library with one foot in Canada and the other in the U.S. From there we will take a short scenic drive south to Brownington and the Old Stone House Museum. There, we’ll learn about Alexander Twilight, a black man who graduated from Middlebury College and is claimed to be the first African American to earn a baccalaureate from an American college or university. He was a minister, a teacher, and a principal in Vermont. A box lunch will be provided to eat on the grounds of the museum. $125 per spouse/partner.

Tentative Itinerary:
Thursday, October 7

  • Pick up from Jay Peak
  • Lunch at local restaurants
  • Choice of mountain biking on signature Waterbury trails or disc golf (please indicate your preference and ability level when you contact Ariel)
  • Sunset hike
  • Dinner and drinks at a local restaurant
  • Limit four media members (plus one guest each for a $300 fee)

Friday, October 8

  • Guided paddle tour on the Waterbury Reservoir
  • Picnic lunch and beer sampling
  • Short hikes and scenic drives in the area
  • Beer sampling, dinner, and time to explore historic downtown Waterbury

Saturday, October 9
Drop off at Burlington airport in the morning

Max four participants. 

Thanks to Discover Waterbury for this tour!

Group pick up at Jay Peak and then head to Johnson, VT to meet Lamoille Valley Bike Tours who will outfit the group with e-bikes.  A Lamoille Valley Bike Tours guide will lead the group, making stops along the rail trail to point out landmarks and for photo ops.  The tour will include stops at Lost Nation Brewing for a tasting and lunch and Rock Art Brewery, accessible from the Lamoille Valley Rail Trail and from the comfort of an electric bicycle.  Pickup at Jay Peak at 11:00am and then drop off back at Jay Peak around 6:00pm. 

  • Max six pax.
  • $90 for spouse/ partner.

Thanks to Vermont Department of Tourism and Marketing for this tour!

Jay Peak is the highest point in northern Vermont and provides extensive views of the northern Champlain Valley to the west, the Northeast Kingdom to the east and Quebec to the north. The Long Trail, which runs from Massachusetts to Quebec and is managed by the Green Mountain Club, climbs steeply from the parking area on VT-242. The hike is 3.4 miles round trip and is quite rigorous. The summit is rocky and open with views in all directions. GMC Executive Director Mike DeBonis will lead the trip. This hike is for OWAA members only (no spouses/partners or Supporting Groups).

  • Participants need to be prepared for a strenuous 3.4-mile hike and have food (snacks and for lunch at the summit), water, raingear, proper footwear
  • Maximum: 9 pax
  • Depart @ 9:30 AM on Oct. 7th
  • Note too that others can take the tram up to the top to meet the hikers for lunch

Thanks to the Green Mountain Club for this tour!

On Oct. 7th, paddle 6.5 miles on moving flatwater from Richford to East Berkshire. Leave canoes at the take out and ride bikes (provided by the Jay Cloud Cyclery who will drop them there for us) five miles back to the vehicle along the Missisquoi Valley Rail Trail.  Visit a café in Montgomery Center for refreshment on the way back to Jay.  This trip is for OWAA members only (no spouses/partners or Supporting Groups).

  • $50/person and includes lunch, all paddling gear, and a bike rental for the rail trail ($60 if the participant wants an e-bike)
  • Limit five pax

Thanks to the Northern Forest Canoe Trail for this tour!

fishing and/or small game license for conference attendees.
Each attendee participating in a fishing or small game activity will need to fill out
sections 1, 2, 3 (if applicable), 4 and 6 of the sporting license application. If small
game is selected, a license affidavit will need to be completed as well, unless they
have held a valid hunting license in Vermont in the previous years. In lieu of the license
affidavit, hunters can submit a copy of their hunter education card or a copy of a
hunting license as verification of eligibility.
Each participant should return the required forms via email to
Once processed, an email confirmation will be sent to the email designated on the
license application with a link to print their license. If participants choose, an
electronic/digital version of the license is acceptable.
Many thanks to Vermont Fish & Wildlife for offering these licenses to conference attendees!


