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Growing up in Georgia, surrounded by the soulful tunes of country music, my dreams were often fueled by the narratives of wide-open spaces and adventures Out West. The allure of independence and exploration, encapsulated in songs like The Chicks’ “Wide Open Spaces” and Jo Dee Messina’s “Heads Carolina, Tails California,” planted the seeds of a desire to experience the great unknown.

After college, where my major was playfully dubbed “fun, camps, or park ranger prep,” I stumbled upon NOLS, sparking an opportunity to turn my dream into reality. Excitement surged as I eagerly signed up for a 2-week horsepacking course in Lander, Wyoming. It finally was happening, my “wide open spaces” moment, or so I thought.

Exactly one month before the course, a kayaking adventure took an unexpected turn, resulting in a broken foot. Despite the pain and urgency for medical attention, the response from my group was disheartening. Surrounded by male colleagues and college students, I found myself alone, facing ridicule for my vulnerability. This incident underscored the need for change—a shift towards inclusivity and empathy in outdoor spaces.

Working in Residence Life at a small college in East Tennessee, I often found myself as the lone female adventurer, perpetually yearning for more female companionship. The desire for a supportive community led me to reflect on that pivotal moment by the river. I wished I had demanded more from my peers and coworkers, urging them to set a better example for the impressionable college students and fostering a space that embraced not only more females but also basic empathy.

Three years later, my perspective shifted when I encountered SOAR at Eagle View Ranch in Dubois, Wyoming. Finally experiencing the wide-open spaces of the West, I witnessed SOAR’s commitment to inclusivity. I now work full-time with SOAR, making it my mission to ensure that every female camper has the support of at least one female friend throughout their time here.

Recognizing the logistical challenges, this year, we introduced an All-Girls Adventure at Eagle View Ranch. The goal is to provide an environment where young girls can forge friendships and find unwavering support from fellow campers and staff. This initiative aims to inspire a love for the outdoors and encourage more girls to actively engage in nature.

Reflecting on my journey—from broken dreams to a position where I actively contribute to creating positive outdoor experiences for young girls—I am reminded of the importance of perseverance and advocacy. By sharing my story, I hope to inspire a change in the narrative, fostering a future where outdoor spaces are welcoming and inclusive for everyone, regardless of gender.

Join us this summer at EVR for an unforgettable experience for young women to bond and thrive in the outdoors!