Posts Tagged ‘Girl Scouts’

Thoughts On The New Girl Scout Outdoors Badges

2 January 2020

I’m a long-time Girl Scout leader (and Boy Scout leader as well), and I’m quite wrapped up in the outdoors programs of both organizations.  Readers may recall that I have a low opinion of the Girl Scout outdoors program.

So when GS-USA announced that new outdoors badges would be made available, I was hopeful.  Here are my thoughts on some of these badges, in no particular order.

Trail Adventure (Senior):  Girls can do trail running or backpacking.  The first requirement is to do some research about the sports, then do some planning.  OK. The planning part is arguably the most important thing about backpacking in particular, but this requirement is at the 30,000 foot level of detail. I don’t think the average 14 year old can learn something like backpacking in a vacuum, and that’s how these requirements feel to me.  The suggestion to take a day hike with an experienced trail runner or backpacker is a good start, but it really should guide the girl in the expectation department (stop and pitch a tent, cooking, etc.).

Step 5 is to go on the adventure.  And here is where I have a big issue – there is no mastery of the sport required.  No mileages, or number of overnights, or anything concrete.

Eco Trekker (Senior):  Learn about conservation, water in particular.  Then go out, and either mark a trail map for durable surfaces (an LNT requirement), or collect water and test it, or build a mound fire.  Again, do one thing that is low-effort.

Adventure Camper (Senior): The usual planning (with more detail than Trail Adventurer), but again, a single camp, which again would not build any mastery.

Survival Camper (Ambassador):  This one has potential.  It’s essentially the backpacking badge above, but you build a shelter instead of taking a tent.

Troop Camping—Primitive Camping (Cadettes):  This is essentially a single plan and take a backpacking trip (but the dishes cleaning method using three wash basins is a little weird for backpacking).

So overall, my judgement is that these outdoors badges are superficial.  For an organization that talks a lot about getting girls outside, these are skim-the-surface activities.  I would argue that you shouldn’t get a badge for an activity that’s fairly complex and demanding unless you show some proficiency in the activity, and these don’t have any goals for girls to strive for.

Backpacking from Mt. Magazine to Cove Lake, AR, 21-23 Oct 2016

25 October 2016

The High Adventure Team (HAT) of Girl Scouts of Western Oklahoma had a really nice beginner/intermediate backpacking trip between Mount Magazine and Cove Lake, AR, last weekend.

Photos from the trip are here on my Google+ site.

Summary, 10.8 miles over two days, with about 1400 ft of altitude loss, and short gains, with mostly contouring.

We headed out from OKC around 1630 and got to Cove Lake around 1930.  It was dark, but the Scouts got tents and hammocks up very quickly.  We sat around talking for a while, and looked at the beautiful dark sky with the Milky Way perfectly clear.  Off to the east, we watched the Pleiades, followed by Sirius, and there was a glow on the horizon that was the Moon about to peek over. We saw a couple satellites.  One thing, there was some sort of bio-luminescent critter in the lake that glowed like a firefly.

The next morning, we got up, had breakfast, and packed up.  We drove up to the Corley trailhead to do a water recon and see if there was a good campsite around the halfway point of the trail, but didn’t really see either.  We decided on a clearing that had been recently cut near a natural gas facility.

A note on those.  We saw three others just like the one I reference above.  A natural gas pipe facility, and very nearby, an acre or more of trees are just bulldozed down with a rough road cut.  I figured they were for parking heavy machinery somehow used by the gas company.

Regardless, after our recon we drove up to Mt. Magazine, visited the visitor center, and went to the trailhead.  We had one vehicle shuttle to do, and we hit the trail.

Two things about this five-mile hike.  It’s a long way down (more than 1200 ft), and there is no water along the way, except in one pond we hiked next to.  There were several nice campsites (I waypointed them on my GPS, and you can see them on the terrain plot on the Google+ site).  Note that the campsites, except the one that was near the pond, had NO water nearby.  There were a number of streambeds that we crossed, but dry.