Our content provided attendees with some great professional development sessions, networking events and various opportunities to GET OUTSIDE. Review all the outstanding speakers and presenters, and know that we’ll have similarly-packed schedules at future conferences too!

NEW: Workshops!

We offered something new and exciting in 2021. Instead of three days of 50-minute sessions in classrooms with PowerPoints, we hosted 3-hour workshops on Oct. 4 and 5 meant to introduce attendees to new skills and polish the ones they’d been using for years. We then provided space to practice, receive feedback, interact and spend time in the field!

Workshops were capped at 10 students  each to ensure personalized instruction and interaction. Each attendee was able to attend two and workshops included:

Speaker: Tony Jones

Write what you know, they say. But it turns out that’s harder than it looks, especially when the genre of memoir may have already passed its peak of popularity. However, memoir is only one of the ways to embed your own story in what you write. In this class, we will explore memoir, but we’ll also look at first-person narrative in outdoors journalism, essays, and even “auto-fiction” as methods to tell your story in writing. The goal of the class will be to discern how best to tell your story—in what genre, style, and voice.

Speaker: Ruth Hoyt

Join Ruth Hoyt as she shares ethical practices for creating wildlife photo opportunities. Her workshop starts with a brief introduction and review of camera gear you can use for wildlife photography. Ruth specializes in building outdoor photo studio setups for attracting and photographing wild birds and small mammals in natural settings. She will help participants with hands-on techniques for spontaneous wildlife photography on the trail.

Speaker: Wayne Hubbard

Learn concrete steps to boost your on-screen presense whether for short videos, long documentaries or even Zoom calls. Join Wayne Hubbard, the Co-Founder, Host and Producer of Multi-Award Winning Syndicated TV Show, Urban American Outdoors, as he walks you through tips and tricks for being comfortable in front of the camera. Special thanks to Toyota for making this workshop possible.

Speaker: Rick Saez

Simple steps to identify your ideal listener, sort out the equipment, how to record and edit, publish and make your podcast irresistible so your followers say YES, I WANT TO LISTEN TO THAT!! Expect a hands-on class with plenty of opportunity to interview, record, edit and practice.

Speaker: Matthew Dickerson

This workshop will focus on creative narrative non-fiction that is both personal and informed, specifically with a focus on ecology, nature writing, or outdoor writing–or some combination of the above. We will look together at some examples of excellent essays that have a personal narrative voice and yet successfully interweave elements of science, history, interviews, or observation of nature, and then take some time to practice that craft in a workshop setting. Participants will learn what makes such an essay excellent, how to approach writing a work of narrative non-fiction, and some very helpful elements of the writing craft that can be used to polish and refine our essay writing.

Speaker: Lisa Ballard

The 2021 OWAA conference will take place as the fall foliage is reaching its peak in northern Vermont. What an opportunity! This workshop will teach you how to capture this colorful phenomenon, including scenics and close-ups of maples and other leaves. It will cover composition, lighting, lens choice for DSLR users, what’s possible with point-and-shoots and phone cameras, and other aspects of fall foliage photography based on the photo equipment that an attendee has. I’ve been shooting (and selling) fall foliage images for over 25 years, and have won many awards in this genre. It’s one of my specialties, having lived in New England for most of my life. The class will be roughly 1/3 how-to + 1/3 field work + 1/3 photo critique.

Speakers: Ann & Rob Simpson

If you have ever said “I have a nice camera, but I don’t know how to use it, or I would like to know more about all the features and how to use them” join Ann and Rob Simpson for a personalized, small group photography session. Their teaching style has been described as relaxed, patient, and stress free and in just a few hours you can gain confidence with your camera and learn how to take “wow” photos. From point-and-shoot users who would like to know more about how their camera works to those with more advanced cameras who would like to improve their techniques, all levels of photographers are welcome.

