What event could bring together rainbow trout, multi-colored alpacas and the father of modern bowhunting? The answer is the Missouri Outdoor Communicators (MOC) conference last weekend. Laclede County, the City of Lebanon, Bennett Spring State Park and park concessioner Jim Rogers all pitched in to organize one of MOC’s most diverse and productive programs ever.
Each fall, outdoor writers, photographers, broadcasters and bloggers gather to attend professional-development seminars, meet hunting/fishing/conservation newsmakers, catch up with old friends and research stories. The “research” involves what Mel Brooks so memorably called “Work, work, work!” In this case, the work included visiting the 17th Annual Case Knives XX Celebration, touring an alpaca farm and catching (or in my case, trying to catch) trout reared in the Conservation Department’s newly renovated hatchery at Bennett Spring.
Staying at Bennett Spring is always a pleasure. Everyone there is in a good mood, and no wonder, considering how beautiful the place is. I didn’t even mind much getting skunked for the first time ever at one of Missouri’s trout parks. My wife, Diane, and I fished from 7:30 to 9 a.m. without ever getting a nibble. It was easier to bear when we had the fishing spot to ourselves. Then another couple – who obviously knew trout-catching secrets we didn’t – joined us and proceeded to catch four nice, fat trout in the space of half an hour. It was a relief when I had to leave for MOC’s business meeting.
While checking out of our cabin, I ran into Herb and Ellen Beatty, of Lee’s Summit. Like lots of other people, they had caught their limit of four trout each. Herb was weighing a big rainbow. It tipped the scale in front of the park store at just over 3 pounds. The Beatty’s excitement about the lunker was infectious, and I left with a smile on my face.
Another highlight of this year’s conference was a living-history presentation by Denny Ballard, former director of the Conservation Federation of Missouri. Dressed in period garb, he took on the persona of Saxon Pope. He read artfully edited excerpts from the bow-hunting legend’s memoir of an African Safari where they successfully hunted lions with longbows and arrows they had made themselves. Denny’s purpose in presenting the program was to show MOC members an innovative new way to bring outdoor history and literature to life for their audiences.
While I was listening to Denny’s program, Diane and other MOC members’ spouses were visiting Whirlwind Ranch Alpacas. Visitors came away from that trip knowing more than they ever dreamed about these relatives of the llama, including the fact that they come in a rainbow of colors, from white and black to tan, chocolate brown and a remarkable bluish gray.
MDC Director Bob Ziehmer delivered the keynote address at Saturday’s awards banquet, describing his agency’s current projects and priorities. Afterwards, Ziehmer fielded a flurry of questions from writers and broadcasters eager to pick the brain of Missouri’s top conservationist. The boss must have done something right, because he got a standing ovation as he left the podium.
The weekend included lots more, such as Laclede County’s Route 66 Museum, antique shops, art galleries, an outlet mall, fly-casting lessons, rides in classic automobiles and an intimate Q&A session with retired MDC Director John Hoskins. He and other MOC members came away with a treasure trove of story material and memories of Lebanon and its environs. It’s a great place to go for a low-key, fun-filled vacation close to home.