New places, new faces, old friends

For many of us, a highlight of each year is attending the annual OWAA conference.
That’s not to say there aren’t more important red-letter days – birthdays, anniversaries, holidays, and assorted other personal events – but OWAA’s annual gathering rises to its own standing as a special event for a variety of reasons.
Conferences are often an opportunity to travel to new places and see or experience new things that provide everlasting memories.
Like the field trip at the Portland, Ore., conference to an old growth forest with a U.S. Forest Service biologist for a successful search to find newborn northern spotted owls. Two side trips that year revealed the enduring mark of man and nature – wagon wheel ruts along the Oregon Trail near Mount Hood that are still visible, and the aftermath of Mount St. Helen’s eruption.
There was the caving trip that Bill Monroe organized at the Chattanooga, Tenn., conference, the smallmouth bass fishing tournament that Dave Arnold of Class VI Outfitters was host to in Charleston, W.Va., and what amounted to a grand slam during the Spokane conference – visits to Glacier and Yellowstone national parks, a two-night canoe trip on the Upper Missouri near Great Falls, Mont., and a jet boat ride and overnight stay through the Hell’s Canyon stretch of the Snake River in Idaho.
In Maine, Jessie and I camped one short night at Acadia National Park. The goal, which we achieved, was to watch that night’s sunset and the next morning’s sunrise from the top of Cadillac Mountain. We topped that with a seven-day wilderness canoe trip in the Boundary Waters prior to the Duluth, Minn., conference.
And I’ll not soon forget St. George, Utah, and the long and winding road John Mazurkiewicz and I traveled to get a glimpse of Zion National Park.
Conferences are always an opportunity to learn valuable craft improvement lessons on quality writing; taking quality photographs; on book contracts; on starting a radio or television program; on interviewing techniques; on computer technology, Web site development, blogging and social media.
Conferences are an opportunity to listen to a range of compelling speakers – Nina Leopold Bradley, Jack Ward Thomas, Charles Kuralt, Randall Eaton, Nick Lyons, Ted Kerasote, Richard Louv, Chuck Yeager, Shane Mahoney and Dr. James Swan, to mention a few.
Conferences provide the chance to connect with news sources from state and federal resource agencies, conservation advocacy groups, tourism representatives from Alaska to Florida, or corporate representatives from heavy hitters like Coleman, the National Shooting Sports Foundation and Toyota to a raft of up-and-comers like MacDaddy’s Fishing Lures and its gem-studded “Million Dollar Lure.”
While each of these factors is reason enough to attend an OWAA conference, the most valuable part of conference can be meeting other members and forging friendships.
The icebreaker for me happened at my first conference – Niagara in 1991. The entire event seemed a bit overwhelming to a guy who was just breaking into outdoor communications.
As I was walking across the parking lot after Breakout Day, a car pulled up. Bob Marshall was at the wheel. Seated next to him was the late John Husar, with whom I’d crossed paths years before while covering Notre Dame football. Tom Wharton was in the back seat.
“Are you hungry?” Marshall said.
“Yes,” I said, responding somewhat timidly.
“Get in,” he said and proceeded to take an unusually long drive across the border into Canada for a bite to eat at a classy restaurant in Niagara on the Lake.
What started as a chance meeting in a parking lot led to long-standing acquaintances strengthened a couple of nights later when the four of us met again over dinner. Mike Levy was there, too. So were John McCoy and Shannon Tompkins, Tom Stienstra and Bill Monroe, and several others.
By the end of the night, we had all signed a petition requesting formation of the OWAA Newspaper Section.
These little reminiscences came to mind after receiving a preliminary agenda for this year’s conference, June 13-16, in Grand Rapids, Mich.
The conference theme is “Words, Pictures, Money” and includes such sessions (and heavyweight presenters) as Trade Secrets: Tips on Tapping Into an Oft-Ignored Market (Glen Sapir), Beyond Hook and Bullet Writing: Success in Other Venues (Tom Huggler), Digital Photography: Software Makes the Difference (Jim Foster), Making Money from Small Publications (Wayne Van Zwoll), and the Future of Radio (Wade Bourne).
And that’s just in the first two days of the conference, which, as always, is a buffet, a smorgasbord, a sampler and an endless snack bar rolled into one. There’s a little something – and a whole lot more – for everyone.
I’ll be there. How about you?
By Phil Bloom, OWAA president


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