The annual conference of the Mason-Dixon Outdoor Writers Association in Hagerstown reflected changes in outdoor pursuits and the people and methods of communicating about the outdoors. The conference featured an interesting mix of the traditional and the new. It also highlighted some great features of Hagerstown and Washington County, places receiving comparatively little media coverage despite their considerable tourist popularity.
A small group chose to open the conference by accepting MDOWA vice-president Joe Byers' offer to sample outdoor activities and equipment at his group's 1,200-acre deer camp at Polecat Hollow Thursday afternoon and Friday morning. I began by fishing nearby 30-acre Blair's Valley Lake in Indian Springs Wildlife Management Area near Clear Spring.
For me and the other fishermen I talked with, it was a case of "You shoulda been here this morning," when some had success with the stocked rainbows. Back to the camp, I rode in the all terrain vehicles (ATVs) provided by Twiggs Cycle of Hagerstown, viewed the "all the features any outdoor person could think of" new Nissan Titan SUV XD crew cab truck, and saw a demonstration of a Mossy Oak camouflage wild turkey setup by Ted Capel of the National Wild Turkey Federation.
Then it was time for dinner, sponsored by Hamilton Nissan. Since we were "roughing it" in a deer camp, we had to subsist on this menu: Vel's Rocky Mountain elk chili, breast of Canada goose, breast of Mirriam Gobbler, Polecat French fries, Old Bay steamed shrimp, New York strip steak, cole slaw and macaroni salad. Then we had to finish up with large servings of fruit pies.
That evening Brent Cammant give a presentation on conservation projects available under Maryland's Conservation Reserve Enhancement Program.
A few participants slept over at Polecat Hollow, and by all accounts were treated to a breakfast that equaled the dinner in quality and volume. Highlight of the morning program was a crossbow demonstration by Chuck Matastic of Koda Bows.
The Friday through Sunday sessions were a blur of tourism and detailed presentations on using social media and various forms of electronic communication.
Civil War battlefields are a major attraction in Washington County, and we had a photo op of a re-enactor crew firing a 12-pound cannon at Washington Monument State Park followed by a lengthy private guided tour of Antietam National Battlefield. We didn't get to visit a couple of other military attractions, South Mountain Battlefield and Fort Frederick, a French and Indian War fortification built in 1756.
Dan Morris, Rachel Martin and Maggie Miller provided the electronic media training for much of Saturday. A session I found particularly relevant was given at the Herald-Mail media center in downtown Hagerstown by Liz Thompson, digital director of the Herald-Mail, and Matt Makowski, managing editor of Hagerstown Magazine. The blending of various print and electronic media plus TV are the kind of issues media groups across the country are dealing with in these changing times. A magic formula is yet to be discovered.
At Saturday's banquet the graybeards again dominated at the awards presentations. But we all know new faces and new media will be a force in coming years.
The conference concluded Sunday morning for most participants with a tour of Hendershots Sports Center with a presentation of features and options of AR rifles and discussion of concealed carry regulations in Maryland. A few other participants took extra electronic media training.
Hagerstown and Washington County offer a variety of attractions. I particularly recommend the beautiful South Mountain Inn among the several good restaurants we visited. There's a vibrant cultural life in Hagerstown with such offerings as the Maryland Symphony Orchestra and the annual Maryland International Film Festival.
Washington County offers three major outdoor attractions: First, South Mountain State Park/South Mountain Recreation Area is a mountain ridge running from Weverton on the Potomac River to the Pennsylvania line. The Appalachian Trail runs along the mountain ridgeline. Gathland State Park, Washington Monument State Park and Greenbrier State Park are part of this complex that provides fishing, hunting, hiking, swimming, boating, picnicking, playgrounds, camping, climbing, and other activities. The Battle of South Mountain, a critical prelude to the Battle of Antietam, occurred in the Gathland State Park area.
Second, the Potomac Rive forms the western border of Washington County from west of Hancock to Harper's Ferry. Some of my favorite areas of the Potomac are in this stretch from Cohill Station west of Hancock to the big fish area of Big Pool to the riffles and rapids around Harpers' Ferry.
Third, paralleling the Potomac is the C&O Canal, with 79 miles of hiking and biking opportunities. For those wanting more of this, the Western Maryland Rail Trail provides an additional 20-plus miles.
Changes in outdoor pursuits were highlighted at this conference. The exponential growth of turkey hunting continues unabated, and more and more hunters are moving away from deer hunting to pursue turkeys and travelling to distant states in this pursuit. Ted Capel is typical of this breed of hunter; he gave up deer hunting 20 years ago when he caught the turkey hunting fever.
Likewise, crossbow hunting for turkey and other species continues to grow.
Digital photography has opened new vistas to many outdoorsman, again to the point of dropping other activities. Interestingly a lot of the new photographers producing these outstanding images are seniors.
Kayak fishing is a major trend on the fishing front, and biking is a growing family activity and appeals to all ages.