Call of the Wild

Linda Scovanner always enjoyed breaking down cultural norms and stereotypes, so it was only natural that she would find a way to do so—and show others how to do the same—through her work at the Charlie Elliott Wildlife Center.

by David Roten

Linda Scovanner knew exactly where she wanted to be at an early age. At the same time her Girl Scouts troop was doing indoor sleepovers, a group of Boy Scouts, led by her father, were camping in the great outdoors and cooking over a fire. The call was irresistible. 

“When the girls wanted to do makeovers, I was like, ‘Hold up, I want to go sleep under the stars,’” Scovanner said. “Any time his troop did anything, I was the little sister bouncing along with them.”

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Scovanner credits her father for passing his love for nature and science on to her. Her mother was a teacher and instrumental in exposing her to the educational side. Both parents modeled volunteering through scouting, as well as other activities. All of it together served to lead Scovanner down a career path toward outdoor education and, ultimately, to the Charlie Elliott Wildlife Center in Mansfield, where she now coordinates the Becoming an Outdoors Woman program.

“When the girls wanted to do makeovers, I was like, ‘Hold up, I want to go sleep under the stars.’”

Linda Scovanner

Designed for women 18 years of age and older, BOW is a weekend-long, hands-on workshop offering a variety of outdoor-skills training that ranges from hunting and fishing to firearms and archery, birding, backpacking, orienteering and more. Courses are taught by knowledgeable, empathetic instructors within a safe and structured environment. Overnight accommodations include dormitory-style lodges and primitive campsites; attendees may choose to commute if they live locally. Registration for the popular program, held annually in November, typically begins in early August. The most recent BOW was a sell-out, with event accommodations maxed out by 80 enthusiastic participants.

“We’ve got all demographics, all age ranges, all levels of experience,” Scovanner said. “We meet them where they’re coming from.” 

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Though attendees come to the conference with varied interests and degrees of expertise, they all arrive with a common bond: They are women who want to know and experience more of the natural world. Fortunately, cultural stereotypes that suggest women are not as suited as men for outdoor activities are fading. “BOW is just about enjoying the outdoors and creating an equal playing field,” Scovanner said, “because there really are no boundaries in the outdoors. It’s for everybody.” Still, though perceptions have changed and the door leading outside is more open to women, many need help walking through it. “Now women are stuck,” Scovanner said, “because, [they say] ‘Yes, everything’s inclusive and we can all go out there and do it, but where do we start?’” In a sense, it has been Scovanner’s lifetime ambition to help them to know. 

“My goal was always to do some kind of outdoors science education,” she said, pointing to a high school field trip to Belize as an inspiring confirmation. “I was like, ‘This is it. This is the job I want. I want to teach people about all the wonders of the world and nature.’”

Scovanner’s was a childhood filled with outdoor adventure and exploration with her father. “And always the wonder of it all,” she said. “He always asked me questions, ‘Oh, what do you think that is?’ What do you hear?’” His inquiring way of sharing his knowledge and passion for the outdoors instilled in her the same love and a desire to pass it on. A teacher was being born.

Not surprisingly, Scovanner earned a degree in education with a concentration in science from Wittenberg University in Springfield, Ohio. Since then, she has gone on to teach both inside and outside the classroom, including a stint with stingrays and sharks where she utilized microphone-equipped SCUBA gear. Scovanner also worked with county park systems and the Boy Scouts before coming to the Charlie Elliott Wildlife Center, where she oversees the school residential and public programming, in addition to BOW. 

Scovanner can summarize the Becoming and Outdoors Woman weekend in a few words: “A lot of fun and a lot of learning.” Attendees have ample time to socialize and compare notes from the day’s activities as they eat dinner together and cozy up around the fire pit. Old friendships are rekindled and new ones formed as repeat participants take on the role of mentor for those coming for the first time. Friday night usually includes an inspiring speaker. A silent auction to benefit future attendees who may lack the means to pay the full registration fee culminates on Saturday. Interestingly, the most popular course on the schedule is Field Dressing and Quartering a Deer. “These women really want to know how to field dress a deer,” Scovanner said. However, once the actual cutting starts, responses run the gamut. “Some women are ‘full head in’ doing the cuts,” she said. “Some stand back and watch because they just want to see how it’s done. Others decide it’s not for them; and that’s all OK.”

Scovanner sees outdoor education as more than just a job. It is, as it has always been, a family affair. Her husband, Nick, is the lead ranger at Bert Adams Scout Camp, and their three children have also inherited their own appreciation for the outdoors. Sharing her passion for outdoors education with others comes naturally for Scovanner: “Knowing that I can do what I’ve always wanted to do and get more women doing things that they were told originally they couldn’t do, or their parents didn’t know how to do or teach them, is one of the best parts of the job.” 

For information on the Becoming an Outdoors Woman program at the Charlie Elliott Wildlife Center, visit www.georgiawildlife.com/BOW.

Click here to read more stories by David Roten.

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