N.J. women who want to learn to kayak, fish or hunt get an option

Sandra Hambrecht’s husband doesn’t like to fish or kayak, nor do any of her friends.

But years ago she found a perfect fit: A program run by the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection designed to teach women outdoor skills.  Trouble was, the state stopped the program in 2010.

Now, New Jersey is reviving a series of workshops to instruct women in outdoor skills such as kayaking, crabbing, and hunting. But it is expanding it to families as well — and it’s proving to be a draw, with one session already sold out.

Hambrecht, 66, signed up immediately for a women-only session.

“It’s just nice to be among women doing something like that,” says Hambrecht, a senior bibliographic specialist at Princeton University’s Firestone Library. “I’ve done outdoor activities with men, and had instructors as men, and it’s fine.  But this is a slightly different approach. It’s noncompetitive, and you’re just out for fun. ”

The DEP’s Division of Fish and Wildlife is launching the Outdoor Women of New Jersey program in August.  A similar program ceased in 2010.  With its revival, the state has added a companion program, Outdoor Families of New Jersey, that allows for children and spouses.

The first session, Aug. 5, limited to women, is still open to registration for Sedge Island Natural Resource Center at Seaside Park, Ocean County, between Island Beach and Barnegat Lighthouse State Parks.  It is limited to 25 participants per day.

Morning and afternoon sessions include instruction in fishing, crabbing, clamming, kayaking, nature journals, and a talk on terrapins. The second day, Aug. 6, open to families, is fully booked.  Other sessions are planned for fall and winter in different locations.

“Research has shown that women in particular might have more barriers to getting involved,” says Michelle Smith, a senior biologist and the program’s coordinator.

Smith said that women tend to be charged with child care tasks that make it difficult for them to break away.  The women-only classes make sure that distractions are minimal and that there’s little feeling of competition.

However, she said, the family-oriented sessions fit the needs of women who want their children along.

Another goal: Keep it cheap.  Registration for the women-only sessions is $25.  The family sessions are $20 per adult, and $10 per child. Other sessions are free.

“All they have to do is show up and be willing to learn,” Smith said of registrants. “We do want to make it an annual program. This is our inaugural program to get our ducks in a row.”

Hambrecht can’t wait.

“I would like to encourage any woman interested in outdoor activities to do it,” Hambrecht says. “It’s a very safe, friendly, and uplifting way of learning how to do these things. The staff is wonderful.”

Here’s a breakdown of the workshops:

Sedge Island

  • Aug. 5, Sedge Island Sampler, for Outdoor Women of New Jersey, $25, registration deadline July 14. Includes travel to the island by pontoon boat. Registration includes choice of two of the following: bay fishing, crabbing, clamming, kayaking, nature journaling, and terrapin talk.
  • Aug. 6, the same, fully booked.

Hackettstown Fish Hatchery

Sedge Island