Hazel Creek is located on the north side of Fontana Lake in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park.

(FONTANA DAM, NC) – The Outdoor Journalist Education Foundation of America hosted a reunion of former members of the Southeastern Outdoor Press Association at Fontana Dam Village Resort in Western North Carolina May 16-18. Group activities included a hike along Hazel Creek led by Heath Hyatt (HyattCreekOutfitters) and a cooking demonstration at the Stecoah Valley Cultural Arts Center by the highly successful Appalachian vlogger and cookbook author Tipper Pressley. (Blindpigandtheacorn.com)

OJEFA also sponsored an EIC contest to celebrate the work of those who were SEOPA members in good standing when the organization dissolved in 2022. Top winners included Jim Mize, Donna Bush, and Richard Simms. Mize took first place in the Fishing Story and Hunting Story categories, as well as the coveted Sharon Rushton Award for work about and/or for youth in the outdoors. His book, The Jon Boat Years, was awarded second place and he won third place in all three photograph categories. Bush took top place honors in the Fauna and Flora Photography categories and the Social Media Post and placed second in two other categories. Richard Simms rounded out the top three winners with first place in the People/Action photography category and two second- and two third-place honors.

2023 EIC winners left to right include Tes Randle Jolly, Donna Bush, Jill Easton, Richard Simms, Jim Mize, Jim Casada, Whit Gibbons, and Jim Spencer.

Three places were awarded in each of nine categories with a total payout of $7,900. Even with three judges per category, the contest saw some very close scores resulting in a second-place tie in the Non-consumptive Story category and three honorable mentions. The latter were given for entries that finished a mere point or two out of third place. See the complete list of winners below.

Alabama Mountain Lakes Tourist Association sponsored the awards dinner which concluded with a trivia contest about SEOPA, its members, and past conferences. The state of Alabama was noted in the quiz as having hosted 11 SEOPA conferences, more than any other state. Destinations included Eufaula, Decatur, Sheffield, Gulf Shores, and Huntsville.

Founder and CEO of SABO Outdoors, Justin Neal, addressed attendees Saturday night to discuss his group’s efforts to provide access to outdoors enthusiasts who have difficulty finding places to hunt and fish. “Access to fertile hunting grounds and productive waters has been a growing issue in our industry and the challenge seems to have intensified in the past decade or so,” Neal said. “Efforts to encourage traditional outdoor activities fall flat if we can’t offer affordable places to go. SABO can help. We work with landowners to provide short-term leasing opportunities for people who either can’t afford annual leases or are new to outdoors adventures. Making it easier to get outdoors is a huge part of our mission.” SABO (Sporting Activities by Owner) strives to promote conservation over commercialization by encouraging landowners to lease their land for public use instead of selling it to developers. The combined skill set of Neal, a former U.S. Army Special Operations Ranger, and his three fellow veteran co-founders, includes cybersecurity, financial strategy, organizational and event planning, conservation, relationship building, engineering, network administration, agriculture tactics, nonprofit work, and law. Learn more at SABOoutdoors.com.

In keeping with SEOPA tradition, Saturday evening culminated in a pickin’ and grinnin’ session led by songster extraordinaire, Rob Simbeck. The 2-day, 3-night gathering was held, in part, to commemorate what would have been the 60th anniversary of SEOPA’s founding in May of 1964 at the same Resort. While much has changed in the 60 years since that first meeting, the kindred spirit of those who enjoy the outdoors and revel in telling its stories remains.

1st Place: Fishing Fables by Jim Mize
2nd Place: Charlie’s First Fish by Richard Simms
3rd Place: What is Your Favorite Wildlife Recipe? By Whit Gibbons

1st Place: Cold Cocked by Jim Mize
2nd Place: Epitaph for a Turkey Hunter by Jim Spencer
3rd Place: The Big Reveal by Tes Jolly
Honorable Mention: New Hunter Learns to Thrive in the Wild Brent Frazee
Honorable Mention: Bird Dogs Don’t Lie by Jimmy Jacobs

1st Place: Corn Snakes Make Colorful Windshield Wipers by Whit Gibbons
2nd Place Tie: Southern Girl Meets Northern Lights by Donna Bush
2nd Place Tie: Rain, Tin Roofs, and Restfulness by Jim Casada
3rd Place: Growing Gobblers by Jill Easton
Honorable Mention: The Poult Days of Summer by Tes Jolly

1st Place: Osprey by Donna Bush
2nd Place: Quality Whitetails Cover by Tes Jolly
3rd Place: Hidden Hellbender by Jim Mize

1st Place: Fall Colors by Donna Bush
2nd Place: Bracken Fern by Richard Simms
3rd Place: Autumn Stream by Jim Mize

1st Place: Chasin’ the Sun by Richard Simms
2nd Place: Aurora by Donna Bush
3rd Place: It’s a Bass by Jim Mize

1st Place: Lords of the Veldt & Vlei: Africa’s Pioneer Hunters by Jim Casada
2nd Place: The Jon Boat Years by Jim Mize
3rd Place: Bad Birds 3: Yet Another Collection of Mostly True Stories … by Jim Spencer

1st Place: Southern Girl Meets Northern Lights by Donna Bush
2nd Place: Jumping Buck by Tes Jolly
3rd Place: Bobcat Kittens by Richard Simms

1st Place: Squirrel Hunting: The Right Game for Young Hunters by Jim Mize
2nd Place: Fisherman Helps Children with Disabilities Cast for Joy by Brent Frazee
3rd Place: Charlie’s First Fish by Richard Simms

For more information about OJEFA, visit ojefa.org.

Hyatt Creek Outfitters


(828) 342-0008

Tipper Pressley

Fontana Dam Village Resort

Visit Graham County

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