Writers group gathers for conference at Lebanon

By Bill Cooper
    The Missouri Outdoor Communicators recently held their 2021 Annual Conference at Bennett Spring State Park near Lebanon, Missouri. Lebanon has three times been named to Outdoor Life’s annual “Top 200 Towns for Sportsmen List.” From the great outdoors to the great indoors, Lebanon offers the experienced traveler a wide variety of options. Fishing, hiking, hunting, concerts, shows, pieces of America’s storied history on Route 66, and much more all can be found in the Lebanon area.

    “Lebanon is a great place for the Missouri Outdoor Communicators to visit,” said Kyle Stewart, of the Beenders Walker Group, the executive directors of MOC. “The folks at Lebanon Tourism always go above and beyond to make us welcome and keep us busy while we are there.”
    Activities began at 9 a.m. on Friday, October 1 with the Thayne Smith Service Day River Clean-Up in honor of the revered longtime writer who passed away recently. NRO Outfitters provided canoes and rafts for the event.
    After a lunch provided by Toyota Motors North America, conference attendees had a multitude of activity choices for the afternoon. They included trout fishing at Bennett Spring, visiting the interpretive center, hiking one of the many trails at Bennett Spring, and exploring the Lebanon area. Jim Rogers, longtime concessionaire at Bennett Spring, provided fly casting lessons numerous times over the course of the three day event, taking time with individual communicators to improve their casting skills. Other groups floated and fished the nearby Niangua River, while others chose to visit the nearby Mennonite Community at Lead Mine, Missouri. There the group visited the general store, bakery, grocery, and furniture store.
    A guided tour of the Missouri Department of Conservation Trout Hatchery, presented by hatchery manager Ben Havens, brought MOC members up to date on trout management in the park and around the state.
    A much enjoyed evening fish fry began an evening of seminars and story starters. Ben Havens began the evening with an in-depth look at the fishery at Bennett Spring. Lee Vogel, of the Missouri Hunting Heritage Federation, introduced attendees to the ideals of the organization, which is to get more kids into ethical hunting. Next, Tyler Schwartze, of the Conservation Federation of Missouri gave a rousing presentation of the importance of the many conservation efforts of the organization to support superb conservation management in the state of Missouri.
    Pouring rains made it difficult for conference attendees to participate in many of the scheduled outdoor activities on Saturday. However, writers made the best of the situation and enjoyed fishing, hiking, and visiting area attractions during the breaks in the weather. Longtime outdoor writer friend Kenny Kieser and I visited the Case Knife Outlet in Lebanon. There I found a single-bladed knife just like the one my dad had owned when I was a child on the family farm. I had to purchase one to relive the many members of my dad using that original case knife to clean fish and skin squirrels.
    We also stopped by Charlie Reading’s Fly Shop just outside park boundaries. Charlie is a fishing legend, having fly fished around the world. It is worth the stop to listen to his intriguing stories of fly fishing in such faraway places as the Christmas Islands, Russia, Cuba, the Czech Republic, Argentina, and New Zealand.
    Lunch time brought more good food, provided by the Conservation Federation of Missouri, and awards and seminars. Kenny Kieser was honored for his first place story about fishing with his granddaughter. Charlie Slovensky reminisced about a decades long rivalry between himself and me about the virtues of hand-grabbing frogs versus gigging them. Charlie proposed to bury the hatchet by presenting me with a .25 cent frog got he had purchased at a yard sale.
    Jim Hughes, a local artisan, entertained the group with a presentation about his skills as an antler carver. Jim has no formal art education but ships his exquisite works of antler art all over the world.
    Boat Town Brewing Company hosted MOC members for a superb social hour of crafted beers and pizza. Members enjoyed a chance to relax and visit with fellow members in the comforts and atmosphere of a very fine brewery and eatery.
    Closing night banquet and activities were held at the Lebanon Agricultural Legacy Center at the Lebanon fairgrounds. Community representatives gave yet another welcome and statement of appreciation to the Missouri Outdoor Communicators for choosing Lebanon as their conference site.
    MOC gives back to every community they visit not only through the many articles, blogs, and podcasts they generate, but though a monetary donation to a worthy cause. This year’s Toyota Community Generosity Award went to Lester Capps of Wagons for Warriors. Capps expressed his deep appreciation for eh $500 gift and gave a rousing presentation of the many activities the organization provides for veterans.
    Mike Sutherland, the deputy director of the Missouri Department of Natural Resources, gave the keynote address to the convention. Sutherland praised the efforts of MOC members for getting the word out to the public about Missouri State Parks and all the outdoor activities which are available in the state of Missouri.
    Gretchen Steele, of Illinois, won the People’s Choice Photo Contest with an excellent photo of an owl sitting on a fence post. The evening’s activates ended with a silent and live auction which generated over $2,900 for the MOC Scholarship Fund.
    Missouri communities which host the Missouri Outdoor Communicators Annual Conference reap huge returns via media efforts by attendees which go to numerous media outlets across the state and nation. Thank you, Lebanon, Missouri. www.VisitLebanonMo.org.
    EDITOR’S NOTE: Bill Cooper is an award winning outdoor writer and inductee of the National Fresh Water Fishing Hall of Fame as a Legendary Outdoor Communicator. He is the host of the Living the Dream Outdoors Podcast, which can be found on most social media platforms. He lives in rural St. James and can be followed at www.facebook.com/ outsidealways.