Monday, March 3, 2014


It's been a crazy week.

        I have been truly blessed by many over the past few days, and have had the opportunity to meet countless friendly new faces, ones that I know will remain friends and associates for a long time to come.  I owe deep thanks to the Virginia Outdoor Writers Association and the members of the Sportsmen For Responsible Energy Development (SFRED) coalition--Trout Unlimited, the Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership, and the National Wildlife Federation.

        Starting last weekend, the Virginia Outdoor Writers Association, a wonderfully supportive group of which I have remained a part for the past three years, selected my essay entry as a winner in the VOWA-Bass Pro Shops High School Essay Contest; and I was invited to the annual conference, along with four very talented student writers.  This honor I have received for the second time now, first for "The Homecoming," and most recently for "Every Dog Has His Day," and I can not begin to describe my genuine gratitude.  Many of the members of VOWA are true icons in Virginia's outdoor literary tradition.  Their approval is truly humbling.

Left to right:  Victor Harangozo, Michael Gates, Matthew Reilly, Secretary of Natural Resources Molly Joseph Ward, Khoa Tran, Caroline Armstrong.  Photo by Rob Thomas.
        I attend the annual VOWA meeting every year for the excellent speakers and networking opportunities that it offers.  The majority of my opportunities for growth have been products of this meeting, and I would urge anyone interested in outdoor communications--be it writing, photography, blogging, videography, etc.--to surround yourself with and learn from this group.

        Among the acquaintances I made this year were Clarke C. Jones, author of Virginia Wildlife's Off the Leash; Phil James, local Albemarle County historian and columnist for the Crozet Gazette; Ed Felker of Dispatches From the Potomac; and Sally Mills, editor of Virginia Wildlife.

        Next up, a trip to the Nation's capital sponsored by the Sportsmen for Responsible Energy Development (SFRED), with three high-caliber teenagers--Rebecca Brown of Conrad, Montana, Haley Powell of Rock Springs, Wyoming, and Jarred Kay of Flagstaff, Arizona.  Our hosts were charismatic, enthusiastic SFRED leaders Chris Wood, Brad Powell, Corey Fisher, and Keith Curley of Trout Unlimited; Ed Arnett of the Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership, and Kate Zimmerman of the National Wildlife Federation.  

Left to right:  Haley Powell, Jarred Kay, Matthew Reilly, and Rebecca Brown.
Photo courtesy of Mrs. Brown.
        In this context, we were swept through Washington's bustling infrastructure, always on schedule.  Influential conservation officials awaited our arrival at various corners of the city.  Mary Wagner, Associate Chief of the US Forest Service; Sally Jewell, US Secretary of the Interior; and congressmen from each represented state were all generous enough to sacrifice time from their complicated schedule to receive who they so emphatically dubbed "the next generation of leaders in conservation."  From socializing with the others, I feel I can speak for all involved--the pleasure was all ours.

Haley Powell (left) and Rebecca Brown (right) with Secretary Jewell.
Photo courtesy of DOI.
        Chris Wood, CEO of Trout Unlimited, and his wife Betsy hosted the last evening's wrap-up dinner in their warm and welcoming home.  What do a bunch of conservation biologists and outdoorsmen talk about at dinner?  Fishing was the main subject, but elk hunting had something to do with it.

        Thanks VOWA and SFRED, the US Forest Service and the Department of the Interior, and thank you Woods, for inviting us into your home.

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