As we got closer to the five-mile halfway point, we noticed a number of good campsites. There was a decent one about 200 yards south of a point where the trailed joined up with a road for a short distance.  Gutter Rock Creek is a decent-sized streambed several hundred yards SW along that road, but again, it was dry.  Our campsite was in a stand of pine trees, and the trunks were perfect for our hammock hangers, and the copious pine needles were a thick and very comfortable bed for our tenters.  There were lots of rocks to sit on and cook on.

The next morning, we got up and had breakfast and headed out earlier than the previous day.  We had about another five miles to go to get back to Cove Lake. Once you get on the short stretch of gravel road, you find a new trail, with both the road and new trail heading steadily but not steeply up.  You level out at the Corley trailhead.  There is a sign there that points down the road, but the actual trail is west of the trailhead; exit the trailhead to the NW, and a short spur leads you to the trailhead near the bluff.

As you hike along to the north, you shortly come to the best view on the trail, that looks back at Mt. Magazine to the south.

The remainder of the trail contours or gently slopes down.  About a half mile from the Cove Lake trailhead, we crossed one stream with decent water in it, and then Cove Creek, with a LOT of water in it.  There were lots of campsites along the bluff with the good view, or in the forest as you get near Cove Lake, but most of them are dry.

This was a nice backpack, easy on our newbies, with decent views to reward our effort. 90% of the hike was in shade.


Backpacking Robber’s Cave State Park, OK

20 May 2016

Summary:  Six miles and 500 ft of backpacking a beautiful park with a group of great Girl Scouts.

Photos are on my Google+ site here.

Last weekend, the Girl Scouts of Western Oklahoma (GS-West) High Adventure Team (HAT) had a Beginners Backpacking trip to Robber’s Cave State Park in eastern Oklahoma.

One cool thing, this was Edition 2 of this trip.  The first trip, about a month ago, maxed out and had a waiting list, so we did a second one.

We got to camp Friday evening around 1900.  We had reservations at the Equestrian Camp.  This was pretty cool.  We were at the south end of the camp in a large grassy area under big trees, with a couple picnic tables to sit at.  Very nice, real bathrooms (with showers), and lots of horses to look at.  The Ranger came and checked on us, and he let us know about the need for a backcountry permit that we were not aware of.

Here’s the skinny:  we wanted to leave our cars at the trailhead at the Cave.  That area gets locked up each night, but you can park there.  We scored a permit form from the park office, put all three of our cars on one form, and left it on the dash of one of the cars.

The next morning, we got up, had a trail breakfast, packed, and headed over to the Cave area.  There were a LOT of people there at 0930, including a Cub Scout Pack and at least three Boy Scout Troops.

We let the Scouts head up on the wonderful rocks to warm up a bit, then we shouldered our packs and headed out from the trailhead, which is on the south side of the parking area.

It’s a nice trail to walk on.  The last time I hiked it, I missed a turn that headed up hill, and the same thing happened to our girls.  We had lunch at the bottom of Rough Canyon, and took a shortcut up a road to get to Cattail Pond, and eventually found our way around the loop to Lost Lake.

What a beautiful campsite!  I hiked past Lost Lake a couple years ago.  It’s a great campsite, with tall, beautiful trees, pine needles all over the ground that are great to sleep on, a couple big fire rings, and that pretty lake in front of you.  I walked all the way around the lake, it was very peaceful.

The next morning we got up and hiked back to Robber’s Cave, played on the rocks for a while, and headed back to OKC.

There was a LOT of water around on this trip, numerous small streams, Lost Lake and Cattail Pond, and Rough Canyon.  We had little in the way of bug problems, but a couple of the girls ran across ticks.  There was quite a bit of poison ivy around as well.

This was a really nice backpacking trip.  A little altitude gain, a nice trail that was easy to follow.  It might be possible to get a 10-miler out of this trail, if you figure-8 around Rough Canyon.

Girl Scouts and Boy Scouts and Boys and Girls

31 October 2015

Raegan pointed me at an article posted Thursday about a group of girls that were a den in a Cub Scout pack. The situation is one that we have had in our family, there are plenty of girls that want to do Scouting, but they want to do Scouting that is based on the Boy Scout program, the kind of Scouting that used to be practiced by Girl Scouts.

First of all, I think there is value in having some youth activities gender-segregated. Girls doing some (not all) stuff with girls, and boys doing some (not all) stuff with guys. You may or may not agree with this, but that’s fine. There are plenty of combined stuff, to include most schools, churches, and the like.

