Girls are joining the boys in scouts in La Plata County this year, learning to split firewood, backpack and lead their peers.
The change is part of a nationwide shift for the Boy Scouts of America, which changed the name of Boy Scouts to Scouts BSA and opened the iconic program to girls earlier this year. The Cub Scouts, for students in kindergarten through fifth grade, welcomed girls into dens last year.
For Gabriela Ferrell, 11, the change means no longer just tagging along with her brother’s troop on trips, but participating as a recognized member.
“Being one of the sisters on the outings, you didn’t get that real experience,” Gabriela said. “... Getting to be with the group is really awesome.” When she tagged along as her brother’s sister, she would have to stay with the parents chaperoning the trip, she said.
The shift to allow girls in scouting and cub scouting came about, in part, because of girls like Gabriela who were attending events with their brothers and wanted to be recognized for participating, said Rick Petersen, cubmaster with Pack No. 508.
“It was a surprise for some folks, but for those who are actively involved, we knew it was coming down the pipeline,” he said.
Not that the change hasn’t triggered a strong reaction, he said.
“It evokes strong feelings, the whole subject of girls in scouting. I have very strong feelings in a positive way. There are some folks who have some very strong feelings in a negative way, and I respect that,” he said.
But for Petersen, allowing girls in scouting is a matter of providing young women an equal opportunity to earn the rank of Eagle Scout, something that opened doors for him.
The rank will carry the same prestige into the future because Scouts BSA has not changed its requirements with the introduction of girls, he said.
“There is no scouting and scouting-lite,” he said.
In the two months since her troop formed, Gabriela said she has learned about knots and how to use knives, axes and hatchets. She is looking forward to earning lots of different merit badges, particularly one about pets.
Gabriela’s Troop No. 537 is one of three troops in the area that has formed for girls. Even though Scouts BSA is open to girls, the troops are still gender-specific. One troop for girls has also formed in Cortez and another in Farmington.
Gabriela’s troop meets at the same time and place as her brother’s troop, and the two troops go on trips together, said Lisa Ferrell, Gabriela’s mom. The two troops also share an adult leadership committee.
The boys and girls separate when the troops are working on skills and activities, Ferrell said.
There was some concern on the local level that girls might change the flavor of scouting and that they might find it too dirty or too scary. But that has not been the case, she said.
“They want to learn. They take it seriously, and they are just super fun to be with,” she said.
Integrating the boys and girls also hasn’t been a problem, she said.
“The boys in the troop, they don’t even blink,” she said.
Troop No. 537 Scoutmaster Tina Hartley volunteered to lead the group even though she doesn’t have a daughter involved, saying she saw the skills and leadership her son developed in scouts. She loves the idea of offering the same opportunity to girls, she said. Scouting helped her son’s troop learn to plan backpacking trips and cook their own food, among other skills, she said.
“It really teaches leadership,” she said, “which is the biggest thing that impressed me.”