The 74th annual Association for Conservation Information (ACI) conference was held in Cincinnati, Ohio where guests from at least a dozen states gathered at the historic Cincinnati Netherlands’ Plaza Hilton established in 1931. One of the tallest buildings in the downtown area with 29 floors it is only overshadowed by both the Carew’s Tower and the Queen building with its tiara designed after Princess Diana. My room was on the 27th floor which strangely enough had signs that warned people to be quiet for the guests that would be “sleeping through the day.” Strange.
We got into town on Sunday and weren’t here long before two of my old buddies from Arkansas, Jeff Williams and Randy Zellars who is also the new editor for the ACI publication, The Balance Wheel, showed up. After drinks in the hotel bar, we all got a bite to eat at O’Malley’s in the alley, a cozy hole in the wall with good punk music and yummy Panini’s.
Monday was official day one of the conference. For those of us who had arrived early that meant a one-of-a-kind field trip on the vintage Duck boats, a great way to see the Queen city before splashing down in the amazingly shallow (only 28ft deep!) Ohio River. It is 900 miles long however! During the tour we saw awesome landmarks like the statue of Abe Lincoln, one of only a handful where he is depicted without his trademark stovepipe hat and beard, the Bengals Stadium which is actually built below the Ohio River level making it necessary for giant turbines to constantly pump out water, and of course the humming bridge which is the precursor to the Brooklyn bridge and the first of its kind. The driver, Captain Eddie was awesome, even allowing me to drive the boat although he quickly took over command again when we approached the bridge pylons….but hey those things are tough to steer!
After the tour we headed to the Ohio aquarium for a behind the scenes tour (beware the attack turtle!) followed by a front of the house tour. I pet a leopard shark!
After the day’s events we all raced back to the hotel to get cleaned up for the evening’s mixer held just across Fountain Square at a lovely little place called Via Vite where new and old friends alike caught up over yummy h’ors d’erves and cocktails sponsored by Southwick Associates. Afterwards we caught a screening of Green Fire the first full-length documentary on the life and work of Aldo Leopold before continuing on to the hospitality suite for some extended catching up with old friends from around the country.
The first day of meetings should have begun with a lesson on how the tourism industry can teach state wildlife agencies courtesy of the Ohio State university Sea grant Extension but instead we were treated to an extra long session from the Snake Lady from Lake Erie who has dedicated her life to the conservation of the Lake Erie watersnake. Kristin Stanford works hard on building outreach programs to expose both young and old to what she calls glorifying the gross and convincing others that these slimy serpents deserve our help. She even had her 15 minutes of fame when Mike Rowe of Dirty Jobs fame came out to film a segment on her. Cool.
Up next was a special segment all about the Ohio Young Birders Club which focused on generating interest among youth birders of color. It was a really great presentation, particularly for those of us from more urban states.
Lunch that day was again at Fountain Square where the hubby and I took in some yummy appetizers at the Rock Bottom Brewery. Then a little Cincinnati sightseeing.
That night was the rocking 1950’s auction which both the hubby and I had come well prepared for. We wore our matching black, white and red ensembles well and enjoyed a viewing of The Creature From The Black Lagoon. After a buffet dinner which included Cincinnati chili and Mets we also had our annual auction and raffle. I actually won this year!! (and talked Jeff into trading me a mushroom book to give to Race when I returned home) I do have to say were not the only ones decked out. Lindsey Deering and her team of Pink Ladies were quite a sight as well!
The next day was again full of great sessions on from the updates in the publishing world to the National Archery in the schools program. I particularly enjoyed PR 2.0 How Social Media Applications are Transforming Communications within Agencies, both Private and Public by Dr. Corey Cockerill from Wilmington College. It was like everything I had been preaching to my previous agency for years…but was now well it was like it seemed to be common sense. While I was thrilled that this knowledge was out there and is being used, and that even I can even use it now to help other agencies, at the same time I was a little sad that my agency walked away from it…from me.
Then when Pamela Gilchrist followed up the next day with Increasing Your Online ROI:Integrating Social networking and Add Value to your Website, I was in social media heaven. so many of the things I was already doing with my consulting but also so much more. I made sure to connect to her as people in our industry can never have enough contacts.
Moving on. The rest of the conference was awesome. The awards night was awesome. The Ohio Division of Wildlife did a phenomenal job of hosting and when they rolled out the red carpet, cheering us all as we walked in among the flashbulbs to enjoy an excellent dinner it was the perfect end to a perfect week. I really can’t wait until next year to see everyone again in West Virginia!