Immerse yourself in the wild West Virginia outdoors to learn new skills and forge new connections.

This story was originally published in the April 2024 issue of Wonderful West Virginia. To subscribe, visit

written by Taylor Maple

Photographed by Ashley Anderson

Every now and then, a group of women gathers at a state park in West Virginia. They might flock to Canaan Valley or head down south to Bluestone, or maybe they’ll land somewhere in between. They’ll be different ages and backgrounds. Some will know each other already and some will be total strangers, and they’ll each have different reasons for being there. But when they’re done, they’ll all have something in common—they’ll be taking home more knowledge, fearlessness, and camaraderie than they arrived with.

The West Virginia Division of Natural Resources’ (WVDNR) Becoming an Outdoors Woman (BOW) program offers women ages 18 and up the opportunity to immerse themselves in outdoor recreation of all kinds in an environment free from judgment, friendly to beginners, and immersed in sisterhood. Activities include hunting, fishing, shooting, nature crafts, mountain biking, and much more—and, although male instructors may be brought in every now and then for support, each class is guaranteed to have a woman instructor. “Women need to be able to feel that they’re able to learn in an environment that is supportive of women learning these outdoor recreational activities,” says Ashley Anderson, WVDNR employee and organizer of the program. “I find that women are a lot more comfortable learning from other women, just because there’s no stigma.” 

BOW is a national effort that many states take part in, and West Virginia’s involvement dates back to 1997. According to Anderson, the program originally looked a lot like it does today, hosting regular classes and workshops throughout the state. When the main organizer retired, however, its scale decreased. For a while, BOW existed mostly on a state park level and was contained to the park where whomever was coordinating it was stationed at the time. Now under Anderson’s leadership since October 2022, the program is statewide once more and finding new life as people far and wide discover—or rediscover—all it can offer. 

Two main events bolster the BOW calendar throughout the year. The Becoming an Outdoors Woman workshop is held each spring and fall and lasts for three days, encompassing more than 20 classes altogether and accommodating up to 75 people. Smaller, shorter workshops called Beyond BOW events happen more frequently—usually once every two months or so—and accommodate fewer people. Though the majority of women attending are from West Virginia, out-of-state participants are welcomed as well, and the numbers are capped thoughtfully. They aim to have not only enough space for everyone to be comfortable, Anderson says, but also enough instructors to make sure no one gets lost in the shuffle. 

Participants, it seems, have felt anything but lost. “What I find in each BOW workshop is women supporting women,” attendee Sarah Parrish says. “The majority of instructors are women who are very passionate about the things they are teaching, and they want to pass their knowledge on to other women.” She appreciates the always-supportive environment among participants. “Whether it’s catching a fish on a fly line or hitting clay pigeons with a shotgun, we are always excited to see each other succeed. Bonding with those amazing women from all over the state—and even out of state—while learning about the outdoors is such a positive experience that sometimes I don’t want BOW weekends to end!”

Kim Beach-Shaffer participated in the BOW program as early as 2001 and has followed it through its various forms as both an attendee and an instructor. She says she has no plans of stopping. “This program is so essential and necessary. It is an incredible opportunity in a safe, non-confrontational space for women to grow confident, secure outdoor skill sets, build  supportive networks and relationships, and allow deeper connections both personal and with the world around us,” she says. “Personally, I hope I’ve given as much as I have received from this program. It has been a life-changer for me. The skills you teach or learn are great, but it is the relationships, the memories, and the laughter that have made it such a gift in my life. I plan on participating in BOW in one manner or another as long as the good Lord will allow me.”

Anderson echoes those sentiments, saying that not only do the workshops allow women to find empowerment in activities that can often feel exclusionary to them, but they also find relationships that last long after the workshops are over. She recalls group texts born out of a discussion about weather or logistical questions leading up to a workshop, and says they will still be pinging months later with folks who want to get together independent of the program. “People have a hunger for when they get in a group of all women,” Anderson says. “There’s just a safe, comfortable exposure in outdoor recreational activity that creates a unity amongst the group.” 

The age range that workshops span is large, and no one needs any prior experience to attend. “We’ve had people in their 70s come to these events,” Anderson says, noting that extra accommodations will always be made if possible. “We actually even had a woman that was actively fighting cancer, so she was very limited on the classes that she could do, but her and her daughter really wanted to come to get her out of the house and kind of just experience stuff. So we were able to tailor her schedule to classes that fit her accommodations and her needs. And it was really wonderful to give her that.” And though no one under the age of 18 is allowed to participate due to liability reasons, Anderson says they are considering how to implement more family-friendly events in the future. 

As for Anderson, she is no stranger to this kind of work. While she was a student at Marshall University, she was a member and eventually the president of a student organization built around parks and recreation. “They really taught me the structure of getting into outdoor recreation,” she says. “We all became friends, and we really taught so much to each other about all these different activities. We would go whitewater rafting, rock climbing, camping, backpacking, and they are teaching you along the way.” This experience has continued to inspire her throughout her life. 

When the opportunity arose to take over the program as a WVDNR employee, Anderson says she knew it was her calling. “I knew that’s what I wanted to do. I was so passionate about teaching women how to be self-sufficient in outdoor recreation,” she says. “It empowers them so much. It’s wonderful to be in an environment that’s so welcoming and so positive to be in and so supportive.” Together with a few interns and a committee that assists with larger events, Anderson seems like the perfect leader to guide BOW into the future.

The BOW program has its own page on the WVDNR’s website, and that’s where all hopeful participants can find information on the latest announcements and events. The site offers online registration, clearly outlines all costs associated with the events, and has everything else you’d need to know before you arrive. “My advice would be to just come to a BOW workshop, because these are absolutely geared toward beginners,” Anderson says. The occasional advanced class is clearly marked and is not the norm—the goal is to be accessible to everyone.

And the support doesn’t stop when participants head home. “We call it a lifelong mentorship program, because we give them the materials that they need and the information that they need to just kind of pick up and start after they leave the program,” Anderson says. Instructors provide supplemental information on how to practice these recreational activities independently, make sure participants know about affordable supplies they can use to kickstart their goals when the program is over, and even help them learn to use gear they already own but may be untrained in using.

So if you’ve been itching to learn something new, let this be your sign to take a leap of faith. You never know what skills—and friendships—you may be ready to embrace.

Interested in becoming an outdoors woman? Click the link “Becoming an Outdoors Woman” at to learn more and register for upcoming workshops and events.