Conference draws 270 professional outdoor writers

LAKE PLACID – Outdoor communicators from around the country spent the weekend at the Lake Placid Conference Center for the Outdoor Writer’s Association of America’s annual conference.

OWAA is a nonprofit organization that represents professional outdoor communicators. Its national headquarters is located in Missoula, Mont.

Local conference chair Lisa Densmore said there were 270 attendees. They ranged from writers to television producers to photographers to spokespeople for government agencies and private organizations. Some of those were also from the New York Outdoor Writers Association, which participated in the event and held its own membership meeting Monday.

“Pick your medium, and they are probably represented in quantity here,” said Densmore. “The common ground is the outdoors.”

Densmore is a Saranac Lake native who still has a North Country home in Clinton County, although she lives full-time in Montana. She was instrumental in bringing the conference to Lake Placid. She said many of these writers will go back home and write about their experiences here.

During the four-day conference, which concluded Monday night with an awards banquet, writers attended seminars and visited several establishments, including the Wild Center nature museum in Tupper Lake and the Adirondack Mountain Club’s Adirondak Loj property in the High Peaks.

They were also treated to demonstrations by the state Department of Environmental Conservation and state police at the North Elba Show Grounds in Lake Placid. Forest rangers simulated a helicopter rescue from a state police helicopter, and environmental conservation police showed how they use a K-9 unit in enforcement cases.

“We’re here because this is a fantastic opportunity to get information about the recreational opportunities in New York state out across the country,” said DEC Region 5 spokesman Dave Winchell. “I’ve talked a lot of people. Most of them from out of state – Pennsylvania, Texas, Missouri, Maine, Ohio – so it’s been very interesting.”

Other DEC activies included Commissioner Joe Martens giving a talk about New York state’s natural resources. Plus, several wildlife biologists were present during the weekend, providing writers with information about this state. The biologists and Winchell were given clearance to talk freely to the media throughout the weekend, a rarity under Martens and Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s administration.

The keynote speaker for the conference was Tim Gallagher, who wrote the book, “Tracking the Imperial Woodpecker.”

While the organization’s roots are firmly planted in the fishing and hunting world, the conference did reflect the ever evolving status of the outdoor industry.

“The hottest thing and the thing that the most money is in is bird watching, and kayaking is coming on strong,” said Pennsylvania resident Bob Clark, who has attended 23 conferences. “A lot of non-hunting things are where it’s at. This area especially, I see so many people have nothing to do with hunting and fishing and are interested in recreation, so that’s the priority now: outdoor recreation.”

Clark’s resume includes making 23 movies for television, writing five books and publishing more than 2,000 articles for newspapers and magazines. He is also a former director of the Pennsylvania Forestry Association.

One of those in the canoe and kayak industry who was present at the conference was Rob Center, co-founder of the nonprofit Northern Forest Canoe Trail organization. On Thursday, Center joined Adirondack Lakes and Trails Outfitters Steve Doxzon and some writers on a tour of the Saranac River from Lake Flower to a spot a few miles downstream from the village. The tour included a stop in the Saranac Laboratory Museum and the Robert Louis Stevenson Cottage. The trip was one of dozens around the region that were set up for the writers before and after the conference.

“I thought it was really important the Northern Forest Canoe Trail have exposure to this national organization with writers and media coming from all over the United States,” Center said.

Center was one of numerous organizations that set up booths at the conference center for four days. Tourism organizations from as far away as Missouri, Florida and Nevada were also represented.

Trout Unlimited also had a booth run by Paula Piatt, the organization’s eastern sportsmen and women’s organizer. Piatt, who is married to New York Outdoors magazine editor Steve Piatt, lived in Elizabethtown until recently moving to the Binghamton area.

Piatt talked to writers about issues that involve anglers, including possible hydrofracking for natural gas in the Marcellus shale region near Syracuse.

“It’s all about responsible energy development and conserving the habitat for fish and wildlife.”

The National Shooting Sports Foundation, based in Newtown, Conn., also had a strong presence at the conference. NSSF is the trade association for the firearms, ammunition, shooting sports and hunting industry. The organization sponsored a lunch and shooting day for writers Monday at Heaven Hill Farm in Lake Placid. During the activity, writers were able to test firearms.

“We sponsor the luncheon in order to provide our messages, our key messages to the writers here because they are so important in providing messages to their readers and their viewers about firearm safety, about increasing participation in hunting and the shooting sports,” said Bill Brassard, senior director of communications for NSSF. “OWAA members are critical to the future of hunting and shooting in America.”