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These Vermont groups aim to make women feel safe and empowered in the outdoors

A person riding on a large orange tractor with a barn in the background
Gillian Kimmel
Vermont Public
HOWL was founded in the late '80s as a place where women could come and escape the patriarchy.

It’s a sunny afternoon, and Meg Moss is taking me around the 50-acre plot of fields and forests known as HOWL — the Huntington Open Women’s Land.

Moss, who rocks purple hair and knuckle tattoos, takes me first to the milkweed fields. We stop to crack open the pods and admire the fluff inside.

Then we head into the woods to the stream and back to the house where we sat on a picnic bench outside to talk history.

Hands hold the fluffy insides of a milkweed plant
Gillian Kimmel
Vermont Public
Some milkweed fluff at HOWL.

“HOWL was originally formed… back in the '80s, originally as sort of a separatist retreat, an alternative space where women could come and live outside the patriarchy," Moss said.

Over the decades, as the way society talks about gender has changed, HOWL has adapted as well.

"Really the the common obstacle for everyone here is gender-based oppression," Moss said. "So HOWL is open to folks dealing with gender-based oppression, as a place to come, to hike, to wonder in the woods, to camp, to have meetings, social gathering…"

The list goes on. It’s been a recent change. When Meg first got to HOWL three years ago, it was still only open to women. But now, it is open to anyone, except for cis men.

And HOWL isn’t the only space dedicated to providing access to the outdoors specifically for women and nonbinary people in Vermont.

"Really the the common obstacle for everyone here is gender-based oppression. So HOWL is open to folks dealing with gender-based oppression, as a place to come, to hike, to wonder in the woods, to camp, to have meetings, social gathering…"
Meg Moss, HOWL

Doe Camp Nation, a program Run by Vermont Outdoor Guide Association, or VOGA, started in the '90s as a way to get women outside and experience a variety of different activities they might never have gotten to try otherwise.

Typically, the camp is offered twice — two annual weekend retreats where hundreds of women gather to take any outdoor survival class imaginable.

Meridy Capella first heard of Doe Camp Nation in the mid-2000s.

"It was a bucket list item…the thought of getting away with a group of females, whether you bring your own or you meet new ones there, and to take classes of your choice and to do it in a way that was affordable and accessible was something that I definitely was not going to not try at some point," Capella said.

When she did, she was astounded.

“The classes were so wide, diverse and just bananas," Capella said. "You could take shotgun, pistol, rifle, archery, ax throwing, chainsaw, logrolling… mushroom foraging, cooking in the wild… basket weaving. I mean, uh, kayaking, canoeing, snowshoeing, dog sledding, Nordic skating… I am not hitting all of it.” 

A wooden foot bridge bisects a wooded field with a mountain in the background.
Gillian Kimmel
Vermont Public
HOWL was established in the 1980s to preserve and steward the land as well as create a safe space for women.

For each retreat, Camp Doe Nation brings around 40 experienced instructors that are masters at their crafts.

Gray Stevens is the Executive Director at VOGA.

"The magic to the soup there, is really the women" Stevens said "They come from all walks of life. Some are interested in foraging for food, some are active hunters. They have different lifestyles, but they hang out for a weekend with each other and find out, ‘Wow, this is pretty, pretty cool.'” 

A little before the start of the pandemic, Doe Camp Nation stopped holding annual retreats. But people involved in the program, like Stevens and Capella, are working hard to get it back on its feet as soon as possible.

"You couldn't get a more natural group of excellent humans together," Capella said. "And it was. It was an honor. It was an honor to be able to attend all of it. And it's a bar that has been set pretty high to be able to try to aspire to do it again.”

And Doe Camp is counting on the younger generation to keep it going.

“The upside is that we're dragging you young ladies in, and so our daughters are watching, going, ‘Oh my God, I need that,’ Capella said. "And so we're gonna reach a point where our girls are gonna hit 18, 16 for winter camp, 18 for fall camp, and I'm going to say… get over there, bring some girlfriends. And go spill some tea.”

“The upside is that we're dragging you young ladies in, and so our daughters are watching, going, ‘Oh my God, I need that.'"
Meridy Capella, Doe Camp

Meg Moss with HOWL says it is also looking to the future.

"What they originally needed here, isn’t need so much anymore, you know, women and queer folks can be out in the world and live their lives as they are, a lot more now," Moss said. "So what HOWL needs to be for people I think is changing too… definitely we need more younger folks here, because its time to pass the torch to the next folks who are coming through."

Moss says what comes next for HOWL depends on what the public who visits the land wants to do with it.

This story is a collaboration between Vermont Public and the Community News Service. The Community News Service is a student-powered partnership between the University of Vermont’s Reporting & Documentary Storytelling program and community newspapers across Vermont.

Gillian Kimmel is a junior at the University of Vermont double majoring in English and film and television studies.
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