Everglades Youth Conservation Camp is located in the J.W. Corbett Wildlife Management Area in West Palm Beach. TIFFANY DUONG/Keys Weekly

“It’s basically adult girl scout camp. You’re gonna love it.”

While we sat around her firepit, Kelly Cox excitedly told me about a statewide outdoors workshop run by Florida FWC and sent me the link to sign up. Cox heads up Everglades policy for Florida Audubon. She’s also a dear neighbor and friend here in Tavernier. So, when the chance to join her and other Florida outdoors-women for a weekend in the wild came up, I didn’t hesitate.

The actual name of girl scout camp is FWC’s Becoming an Outdoors-Woman workshop – BOW for short. It isn’t officially affiliated with the girl scouts, but there are a lot of shared values. A measly $175 covers cabin lodging (dorm style) and gourmet food for three days and two nights. There are clean showers and bathrooms. It also includes all workshops and night activities. 

When the week came, Cox’s mom Susie joined us for the festivities. “Being over the age of 60 with more free time on my hands,” she said, “I decided to step out of my comfort zone and try something new.”

We drove up to Everglades Youth Conservation Camp in West Palm Beach to begin our long weekend at stay-away camp. The grounds are gorgeous – set around a freshwater lake stocked with fish, surrounded by flowers and native plants and full of opportunities to have fun. 

The stated goal of the BOW program is to allow anyone to learn more outdoors skills and to become more comfortable being in the wild. Intended for women particularly but open to anyone, the courses are run by FWC officers and scientists who volunteer their time to share their skills and knowledge. I had little idea about what I’d signed up for, but I left with a buoyed spirit, some new skills and wonderful memories. 

“Women are the most untapped demographic in outdoor recreation, and programs like BOW are critical because they reduce barriers to entry for those activities,” Cox said. “Plus, the workshops are safe, affordable and fun. They foster a supportive environment where women can try new outdoor activities in a judgment-free way.”

The courses are designed for people who have never tried these activities before but want to learn, the FWC website says. They’re also appropriate for those with some experience but who want to improve their skills or learn new ones. Workshops include everything from fly fishing and small-game hunting to boating basics and backpacking survival skills. 

I opted for an eclectic mix of courses, starting with water ecology and outdoor photography. This was followed by fire starters, talking turkey, small game, clay shooting and gator hunting. I rounded out my weekend learning to cook gourmet campfire meals.

Cox aptly described BOW experience as the combination of the nostalgia of summer camp with the challenge of trying new things outdoors. She used the weekend as an opportunity to gently broach her fear of guns and loud noises – under professional supervision. I watched as patient FWC ladies who hunt and regularly shoot coached and supported Cox through her anxiety. She ended up shooting five rounds of clays in a row and feeling very supported.

“This is why I do what I do,” said FWC arms instructor Diane.

Kelly Cox, center, Susie Cox, right, and I enjoy the sunset after trying the bang stick used in gator hunting. TIFFANY DUONG/Keys Weekly

The random text message updates I sent my family included exclamations like “I am having the best time at grown-up girl scouts. I’ve been laughing nonstop,” as well as, “Just learned how to skin a squirrel – jacket and pants style – and call a turkey to kill it.” And, finally, “I am a whiz with a shotgun. Who knew?!” 

Each workshop was three and a half hours long – enough for a solid first experience. I don’t think I could have started a fire, hunted anything or braved the wilderness – until now. And, while I don’t intend to sign up for Naked and Afraid anytime soon, I do feel more equipped to adventure and try new activities.

FWC fire expert Sandy Clutter leads songs around the fire. TIFFANY DUONG/Keys Weekly

On our last night, FWC’s Sandy Clutter donned a headscarf that read “Camp Like a Girl” while leading the group in old girl scout songs. Susie Cox joined her, dancing around the fire and getting attendees to join in on chants about the muffin man and meeting a bear. The energy was infectious. 

“When was the last time you had dessert of s’mores around a roaring campfire, listening to and singing old-time camp songs?” Susie asked. “Lots of smiles and sticky fingers on the way back to the cabins!”

She’s right. I can’t remember the last time I felt that relaxed and free. And now, I can’t wait to do it again. If you feel inclined, the next BOW weekend will take place in Ocala National Forest in October. Register at https://myfwc.com/education/programs/outdoors-woman/.

Tiff Duong is a self-made mermaid who loves all things cheesy (romantic and dairy) and thrives in the 3 am hour. She believes in leaving it all on the field and has never met a (mis)adventure she didn't love.