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  • Writer's pictureTeam Backcountry

Growing Girls of the Outdoors

Updated: May 1

An inside look at the impact of all-girl programs in the Backcountry Wilderness Area.

Tween girls learning how to put up a tent.

Look around Camp Backcountry on specific weeks throughout the summer. In the trees, hiking toward an off-the-path outdoor classroom, you’ll spot a group of 12 girls led by two women staff. For the next five days, these young outdoorswomen explore nature, learn outdoor survival skills, and gain confidence and friendship while they take in the tenets of conservation and its impact on their world… whether they are a fresh seven-year-old or a teen in their last year at camp.

Not always, but often enough, girls miss out on learning outdoor basics like fire-starting, orienteering (think: map and compass), and the opportunity to think through challenges that occur in the outdoors. We knew our crew was up to the challenge of filling the gap and becoming the jumping-off point for girls in our community.

Insert: Girls of the Outdoors. The curriculum is used both at Camp Backcountry and in our nature programs—and the results are astounding. The concept of learning outdoor skills is the foundation and includes empowerment, camaraderie, and confidence. The growth in each girl is immeasurable.



We sat down with Becca Venable, one of the Backcountry Wilderness Area Environmental Education Coordinators who helps spearhead the planning of our girl-focused camp weeks, to find out more about their impact on the girls and beyond.

Question: What is it about the Girls of the Outdoors camps and programs that make them different?

Becca: Our all-girl programs offer a unique space where young women can explore, grow, and thrive without the pressures or biases often present in mixed-gender environments. By removing barriers and stereotypes, these programs allow girls to discover their true potential and build confidence in their abilities, including outdoor recreation. In an all-girl setting, girls are encouraged to speak up, take on leadership roles, and pursue their passions without fear of judgment or limitation. This freedom to express themselves authentically fosters a sense of self-assurance that extends far beyond the program itself.

Question: What activities do you do that illustrate the need for girls to see themselves as the future in the outdoor industry and STEM professions in general?

Becca: Picture this … we hand out a blank sheet of paper and drawing utensils to the group, instructing them to draw a scientist. That's it. No further instructions given. 9/10 times, the sketches depict a male scientist. It's a subtle but potent reflection of ingrained stereotypes and biases that affect even these young girls. Without even realizing it, our campers and program participants associate the image of a scientist with masculinity. This moment serves as a powerful catalyst for discussion. We talk about the need for more women in STEM fields, not just for the sake of diversity, but for the richness of perspectives and ideas they bring to the table. Through this simple yet profound activity, campers gain insight into the power of representation and the impact of challenging societal norms. It's a transformative moment that underscores the mission of these programs: to empower young women to defy stereotypes, pursue their passions, and shape the future of STEM and beyond.

Question: What are some of the outdoor skills we teach in our girls-focused, female-led camps and programs?

Becca: Our girls’ programs and camps start with basic outdoor principles like the 10 Essentials, Leave No Trace, knot tying, water filtration, shelter building, and becoming keenly aware of surroundings with lessons on wildlife encounters and finding animal tracks and scat.

Question: Growing up in a digital age is tough. According to multiple sources, girls start losing their self-confidence at a rapid rate between ages 8-14. A lot of the declining self-confidence comes as girls worry about how their peers see them. When phones are left at home and these campers spend uninterrupted time with one another in nature, what happens?

Becca: One of the most significant benefits of all-girl programs is the sense of camaraderie and support they cultivate among their camp friends. In these environments, girls uplift and cheer for one another, creating a sisterhood bound by mutual respect and encouragement. Whether it's conquering a challenging task, achieving a personal goal, or simply being there for each other through team-building activities, the bonds formed in all-girl programs are invaluable. By celebrating each other's successes and lifting each other up in these programs, girls learn the power of solidarity and the importance of supporting fellow women outside the camp environment. By surrounding themselves with peers who share their aspirations and counselors and teachers who believe in their potential, girls gain the confidence to pursue their dreams with unwavering determination. In these empowering environments, girls are encouraged to think big, take risks, and embrace challenges as opportunities for growth. Through experiential learning, mentorship, and positive reinforcement, all-girl programs equip girls with the skills and mindset they need to navigate the world with confidence and resilience.

Question: Once our participants settle into their groups, start forming bonds with their peers and leaders, and test out their new outdoor know-how… what are you seeing?

Becca: Seeing the growth and transformation in these young women is nothing short of magical. As mentors and role models, our counselors and teachers have a front-row seat to the journey of self-discovery and empowerment that unfolds within each camper. From timid beginnings on Monday morning to confident leaders by Friday afternoon, the progress made by these young women is awe-inspiring. It's a testament to the impact of all-girl programs and a reminder of the importance of investing in the next generation of female leaders.

Question: What do you say to the family of a girl who is considering joining one of our girls-focused camps or programs?

Becca: At the heart of all-girl programs lies a fundamental truth: empowered women empower women. By investing in the personal and professional development of young women, these programs create a ripple effect that extends far beyond the individual camper. As girls grow into confident, empowered leaders, they become catalysts for change in their communities, schools, and beyond. This can happen for the girl in your life. For more information and registration, visit Camp Backcountry: Girls of the Outdoors and Nature Programs.

 

Woman sitting above a lake in the mountains.

Becca Venable Environmental Education Coordinator

You'll find Becca responding to "Meemaw" year-round as she is one of the directors of Camp Backcountry. With the Backcountry since 2018, she loves overseeing a camp that prioritizes getting kiddos into the outdoors while experiencing the joys of a camp atmosphere. 

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