Nestled in the cool mountain air and the changing autumn leaves of Settlement Canyon, Camp Wapiti was home to 22 women who gathered to learn new skills, take time for themselves, and just have fun.
But for the members of the Tooele County (TC) Strutters Women in the Outdoors, the past weekend was far more than ordinary.
Separating themselves from their spouses and children, their work responsibilities and the cares of the world, these women were given the chance to focus on themselves. Designed specifically for the female gender, the WITO program offered participants ages 18 and older the opportunity to learn a variety of valuable skills.
As part of the three-day event, the women participated in a diverse range of classes including archery, crafts, yoga, self-defense, fly fishing, Dutch oven cooking, handguns, emergency preparedness, first-aid, fly-tying jewelry and zumba.
An outreach program of the National Wild Turkey Federation (NWTF), TC Strutters is the local chapter of WITO and was organized eight years ago. Each year TC Strutters sponsors the WITO event. Although there are other WITO chapters within the state, TC Strutters is the only active chapter holding the annual event. This year’s participants came not only from Tooele County, but Salt Lake, Utah, and Summit Counties, as well.
TC Strutters co-chairwomen Cleora Evans has been a part of the TC Strutters since its inception in 2006. Evans said over the years, the group has changed, adding new women and loosing others, but she has remained a part of the group because of her love for the outdoors.
Having lost her husband over 30 years ago, Evans raised five children on her own. It was through that experience that she learned how much she loved the outdoors.
“I wanted to keep my kids out of trouble, so I would load up my truck with the kids and my Dutch oven, and we would head out to Clover Creek,” she said. “With five kids and all their friends we would end up with nearly 40 of us.”
After her children started moving away Evans needed something to fill that void — the WITO program that fit the bill. Today Evans’ daughter Tracy Mascarenas is part of TC Strutters staff and helps host the annual WITO event.
According to TC Strutters co-chairwoman Margaret Walters, the women who participate in WITO are all ages and have a variety of backgrounds. Some of the women are avid hunters and outdoor activists, while others have never shot a handgun or rifle in their life. Despite their differences, these ladies find common ground in their womanhood and simply enjoy sharing time together.
Susan Ulrich has attended the WITO event for several years and said she keeps coming back simply because of the good friendships and the chance it gives her to try new things.
“The instructors are good. No matter what stupid thing you do, no one cares,” she said. “Here you can learn new things and be comfortable among the women. No one is intimidating or going to take over. The instructors just let you learn.”
Beryl Schwartz of Stockton felt the same way about the learning environment that WITO offers.
“Here you don’t have men trying to take over,” she said. “I think it’s just part of men’s nature. They do it without thinking.”
Rick Brittain, Regional Director for the NWTF who oversees chapters in Utah, Colorado and Nevada, was also in attendance at the Sept. 12-14 event. Brittain served as a great resource to TC Strutters and provided support for this year’s event, bringing his own wife along.
Brittain confessed to hearing the same complaint not only from his own wife but several other women as well, as he has attended other WITO events.
“Women tell me, ‘our husbands expect us to know this already because they are outdoorsmen. But because we don’t know it, they don’t have any patience with us,’” Brittain recalled.
“At WITO these instructors we have have lots of patience, and they’re very good with the gals,” Brittain continued. “They make sure they understand it, and they have a lot of fun.”
Instructors for the classes are experts in their fields; many of them are certified instructors.
Police Capt. Earl Scofield of the Dugway Proving Ground Directorate of Emergency Services praised the women for being involved and learning how to protect themselves and their families.
Scofield echoed Dugway Proving Ground Directorate of Emergency Services Investigator Jim Dekanich’s opinions of the differences of teaching an all-female class opposed those with men.
“Here there are no egos, which is nice. The women are more willing to learn, and there aren’t any husbands here trying to show off,” Dekanich said.
These sentiments were the same according to David Richards of Unita Flyfishing Outfitters.
“These women are actually willing to listen,” Richards said during his archery and fly fishing class. “These women take the criticism I give and try and improve on what they are learning. They just seem to want to learn and the teaching comes more easily to them,” Richards said.
Whether the class was archery or yoga, handguns or crafts, the women were encouraged to try something new.
Local yoga instructor Sara Lynes said her classes were full of women who had never even tried yoga before.
“It was a slower pace class, but everyone enjoyed it so much,” Lynes said. “Everyone was so relaxed and wanted to spend the rest of the afternoon doing yoga.”
Walters believes for many women, WITO simply allows them a weekend away and the chance to do fun things.
Walters and Evans are continually looking for ways to improve TC Strutters and have high hopes for this group. Evans says she starts thinking about next year the day she goes home.
“I am really excited about next year. We already have some new ideas we are thinking about,” Evans said.
Next on her list is implementing an outreach program for youth, because the NWTF understands the need to target a younger audience for the success of their mission.
Brittain said the focus of the NWTF is shifting primarily to saving the habitat and the hunt, ensuring that everyone has the same opportunities as past hunters. NWTF believes women and kids are the fasting growing side of this shift in thinking, which is why the NWTF has found it imperative to include women through WITO and the youth through JAKES (Juniors Acquiring Knowledge, Ethics, and Sportsmanship).
The JAKES program is geared to youth 17 and younger. TC Strutters is working specifically with Walters’ 16-year-old granddaughter Ashley Walters in the hopes of returning a JAKES program to Tooele County.
Evans says her hope is to hold with a one-day event for the youth.
For more information on TC Strutters, WITO, or JAKES contact Cleora Evans at (435) 830-7802.
In this Sept. 16 Hometown article, Dugway Police Captain Earl Scofield was misidentified as the Chief of Police in Dugway in a photo caption accompanying the article. In another photo in for the same article Zumba/Hot Hula instructor Stacy O’Rourke was misidentified as Ashley Carter. These errors have been corrected in the online edition of the article. The Tooele Transcript-Bulletin apologizes for the errors.