Bring the spirit of OWAA to your hometown

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I had a heck of a time writing this month’s column. I guess we’ll chalk it up to the affliction that besets every writer now and again: Ye Olde Writers’ Block. But that’s what draws us closer as a community — the fact that when one of us is suffering this affliction, there are another 999 others out there who can understand exactly where we’re coming from.
On a Monday evening last month, OWAA’s staff, along with Missoula, Mont.-based Board members Paul Queneau and Katie McKalip, welcomed some of those kindred souls — local outdoor communicators — to a low-key gathering at Missoula’s Union Club. “Off the Record” was the name of the event, the brainchild of Queneau, which brought 14 individuals out to mix and mingle. The gathering will no doubt grow in popularity among area media folk once the word is out.
Among those at the Union Club were students from the OWAA University of Montana Student Chapter. They’re up and running, and meeting regularly. The two active student groups (The University of Montana-Missoula and University of Missouri) are an excellent example of how OWAA members took the opportunity to build a community by helping establish an OWAA Student Chapter at their alma maters.
A sense of belonging is what we’re all after, right? That’s why you belong to OWAA. But continuing to build that community is something we could all be doing in our hometowns across the country. Just put up a flyer or two, maybe a free ad on your local events calendar. Always wanted to pick the brain of a successful regional photographer? Now you have an excuse to email him or her. It doesn’t take much to gather a few folks — whether at a local coffee shop, watering hole, or even your public library. You might be surprised the future friends, unique talents, and even potential OWAA members, in your neck of the woods.
If you’re interested in starting either program in your local community, contact OWAA headquarters. We’re happy to offer tips and suggestions to help you build your own local community of outdoor writers.
As Howard Thurman, a prominent civil rights leader once said, “Community cannot for long feed on itself; it can only flourish with the coming of others from beyond, their unknown and undiscovered brothers.”
We can languish in the company of the same-old same-old, or we can take the opportunity to let our community flourish by increasing its number through local outreach efforts like Off the Record and student groups. We’re open to ideas — what ideas do you have for increasing your own community, and thus the greater outdoor communications community?
One of the best opportunities you have to build community is at OWAA’s annual conference. In addition to enhancing your skills, filling your story files, and adding to your store of life experiences, you have an incredible opportunity to increase your own personal community by spending a few days immersed with other like-minded writers and outdoorsmen.
Jessica Pollet, OWAA’s Membership and Conference Services Coordinator, and I recently returned from locales in the Southeast where we visited potential host cities for the 2014 annual conference. The short list of host cities includes Knoxville, Tenn.; Birmingham, Ala.; and Houma, La. Any of these locations would offer an amazing conference experience. In Knoxville, you have easy access to Great Smoky Mountains National Park. In Birmingham, you will find the most urban green space per capita, and an elaborate network of greenways linking parks and preserves around the area. Houma offers the opportunity to tour coastal wetlands and learn about the many challenges they’re facing.
In coming weeks, Pollett and I will put together draft budgets, and weigh the opportunities at all the locations, and will have a decision in place by the end of the year. An official announcement of the 2014 conference location will be made in February.
Until we meet again after the New Year, here’s wishing you and your family many fond holiday wishes from our little Missoula community to yours. ♦
—OWAA Executive Director Robin Giner,

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