NEW TRIPOLI – For the last eight years, hundreds of women visit Ontelaunee Rod and Gun Club for a day of exploring the outdoors when the National Wild Turkey Federation holds a Women In The Outdoors event, which is among the largest WITO events in the country, having introduced more 1,200 women to the outdoors sports since its inception in 2004.
A national outreach program of the NWTF, WITO provides fun, hands-on educational experiences geared toward introducing women to a variety of outdoor pursuits. This year's WITO event at Ontelaunee is Saturday, June 9, and has a full schedule of programs designed especially for women, including sessions on turkey hunting, muzzle loading, outdoor cooking, kayaking, wildlife forensics and beekeeping.
So successful has the WITO event at Ontelaunee become that the Jerry Zimmerman Memorial and Walking Purchase chapters of the NWTF, the two chapters that hold the event, were honored for their effort and hard work over the years with the NWTF's first-ever WITO "Most Improved Event Award" at the organization's 36th annual national convention and sport show in Nashville. Accepting the award was Katrina Skrapits of Danielsville, who is president of the Walking Purchase Chapter and has also served as the Lehigh Valley WITO event coordinator since 2005.
"Over the last several years, these chapters have worked together to put on this event," NWTF national WITO coordinator Teresa Carroll said. "This past year they just did a phenomenal job which I attribute that to their teamwork, and I actually went to the event last year and was really taken back by how smoothly everything went."
Skrapits attributes much of the event's growth and success to the dedicated and hardworking committee that plans and executes the event.
After she basically ran the event herself for several years, with assistance from only a handful of volunteers, she reached out in 2010 to past WITO participants for help in an effort to grow and enhance the event, and within a short time the committee grew from five to more than 15 members.
"It was all a matter of just reaching out for help to the girls that experienced the event," Skrapits said. "Keeping the committee informed, motivated and positive and staying organized are big musts for success."
Skrapits said the event has also benefited from the development of new partnerships and sponsorships, as well as the expansion of existing relationships.
Among the many organizations and businesses that are involved with the event are the Pennsylvania Game Commission, Northampton County Federation of Sportsmen's Clubs, Hokendauqua Chapter of Trout Unlimited, Leiser's Rentals and the NRA.
"In addition, the two chapters have stepped up their marketing efforts as far as reaching out to women who may not necessarily be participants in any of the traditional outdoor pursuits such as hunting, fishing and shooting," Skrapits said. "We add numerous new classes to the event each year to keep the same ladies coming back.
"We have ladies who have participated in the event since 2004, and they come back every year for the opportunities, and I'm very pleased to say that most of the first timers never shot a firearm, and they love it. Many have registered for their conceal to carry permits and made gun purchases since they have better knowledge, confidence and were educated in firearm safety."
In addition to receiving the most improved event honor, the two chapters also earned the NWTF's Runner-up Best Local Membership Achievement Award for their membership and fund-raising efforts in 2011. Not only did they have one of the best-attended WITO events in the nation, their proceeds from the event were up by more than 50 percent.
According to Skrapits and Carroll, the money raised from the event will go to support the WITO program, as well as the NWTF's Pennsylvania Super Fund, which helps to support habitat improvement projects, land purchases and conservation and education initiatives in the Keystone State that the NWTF supports.
"This Most Improved Event Award means that both chapters are successfully reaching out into the community and beyond Pennsylvania to increase public awareness and the importance of education in conservation," Skrapits said.
"I'm very honored to be a part of a motivated, dedicated and passionate team of friends who strive for the same mission of dedication to the conservation of wildlife and the wild turkey and preservation of our hunting heritage."
For information on the National Wild Turkey Federation Women In The Outdoors event Saturday, June 9, 7:30a.m.-5:30 p.m., at Ontelaunee Rod and Gun Club in New Tripoli, contact Donna Balgosky at 610-767-6932 or email LehighValleyWITO@ yahoo.com for required preregistration by Friday, June 1.