CASPER, Wyo. — Around 180 journalists and prominent figures in outdoor media will spend five days in Casper during the Outdoor Writers Association of America’s annual conference, holding workshops and basing their Wyoming excursions from the Ramkota Hotel. The downstream effect could be millions of dollars’ worth of media showcasing Natrona County as an outdoor destination.
“You’ll see a stream of stories coming out of this conference about Casper,” Casper College writing instructor, outdoor journalist, and author Dave Zoby told Oil City News.
Zoby credits OWAA membership and conferences with expanding his network of opportunities for creating and marketing his adventures in contemporary nonfiction. He worked with Visit Casper to pitch Natrona County as an OWAA host. Since securing the conference last year, Visit Casper, city officials, community leaders and businesses have arranged panel contributions and guided outings featuring the blue-ribbon North Platte, Alcova Lake and Casper Mountain.
Attendees will get a taste of the thriving guiding and outfitting culture, as well as renowned destinations like Backwards Distillery and the National Historic Trails Interpretive Center. Some will visit the petroglyphs near Dubois, or the world’s largest known meteor impact site near Douglas. Wyoming Game and Fish and Bureau of Land Management officials will also give presentations.
“There’s so many unique things happening here,” Zoby said. “It surprises me that we’re not more of a destination.”
The ongoing restoration of the North Platte River to improve fish habitat and make world-class fishing accessible from an urban area is an obvious highlight, Zoby said. The joint effort by Trout Unlimited, the Two-Fly Foundation, and the city’s Platte River Revival Project is a case study in conservation and democratizing access to the outdoors.
Wyoming is an ideal place for OWAA members to explore the organization’s priorities of keeping the outdoors accessible and broadening the industry’s demographic, Zoby said.
“We have a lot of diversity at this conference. … We’re trying to broaden the idea that the outdoors and public spaces are for everyone.”
Rue Mapp, founder and CEO of Outdoor Afro, will give the closing keynote. George Abeyta, an enrolled member of the Eastern Shoshone Tribe and a key organizer of the Annual Eastern Shoshone Indian Days, will present on the role of song and dance in Native American storytelling.
“Dance is almost the original hunting story or essay,” Zoby said.
Wyoming land is also a case study in public land access issues. Almost half of it is public, but the checkerboard arrangement of private and public parcels makes getting to some of it a legal gray area. Some programs, like Game and Fish’s Access Yes, work with landowners to create designated walk-in areas.
Still, Wyoming is exceptional with regards to its outdoor opportunities, Zoby said.
“I grew up on the East Coast and I remember staring at a lot of ‘No Trespassing’ signs,” he said. “In most places, access shrinks, but in Wyoming, it seems like we’re having more boat ramps, more access points, more interest.”
Of course, the conference will also be an opportunity for the writers to hone their craft, with workshops on dialogue and other aspects of contemporary nonfiction.
Zoby said he’s looking forward to learning about scientific writing. He’s also hoping to learn how to make his writing pay for itself by taking a workshop on how to pay for your project.
“A lot of the writers in the Outdoor Writers Association know how to pitch first, get a guaranteed assignment, and then go out and complete the assignment,” Zoby said. “I do it the opposite way: I go out and do the assignment and then I try to sell it later on.”
Part of the success of landing the conference may have come in 2020, when Christine Peterson, OWAA’s then-vice president, was scouting Casper on video for the organization. Now the president of the OWAA board, Peterson was also the Casper Star-Tribune’s managing editor until she pursued a full-time freelance career in 2018.
“When we were showing Christine the revival project by Jonah Bank and Poplar Street bridge, a drift boat came through with a guide and his two clients,” Zoby said. “And just about when they were passing us, one of the clients hooked a great big trophy rainbow trout. He fought it, we hooted and hollered to him, and he landed it. I was like, ‘This is perfect.’”