Points North: Young women bring new perspectives to outdoor writing

Kate Watson is an outdoor writer and communications manager for North House Folk School based and Grand Marais, MN
Kate Watson is an outdoor writer and communications manager for North House Folk School based and Grand Marais, MN

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We often hear young people are losing interest in the Great Outdoors, but plenty of 20-somethings enjoy activities ranging from cross-country skiing to hunting. A few even pursue outdoor-related careers. In the field of outdoor communications, many of today's young professionals are women. While the ranks of outdoor writers have included women for decades, it appears more females are entering the outdoor communications field than ever before. They are sure to bring new perspectives to what was traditionally a male-dominated profession, because they are anything but typical.

Consider Shelby Gonzalez of Duluth, a freelance outdoor and adventure writer and the managing editor of Northern Wilds magazine. Growing up in the Twin Cities, she had virtually no exposure to outdoor activities. In high school, she overheard a classmate who was preparing for a 49-day Arctic paddling trip led by Camp Menogyn on the Gunflint Trail.

“I had no idea someone my age could do something like that,” she says.

That night, she asked her mother if she could go to summer camp at Menogyn. The camp became part of her life for three summers. Through Menogyn, Gonzalez participated in a 17-day Boundary Waters canoe trip and then a 30-day excursion in Ontario's Wabikimi
Wilderness. She could have paddled the Arctic, but at the ripe old age of 18 she decided to make a solo trip around the world instead. That adventure was cut short when she had an emergency appendectomy in West Java, Indonesia.

Returning home, she enrolled at the University of Minnesota, Duluth, where she designed her own major, Outdoor Adventure Writing with a curriculum that included lots of rock climbing through the school’s outdoor recreation program. She's gone on to design her own career as a freelance writer.

"Getting into the outdoors completely shifted my life's path," she says.

By contrast, Kate Watson of Grand Marais grew up along the Yukon River near the tiny village of Eagle, Alaska. The outdoors was her childhood playground.

"We had no T.V. or running water," she recalls. "For fun, you either went outside or read a book."

Her family later moved to the Upper Peninsula, where she went to high school. Her first experience with city life was going to college in the Twin Cities, majoring in journalism. While taking a magazine writing class, she went with her father to the North House Folk School in Grand Marais and wrote a story about an event called the Winterer's Gathering. Whether coincidence or fate, today she is the school's communications director.

Watson says she enjoys cities, but a small town is better suited to her outdoor lifestyle. An avid participant in active sports like cross-country skiing and hiking, she shares her outdoor knowledge through freelance stories and gear reviews she writes for Northern Wilds magazine. Although she didn't specifically seek a career in outdoor communications, she's happy with the niche she's found in Grand Marais.

Creating your own niche in the hunting industry isn’t easy, regardless of your gender, says Melissa Bachman. She credits her upbringing with her decision to pursue a career in outdoor television. Growing up in Central Minnesota, both of her parents were hunters.

"I developed a passion for hunting," she says. "I looked forward to my 12th birthday so I could start hunting. I could hardly sleep the night before I went deer hunting for the first time."

In college she double-majored in Spanish and Broadcast Journalism. Then she went looking for work. She applied at 74 companies and was told over and over that she couldn't get hired without experience. Finally, she applied at the North American Hunting Club, where again she was told she needed experience. She left the interview, thought
about it and decided the club was where she wanted to work. So she went back and made the company an offer.

"I asked if I could work for free as an intern so I could learn television production," Bachman says.

The club took her on as an intern. For months, she worked nights at a bar in St. Cloud and made a 150-mile round-trip commute for her internship. Once she gained some experience, she was hired by the North American Hunting Club and worked as a producer for four years. She occasionally appeared on the club's hunting show as a personality. To build up a video resume, she began filming her own hunts. A year-and-a-half ago, she left the club and began freelancing as a personality on hunting shows. She signed on as a full-time host for North American Hunter, the club’s television show, just a few weeks ago. It's where she wants to be.

“I had lots of ambition, knew what I wanted and worked hard to get there," she says. "As long as someone allows me to hunt all fall and all spring, I'm a happy girl."

Ada Igoe is also where she wants to be--on the Gunflint Trail. Her essays about life in the woods air on WTIP Radio in Grand Marais. She writes about nature and the outdoors for various magazines. In the summer, she works at Chik-Wauk Museum and Nature Center on Lake Saganaga. Igoe was introduced to the canoe country at an early age, but didn't appreciate it until she was a young adult.

"I grew up in Grand Marais," she says. "When I was little we would take our vacation in the BWCAW and I hated it."

It wasn't until she worked summer jobs as a receptionist for the U.S. Forest Service and later for a Gunflint Trail outfitter that she became intrigued with the canoe country. After college, she worked as a temporary for six months in London and did a six-month stint in the Twin Cities. In a recession-ravaged job market, writing jobs were hard to come by.

"I applied multiple times at the Duluth News-Tribune, but instead of hiring, they always eliminated the position," she says.

Igoe liked cities, but decided she didn't want to live in one. She moved to the Gunflint Trail in 2009. Pursuing freelance writing allowed her to be where she wanted to be. In addition to WTIP, she writes for various publications and a local tourism blog. Her writing doesn't earn enough to fully support her yet, so she appreciates her job at the museum.

When asked if they think there is a reason why more women are becoming outdoor communicators, all say it is easier for women to break into fields once dominated by men.

"Women are a growing part of the hunting industry," says Bachman. "There are more great female role models. My Mom hunted, so I knew it wasn't just a guy thing."

Igoe, who doesn't hunt, but is willing to tag along and carry a dead grouse, says today's 20-something women have more career options than women in previous generations. She thinks women may gravitate more to communications careers than men, noting the blogosphere is mostly female. One thing is certain. Female outdoor communicators are telling new stories and reaching new audiences. In doing so, they are proving young people haven’t abandoned the Great Outdoors.

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