The sun shone through the windows of Blue Sail coffee one May morning when I ordered a cup of their locally roasted but exotic sounding brew and settled in for a visit with Georgia Pellegrini, a nationally recognized hunting and lifestyle expert. I had been introduced to Georgia by mutual friends who thought my particular event experience might be beneficial to her as she planned her Arkansas Adventure Getaway weekend for 15 women from around the country.
We relaxed into conversation quickly as we sipped coffee and chit-chatted about mutual friends and interest. Georgia laid out the plan for her project and my mind began to swirl with ideas. "What about this..." or "Have you visited..." or "Maybe so-and-so could help us..." By the end of the visit I was invested. I wanted these women to come to Arkansas, and experience Southern Hospitality. As I told Georgia, as a graduate of Texas Woman's University, I recognize the important bond between women that often goes unspoken and that I can see how events like her Adventure Getaways help to empower women to try things outside their comfort zone.
We took the elements Georgia had already put together, met with hospitality experts, wildlife officials, and more... and over several months the event took shape with an exciting mix of urban and rustic experiences.
With a lack of publicly available hunting lodges for the guests we began pursuing an itinerary that would have the ladies headquartered at the Capital Hotel. Each morning the ladies would receive a box breakfast delivered to their door before a busy day out in nature. Georgia even did a social media segment with Chef Matt about those amazing Capital Hotel biscuits.
Excursions were planned with Little Rock Convention and Visitors for a Thursday trolley ride through downtown with a tour by LRCVB, then a shrub (cocktail) making class followed by dinner at South on Main with Chef Matt and Amy Bell. After, guests enjoyed a concert from Secret Sisters coordinated by the Oxford American. Thursday proved to be a full day filled with great kick-off memories.
Friday morning the ladies set off to the newly renovated Dr. James E. Moore Camp Robinson Firing Range with the Arkansas Game and Fish. The ladies practiced archery, handgun use, and trap shooting with Grace Brown, a USA Shooting Collegiate Champion. As the morning wore on, bonds were formed and confidence grew. Lunch was sponsored by the LRCVB at the Third Floor Clark Room at the Rivermarket where Chef Mary Beth Ringgold of Copper Grill provided an amazing mid-day feast prior to Georgia's cooking demonstration. Needless to say, we were stuffed!
Following lunch the ladies were whisked off to Scott, Arkansas, to fish on the property of Judy and Randy Wilbourn. When we pulled up, the ladies were greeted with margaritas and gracious hospitality. We giggled that "we had found our tribe." AG&F along with the Wilbourn family took small groups out on boats to fish for brim while others cast from the dock for catfish. Everyone who wanted to was able to catch a fish and at the end of the excursion fish was fried up for the guests to sample. Delish!
The first evening ended with a tour and meal at historic Marlsgate Plantation in nearby Scott. Our hosts, Beau and Martha Ellen Talbot, made sure the guests felt welcome with Jefferson Davis punch followed by a meal the ladies were still talking about the next day when I met up with them-- especially the pumpkin bread pudding dessert and one even said that they know jambalaya and that the jambalaya at Marlsgate was perfection .
Saturday morning dawned early for the ladies-- at 5 AM they ventured from their posh accommodations into the rustic world of Arkansas teal hunting. AG&F provided guidance as the ladies perched on overturned buckets in a field that only a month prior had been home to thousands of sunflowers. The morning hunt yielded only one bird (but many smiles) which Georgia used as part of a hunting field dressing demonstration, reserving the feathers for a special jewelry project later in the night.
A hearty appetite was worked up and the crew was most appreciative of Charlotte's Eats and Sweets in Keo followed by antiquing in the neighboring stores. The pies at Charlotte's are the stuff of legends and the coconut cream and lemon meringue I tried (but didn't get a chance to photograph) did not disappoint.
Steel Wings lodge served as a mid-day respite and the ideal location for duck calling expert John Stephens, accompanied by his lovely wife Angie, to visit with the ladies about his historic collection of calls, the history and craftsmanship of duck calls, and John's special work with his signature line of calls. He passed out molded duck calls and led an impromptu class with the ladies.
After a brief afternoon hunt the ladies returned to the Capital Hotel where they attended a jewelry making workshop held by Brandy Thompson McNair of Bella Vita Jewelry. Each attendee was able to take home a pair of bird feather earrings. An amazing dinner was enjoyed in the Capital Hotel's exclusive wine cellar cumulating in a dessert of sweet potato torte in a white chocolate shell topped with roasted whipped cream.
As if that wasn't enough of a goodbye celebration, Sunday morning the ladies made their way to The Ranch neighborhood where they crossed a rustic field on land cared for by The Nature Conservancy to do morning meditation lead by Lindsey Petruk followed by kayaking with guides for the Arkansas Canoe and Kayak Club. The two hours on the water allowed the women to enjoy bald cypress and wild life up close.
All photos (c) Mandy Shoptaw, 2017