OWAC 2014 Tuolumne County Spring Conference: Yosemite Trip
By John P. DeGrazio
You rush to the elevator as the doors are quickly closing. You reach in, and they swing open just in time. At that instant, you realize that the CEO of the company you have been trying to connect with for several months is in this elevator. You have been patiently waiting for this opportunity to share your wonderful ideas and how your product can help her company. Now is the moment to sell yourself in the next thirty seconds.
I joined the Outdoor Writers Association of California as a supporting member after a group of writers and media members from the outdoor industry visited for their fall conference in 2008 hosted by the Tuolumne County Visitors Bureau. I met several writers on that trip and YExplore even hosted an excursion to Hetch Hetchy where the group basked in the glory of Wapama Falls. I set up my table at the conference marketplace on the first day of the event not knowing what to expect. I saw this as a great way to introduce myself to some of the most talented people who share a passion for the outdoors and hoped they may be able to help promote what we try to accomplish with our Yosemite tours. Since we don’t market any tangible products, I found it difficult to engage with my audience. After all, sales was never my strongest suit.
After spending a couple of conferences as an OWAC supporting member, I realized that the hard sell wasn’t really the best approach after all. Instead, I began to just engage with members on a more personal level. At each conference I have attended, I have been able to enjoy activities in regions like Fairfield and Mammoth Lakes while helping promote those areas to our broader audience through social media and other outlets. Once I made this realization, I have discovered the true meaning behind the ethos of these conferences and have benefited greatly. I have developed lasting relationships with members from many facets of the outdoor industry regardless of differing views on recreation and conservation. In an ever changing outdoor landscape, organizations like OWAC are important vehicles to find compromise on many critical issues between diverse parties who engage in healthy discussions rather than shouting matches.
This past week, we were honored, once again, to be able to host an activity for OWAC in Yosemite National Park. It truly was an honor to spend the day with some friends, old and new, as we teamed up with the Mother Lode Adventures and Charter Services on a photography trip to our county’s crown jewel. After a very early breakfast, we all piled into the van and embarked on a one and a half hour journey from the Best Western PLUS Sonora Oaks Hotel to the floor of Yosemite Valley. We made a brief stop in Groveland to visit our good friends at Dori’s Tea Cottage to receive our delicious catered lunch.
As we drove through the scar of the Rim Fire, we were reminded why we had to postpone the conference from the previous fall. Our party was able to fully appreciate the impacts of the event as we slowly passed through the burn area. This prompted a discussion about fire ecology and the recovery efforts. Although the topic yielded opinions from each side of the political spectrum, every person was able to share intelligent comments in a very civilized way in the cozy confines of a full van.
After one more stop, we arrived in Yosemite Valley where we spent the rest of the day enjoying the spectacular scenery in all its glory. We felt the mist of Bridalveil and Yosemite Falls and were enthralled by the majesty of Half Dome and El Capitan. Yosemite is celebrating its 150th anniversary as a protected park this year, and the group was happy to partake in the festivities by photographing from many locations made famous by Carleton Watkins, Ansel Adams, and many others. We were all amazed by the “grandeur of the scene” just as Lafayette Bunnell described on his first encounter.
Much of the day was spent in awe of this valley once called Ahwahnee by its native people, and none were eager to leave. Our lead photographer, Al Golub shared a couple of tucked away places to enhance the photographic experience as our group proudly produced two of the winning images for the day in the photo contest.
On the return trip and in the days following, I have been able to reflect on how wonderful an experience this was for me as well as the group. I was able to share my passion for Yosemite in an intimate setting with people who had a similar love for this place. National Parks do not need elevator pitches. They are enjoyed by everyone and will be protected for all time. Visitors are able to come each year and make their own connections where they instantly become stewards for the land by sharing their photos and stories. Even ‘selfies’ help.
I am looking forward to the next OWAC conference in Crescent City so I can help become an advocate for the area where the redwoods meet the sea. I just intend to keep participating in these remarkable events to help open eyes everywhere to California and all its beauty to be shared as a destination for everyone to enjoy regardless of their definition of outdoors and personal choices.