Thursday, October 15, 2009

SEOPA Conference

I am writing this from the waiting area of the St. Paul/Minneapolis Amtrak station. Like so many of the Amtrak stations this one is Spartan, the bathrooms are unimaginative billboards of graffiti, and the creature comforts in the waiting area consist of hard plastic seating and fickle vending machines. After several hours in airports where glitz, glitter and grub (food) dominate every square foot of space not necessary for air travel these surroundings are grim reminders that train travel in the United States is on the political back burner. Amtrak doesn’t even have money to keep the grass around their stations mowed! Still, I much prefer the train to the flying beer can. On most trips I will mix the two modes by taking the train from Grand Forks to St. Paul/Minneapolis, Minnesota. From the station I walk a block and a half to the bus stop to catch the #16 bus to downtown. From the downtown stop I can catch with the city’s light rail to the airport. The train/plane combination is a little more complicated but it usually saves between $150 and $200 over flying out of Fargo. Another advantage is that going either direction I can sleep on the train and arrive in either in M/SP or Grand Forks ready to start the day.

I believe Amtrak is missing the boat. For us, that is hunters and anglers. First there is the problem that Amtrak has no accommodation for pets. I cannot take Cookie by train to hunt birds on a friend’s ranch in western North Dakota. Second the trains also lack secure baggage storage so firearms, even if they are in locked tamper-proof metal cases, cannot be stored on the train. In short, Amtrak is hunter “unfriendly” and only marginally angler friendly. Amtrak needs to recognize the potential of the angler and hunter market and make some accommodations. It is not just a matter of increased revenue but more voter support for train travel.

As for why I am sitting in this Amtrak terminal—I am returning home after five days in Florida. I attended the Southeast Outdoor Press Association (SEOPA) Annual Conference. The conference was held at the Best Western Waterfront hotel in Punta Gorda, Florida. I was surprised to learn from one of the locals that Punta Gorda is a top rate retirement community, which is interesting considering the area’s somewhat Bohemian atmosphere. An impressive fact is that Punta Gorda was hard hit by Hurricane Charley in 2004 but the community has recovered from the storm’s devastation. The business center is rebuilt and thriving and in the residential areas there is little sign of the storm’s handiwork. Overall, my response to the area is—I am very impressed.

As for the conference, this was my first SEOPA conference and I came here as a speaker so the week’s stay was a true bonus. After a long summer of working on my office the conference was the break that I really needed. My comfort wasn’t why I was there—I was to give a presentation on my vision of the philosophy that would (or should) provide direction for outdoor writing in this century. To do this I had to reduce my years of research into a 45 minute presentation. I wasn’t sure how the presentation would be received because if the word “philosophy” is in the title of a presentation and outdoor writers notoriously disappear, but my session was both well attended and well received. Throughout the evening and next day a number of people congratulated me and urged me to continue my critical study of outdoor literature. What more could I want?

October 14, 2009

My trip to Florida may have an unexpected down side—I might have missed most of the local waterfowl hunting. The weather here in North Dakota has been cold and snowing and even now, as I am preparing to post this, a serious snow storm is blanketing most of North Dakota. All I can do is wait out the weather then Cookie and I will visit some of the local sloughs to see what we can bump out of the cattails. I’ll let you know. glg

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