Where the Wild Women Are
Tucked away in the Endless Mountains, there is a little jewel of a State Park that hosts the largest group of “Wild Women” on the East Coast. “Women in the Wilds” is one day where over 250 women of all ages gather to canoe and kayak; to learn to shoot a compound bow, rifle, or handgun; to identify birds and plants; to throw an ancient atlatl, make cheese, or raise chickens.
“The comment I hear most frequently is ‘I don’t think I’m wild enough for this,’” says event coordinator and Mt. Pisgah’s State Park Naturalist Nicole Harris. “I assure them that they are.” The event is for women aged fourteen and up, and women of all ages are there. It’s this mad mix of multi-generational women that makes the event so special. Many women say that this is the best time they’ve had in the outdoors in years, and it’s no wonder. “Women in the Wilds” is a collection of the best classes a summer camp could offer and the camper gets four of the six classes she considers the most fun. With twenty seminars to choose from, ninety minutes for every class, and small class size, everyone gets a chance to really participate and get involved.
What makes this event even more unusual is that it is organized by an all volunteer committee of thirty women from the Friends of Mt. Pisgah. They, along with other members of the Friends and the seven maintenance workers of the park, do all the planning, site selection, and work needed to arrange for expert instructors offering high quality courses. This dedication creates an event where all the money raised actually stays at the State Park.
The rock wall is a popular feature of the Women in the Wilds event.
Perhaps the quote on the Friends’ membership pamphlet says it best: “Pennsylvania’s State Parks need your help. It’s your land, so lend a hand.”
This kind of commitment and ability to both serve the public and to provide for the park is a hallmark of the Friends of Mt. Pisgah. The organization was founded in 2010 in the midst of a state financial crisis that threatened to close the park. The group’s first task was to save the park, but instead of simply raising money, this group created and expanded events that increased park use, educated people on conservation and traditional farming methods, and raised money for more services here. The park was created in the late 1960s from several farms, with the twin missions of promoting the farming heritage of this area and wildlife conservation.
To do that, they inaugurated the annual Apple Butter Stir in October, and Sugar on the Snow in March. Both events give park visitors a chance to see old farming methods, and many of the activities at these events are free. According to Carl Young, board president of Friends of Mt. Pisgah, and Bill Bower, nature writer and board member, events here are tied to both farming and conservation, in keeping with the park missions. The Friends of Mt. Pisgah State Park is also a chapter of the Pennsylvania Parks and Forests Foundation. Both Young and Bower stressed that the Friends work with the park, filling needs identified by park staff and cannot be met by current state funding.
Since 2010, the Friends of Mt. Pisgah have provided the park a new playground, upgraded the electrical service in the hilltop area, bought kayaks and paddles for the lake area, a teepee, a new sound system, and many small projects. One of the projects near and dear to Nicole Harris’ heart is the “greening of the park.” That means that supplies and products used at Mt. Pisgah educational events are either reusable or compostable. The park strives to leave as small an ecological footprint on the land as possible.
The “Women in the Wilds” program is on August 3 this year, but the registration has been full for weeks. If you’re interested in participating in 2014, please call 570-297-2734 or send your name to [email protected]. You can also “like” Friends of Mt. Pisgah on Facebook for up-to-the-minute information on events. While you’re waiting to “get wild” next year, there’s apple butter to be made and pumpkins to carve, homemade ice cream to churn, maple taffy to pour on snow. There’ll be a square dance, astronomy nights, and a youth activity day. There’s swimming at the pool, one of only four free pools in Pennsylvania, or boating on the seventy-five-acre lake. Walk through the Nature Center gardens, or go see the garden to table project. And if that’s not enough, Bill Bower wants to build an icehouse and harvest ice from the lake. There’s almost as much to do here as there would be on the family farm, all fun and educational.
Archery is another exciting and popular activity.