Speaker: Greg Schwipps

When writing narrative nonfiction or fiction, what moments should the writer include as full-blown scenes, complete with action, atmosphere, dialogue —  moments that shift the story’s characters or plot?  What material, while necessary, should be delivered as exposition, or background information?  How does one blend and marry scene and exposition on the page? In this workshop, we will examine models and craft our own pieces, exploring elements of scene-building and discussing the merits of the right kind of exposition.

Speaker: Laura Beebe, Faculty in Environmental Humanities at Sterling College

How do we embed ourselves in the hidden languages of a new place? What are the various and sometimes competing ways that diverse cultures have labeled and described natural spaces? And how can learning about place names, local phrases and historical travelogues inform one’s descriptive storytelling? This workshop will introduce participants to the fields of place-based storytelling and linguistic ethnoecology. We will explore visual, oral, and written traditions ranging from ancient rock art to modern topographic maps. Participants will learn and practice moving fluidly through the natural and cultural histories of diverse lands while establishing a stronger sense of voice. This workshop aims to uncover hidden biases and assumptions of reality and expand awareness about the various ways diverse humans have expressed their interactions with the natural world.

Speaker: Alicia Daniel, Executive Director of Vermont Master Naturalist

Join Alicia Daniel, University of Vermont Field Naturalist, to explore the natural beauty of Northern Vermont as we walk through a blaze of fall foliage. We will “read” the layers of the landscape of Jay Peak and hear stories of its natural and cultural history, including geology, soils, hydrology, plants and animals. You will leave this workshop ready to see your own home in new ways.

Speaker: Tamara Dean

This class, which includes a period of outdoor exploration, prompts writers to generate compelling narrative nonfiction or fiction rooted in place. Participants will leave with an understanding of several successful approaches to nature writing, the beginning of a draft, and a roadmap for developing a work in progress.

Praise for the 2021 Conference

"I was delighted and inspired and met so much terrific talent. Keep up the amazing work."
Richard Bangs
Co-Founder of Steller.co & MT Sobek
"It was an amazing conference and I met so many great people! Workshops were awesome! Panels were informative!"
Jeremy Puglisi
Podcast Host, Photographer, Author, Public Speaker
"I thoroughly got a lot out of the conference. Meeting new people, networking, improving my craft, and more importantly making new friends."
Edgar Castillo
"While I have long interacted with some of your members, this was my first time to interact with the organization, and I was impressed with both the diversity of your membership and the passion and commitment for a sustainable future for nature and people."
Doug Ladd
Former director of conservation for The Nature Conservancy in Missouri
"I loved the conference. I made so many valuable connections and new friends. The keynotes were excellent."
Greg Schwipps
Professor of English at DePauw University
"I had such fun at the OWAA conference! What a sharp, friendly group of people."
Tamara Dean
"My first OWAA conference was awesome! I met so many great people, learned a bunch from the speakers and workshops, and even came home with a couple EIC awards! It was a great experience and can't wait until the next one!"
Christopher Paparo
Southampton Marine Science Center Manager at Stoneybrook University
The conference was outstanding. We enjoyed meeting old friends and making new ones. Workshops and sessions were top notch, and Jay Peak was amazing. We were especially pleased to see so many new members, many of them young, and all filled with enthusiasm.
Rich Peterson
"The panels and seminars were excellent across the board, but what really made the conference special was the people. From the moment I arrived at the Jay Peak Resort until I stepped off the shuttle at the airport in Burlington, I was made to feel more welcome by fellow attendees than any conference I have attended, including ones with my own professional colleagues. I ended up leaving with some new colleagues and friends and I would love to attend again."
David Yamane
Professor of Sociology at Wake Forest University
"It was truly a fantastic opportunity--in an intimate and friendly setting--to make new and strengthened connections with so many great professional movers and shakers in the communications and journalism field."
Amy Kapp
Editorial Director/Editor-in-Chief, Rails to Trails

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