WESTERN MASS.-For young people who appreciate and explore the great outdoors, a unique writing contest is seeking submissions until Feb. 15.
“We developed this contest five years ago when we noticed the number of kids enjoying the outdoors was going down,” said Randy Julius, president, New England Outdoor Writers Association (NEOWA).
Since he was a toddler, Julius said he has been fascinated with nature.
“I had aunts and uncles who took me to the beach and instead of playing with the kids I wanted to be digging for clams with my bare hands,” he said.
His early experiences at the ocean, as well as being surrounded by a family of gardeners, have led him on a lifelong journey of wanting to learn as much as he can about the earth’s habitats. Julius is a wildlife illustrator, a columnist, and an avid sportsman. His interests range from fishing, canoeing and kayaking to hunting.
“Kids today have so many distractions that we are hoping with this contest that the cash award will be an incentive for them to tell us about their experiences outdoors,” said Julius.
Julius said in addition to developing an interest in hunting and fishing at a young age, he photographed, sketched and painted what he saw in the outdoors.
“I also wrote about my adventures with hopes of being published someday,” said Julius. “One of my ambitions as a kid was to be a writer, illustrator and photographer, but I didn’t have a clue of how to go about achieving my goal.”
Julius went to art school, and studied advertising design, painting and photography for more than two years before dropping out to use his remaining tuition money to buy a hunting camp in Maine.
“I continued to paint and dabble with photography, but didn’t have any luck selling anything or getting a job in the art field,” he said, adding he made a living playing in a rock ‘n roll band at night and driving trucks part-time during the day.
“That combination left a fair amount of time for outdoor activities and painting,” said Julius.
Julius said his life changed at 30 when he entered and won the Massachusetts Waterfowl Stamp Contest. The resulting publicity led to speaking engagements about art, photography and the outdoors, and eventually he was nominated for membership in the NEOWA.
“Those experiences are one of the reasons I’m enthusiastic about our youth writing contest, and I’m confident we will be awarding prizes to kids who will go on to make writing and other forms of communication their career,” said Julius. “I know if there had been an opportunity to enter a writing contest when I was a kid, I would have submitted every outdoor story I wrote.”
Dr. Harold C. Lyon, Jr., author and New England chair, NEOWA youth writing contest, shared similar sentiments.
“So many young people today are staying inside glued to the TV or their computers or playing computer games, instead of exploring the wonders of nature outdoors and we want to motivate them to have more meaningful, healthy outdoor experiences and communicate about them to others by writing,” said Lyon.
Lyon added he has seen several generations of young parents who are “afraid” of being out in the “forests and wilds” and who consequently do not encourage their children to explore the lessons and joys of nature.
“Richard Louv in his important book, ‘The Last Child in the Woods,’ explores that we now have an issue of young people being ‘nature deprived,’” said Lyon.
Lyon said in his youth he was exploring nature, lifting rocks in streams to see what lurked beneath them, was fishing off docks from the age of five, and enjoying hiking in forests quietly to see what creatures he could find.
“At age 10 I was reading Field & Stream magazine from cover to cover, and submitted my first article there when I was 12 which though rejected, the editor wrote me an encouraging note to keep writing and submitting more which I did,” said Lyon.
Lyon noted in his book, “Angling in the Smile of the Great Spirit,” that he shares 78 years of fishing experiences on Lake Winnipesaukee.
“I recruited 14 other master anglers who cumulatively have over 600 years of angling wisdom from childhood on which we share in the book,” said Lyon.
The NEOWA promotes good sportsmanship, wise conservation practices and prudent use of the earth’s natural resources. NEOWA, established in 1942, is the oldest regional outdoor writers organization in America and is a nonprofit, professional and educational organization.
“This year’s contest is dedicated to the memory of Spence Conley,” said Julius, adding Conley was best known for his work with the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service, Northeast Region, based in Western Massachusetts.
Julius noted that submissions from students in Grades 6-8 will be entered in the Junior Division and Grades 9-12 will be entered into the Senior Division.
“The topic must be outdoor oriented,” said Julius, adding that students can talk about nature experiences they have had including while fishing, hunting, boating, canoeing, hiking, or camping. Any prose or poetic form is acceptable.
One junior and one senior winner will be chosen from each of the six New England states. The winning state entries will then be judged for the best of New England. Junior and senior state winners will each receive an award certificate and $125. The junior and senior New England winners will receive an additional $150.
The written work should not exceed 500 words, noted Julius. Also, entrants must submit four legible 81/2 x 11 copies of his or her work with a title of the entry and the author’s name. The submission package must also include one cover sheet including name, address, telephone, e-mail, grade in school and age.
“Giving out the prizes to young writers for this contest is such a rewarding experience and such acknowledgement for young writers and can become a defining life-changing moment to motivate them to continuing to communicate in writing about their outdoor experiences and their love of nature,” said Lyon.
Entries must be mailed to Julius at 487 Central St., East Bridgewater, MA 02333 and entrants must also email one copy of their entry to Julius at [email protected]
Julius is reaching out to libraries, Boy and Girl Scout troops, and other youth outdoor organizations to help promote the contest.
NEOWA will announce the contest winners in the spring. NEOWA also reserves the right to publish the winning entries in their publications and on its website.
For more information on the writing contest and last year’s winning entries, visit www.neowa.org.
“In today’s hectic, fast-paced world, along with what some experts are calling nature-deficit disorder, our organization is taking a step in the right direction by offering interested youngsters an outlet to tell the stories of what they see and experience in the outdoors,” said Julius.