Cheaha Mountain, the state’s highest peak, stands 2,411 feet tall and is surrounded by the vast woodlands of the Cheaha Wilderness and the Talladega National Forest. You couldn’t think of a more perfect setting to learn outdoor skills, get closer to nature, and maybe even learn more about yourself.
Cheaha and its namesake state park are the site of the first Cheaha Wilderness Women Weekend, which will take place this August 17-19. During the gathering, women will have the opportunity to learn skills such as constructing campfires and reading maps, while also building camaraderie with other participants and enjoying some time in nature.
While all reservations are booked for the August event, there are plans to hold the event again in December of 2018, and then begin a regular annual schedule.
The weekend is the brainchild of Renee Simmons Raney, park operations and event supervisor for Cheaha State Park. She says that the idea was born from her experience as a youth growing up in the outdoors.
“I was raised on an Alabama farm by outdoorsmen and women who instilled confidence in me toward outdoor skills and exploration,” says Raney. “I grew up reading about Isabella Bird and Laura Ingalls Wilder, who is actually a distant cousin. Over the years, I encountered women who desired to have skills and experience, but did not have the opportunity to learn these things in a comfortable and casual setting.”
Seeing first-hand that women wanted to learn outdoors skills, Raney realized that the state has 21 state parks covering 48,000-acres of land, and she pictured a state-wide outdoor classroom.
“The educator within whispered,” she says. “Let’s design workshops that reach out to diverse populations, including females, who love nature but desire a deeper and more intimate outdoor recreation experience.”
The Goals of the Weekend
You might be aware of another event, “Becoming an Outdoor Woman” or BOW, in which the Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources teaches outdoor skills. While BOW includes some co-ed classes, the Cheaha Wilderness Women event is only for women, and all skills will be taught exclusively by women.
So, what will participants glean from the weekend?
“We want to help women become their strongest, best selves, while providing solid instruction in wilderness enjoyment, travel, and outdoor skills,” says Raney. “Our primary goal is to see women, solo or with their friends and families, flow into state parks, national parks, and other public land areas to confidently enjoy outdoor recreation activities, explore natural resources, and make incredible memories.”
The Schedule and the Challenges
To say the weekend is packed with activities is an understatement. The schedule includes:
Hiking & Backpacking Basics
Erecting Tents & Hammocks
Dutch Oven Cooking Workshop
Leave No Trace Ethics
Making Your Own Hiking Sticks
Still Water Kayaking Basics
Reading the Woods
Women’s Camping Carpentry Skills
And the list goes on. But, Raney says the weekend is about more than just outdoor skills.
“There is an invisible warning label on this workshop,” she says. “Be aware that time spent outdoors with your sister tribe can be addictive. Even after you return to civilization, you may find yourself longing for the scent of pine woods, walking barefooted, following butterflies across meadows, craving mountain breezes, and cooking over a campfire rather than a stove.”
The gathering will also challenge women to step away from technology, become comfortable beyond “walls” and amenities, and relax in nature to reconnect with themselves. “Some of us have forgotten what delighted us as children,” says Raney. “Most of that delight can be rediscovered in the wild places like state parks.”
Upcoming Events and Things You Should Know
Make your plans now to secure a spot at the December Cheaha Wilderness Women’s Weekend. To be placed on the list to attend, visit the Cheaha State Park website, or contact Raney at Renee.Raney@dcnr.alabama.gov.
The Cheaha Wilderness Women’s Weekend is for women 16 years of age and older (females under 19 must be accompanied by their mother, older sister, aunt, or guardian). As of now, each weekend is limited to 50 participants, but that number could change after the first event in August.
Registration is $125 per person, which is refundable up to two weeks prior to the event. Each participants must supply her own tent or sleeping hammock, sleeping bag, flashlight, personal needs, drinks, and breakfasts.
Written by Joe Cuhaj for RootsRated Media in partnership with BCBS of AL.