Last week about this time of year – in fact, just a few days before Mother’s Day – I was sitting in a local coffee shop sipping hot chocolate when I saw a mom and her daughter come in. They ordered, got their drinks, went to a table – and then sat totally immersed in their smartphones for about 25 minutes. During the entire time, not a single word was exchanged between them. All of their attention was on their phones.

You see that kind of thing all the time, and it’s a shame.

What’s needed is a way to rediscover how much fun it is to actually interact with another human being – and the perfect way to do it is to get up, get out and get into the out-of-doors.

For many women, stepping into the outdoors can be a little intimidating. But even as we speak (and just in time for Mother’s Day), a new group called Women Exploring the Georgia Outdoors is setting out to make the outdoors more accessible to women of all ages and skill levels.

WEGO (as in “We Go Outdoors”) was launched earlier this year and is aimed at women throughout the area who want to learn more about outdoor recreation, especially outdoor recreation in Georgia. Founders Dustan Bishop and Michelle Webber are both on the staff of Outside World Outfitters in Dawsonville, which also hosts WEGO get-togethers as part of its community outreach.

To say that Michelle and Dustan are enthusiastic about this new endeavor would be a serious understatement.

“WEGO developed as a way to encourage women to enjoy the outdoors,”

Michelle explains. The group’s goals include inspiring a passion for the outdoors while promoting outdoor stewardship; educating women about outdoor recreation; and building women’s confidence in their ability to enjoy the outdoors on their own.

“Through WEGO, we want to bring women together and build a community that allows women to feel comfortable with outdoor recreation,” Dustan adds.

Why haven’t more women given it a go?

“For many women, a big part of learning to enjoy the outdoors is simply conquering fear,” says Michelle. “A lot of women fixate on personal safety in the outdoors, and yes, safety is definitely something that we talk about.” But fears about safety can easily become boundaries, she continues, and boundaries hold you back.

“You have to push against those boundaries,” she says. “If you don’t, they’re not going to move.”

Besides, she adds, “You’re probably not going to get eaten by a bear.”

One of WEGO’s goals is to encourage women take those first steps. As both Michelle and Dustan emphasize, the key is to simply try it.

“We want to encourage women to simply let go and put themselves out there,” Dustan says. To that end, WEGO will be offering activities ranging from programs and skills classes and workshops to organized outdoor adventures such as hikes and paddling trips. All will be designed to give women what Michelle describes as “the confidence and knowledge base needed to take care of yourself in the outdoors.”

Do you need to be an experienced outdoors woman to benefit from WEGO and its programs? Not at all. WEGO’s programs and activities will be designed to appeal to women with a wide range of skill levels. Offerings will include such “traditional” things as hiking and paddling trips, of course, but there will be much more.

”We have even talked about an outdoor-oriented cooking class,” Dustan says, “and maybe even a workshop on how to build an outdoor stove.” That, she adds, is easier to do than you’d think.

Stewardship is also a part of the overall WEGO initiative. That might include adopting and maintaining a section of a trail, for example, or participating in stream clean-up or tree planting.

In the long view, Michelle and Dustan see WEGO as a catalyst for the development of a community of outdoor women. They also see it as a perfect way to allow mothers and daughters to share unique experiences while developing skills they can enjoy together for a lifetime.

“I get a lot of personal enjoyment from the outdoors, and I find my peace outside,” Dustan says That, she adds, is what she wants other women to experience too.

Overall, the hope is that WEGO will provide a “safe space,” as Michelle describes it, into which women can bring a uniquely female perspective on the idea of exploring and enjoying the outdoors.

“We want to empower you,” she says.

This Mother’s Day, give the outdoors a chance to bring you closer together. All you have to do is set the phone aside, grab your daughter or your mom, and step outside. It will be an experience, and an adventure, that you’ll remember for a long, long time.

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