Second, I wear two Scouting hats, as I’m a leader in both Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts. I tend to augment Girl Scout activities I do with activities that we do as Boy Scouts. You might correctly assume from this that I think that Girl Scouting does not place enough emphasis on outdoors activities. I know that girls can do all of the things that boys do in Scouting, to include camping, backpacking, shooting, etc.

Raegan has told me many stories of her growing up in Girl Scouts, and that back then the emphasis on outdoors activities was declining.

So back to the article. The girls in question were set up as a den in a Cub Scout Pack, with the agreement of Pack leadership. Good for them (all of them). The Boy Scout Council leadership eventually found out and objected. The girls want to bridge to Boy Scouts this upcoming Spring. I doubt they will be allowed to.

The girls could become Girl Scouts. While the Girl Scouting program does not prohibit the sorts of activities that the girls want to do, I can tell you that it does not encourage these programs either. We have a High Adventure Team (HAT) here in the local Girl Scout Council, which is good. But HAT is not a unit, or Troop, but is considered sort of an ongoing program, and the participation age starts at 11. We have not had good support in the past, but at least it’s getting better (see my blog post about our Durango adventure). The policies of the Girl Scouts with regard to the relationship between Troops and Councils makes it difficult to get and keep equipment, and raise funds to buy that equipment. We are always told to buy extra insurance, so our activities are apparently thought of as too risky.

Speaking of which, Girl Scouting is far too risk-averse. Policy requires the Council to be in control of all unit funds. The safety rules put a serious damper on having fun (one rule is that a certified lifeguard has to be present at any swimming; there are not that many certified lifeguards around). There are also silly rules in Boy Scouting, but having a certified lifeguard to go swimming is not one of them. Girl Scouts require a bunch of training before taking a group camping, with no ability to test out (for example, if you’ve been camping for 40 years). Boy Scouting is starting to ramp up training requirements some as well. I would hope that the organizations would accept the others training in this respect.

One other problem with becoming Girl Scouts is a fundamental problem of recognition. The Boy Scout recognition structure of ranks and badges is a darn good motivator. Girl Scouting is age-based. They do have the Bronze, Silver, and Gold Awards, but those are for older scouts (I understand that in order to earn the Gold Award, a Scout does not have to earn Bronze or Silver, which seems to me to be a bad idea). I think that having a rank to strive for is highly motivating for kids of all ages, even if you keep it age-based for the younger Scouts.

Boy Scouting does allow coed Scouting at 14+, in the form of Venture Crews and Teams.

I think I would like to see one of the following:

  • Boy Scouts allow female Dens in Cubs and Patrols in Boy Scouting.
  • Girls Scouts re-emphasize outdoor activities.
  • Neither of these will happen any time soon. I don’t know that Girl Scouts will ever go back to an outdoor-centric program.

    As to the girl Cub Scouts, the best thing to do is probably to join Girl Scouts and run their own program based on Boy Scouts, to include awarding ranks, Merit Badges, and the like. They won’t be officially recognized by either organization (one due to DNA, the other due to Journeys), but the girls will have done the work to earn the badge regardless.

    The Girl Scouts, and Trust

    1 March 2011

    My very cute and outdoors oriented roommate and I are leaders of a Girl Scout troop here in Oklahoma City. I am also a leader in a Boy Scout troop (I consider myself a Boy Scout still), and my wife is a former BSA leader.

    We are in the throes of the yearly GS cookie sale. Since we have been doing this, it seems like the local GS Council (Girl Scouts of Western Oklahoma) has been getting more and more controlling.

    I have written before about some of the things the Council does that I think have been wrong. The local Council closed three great camps, yet managed to find the money to move to a large building. I don’t know that they are terribly concerned about the GS outdoor program for girls.

    Last year, the Council demanded that Troops make payments for cookies on certain dates, and do it by EFT from individual Troop bank accounts. The Council had already changed the order of cookie sales from “order first, Troop receive, Scouts deliver and collect money” to “force cookies on Troops, Scouts sell, Troop send money to Council”.

    Now, the accounts are something else. The Council requires all Troops to use a certain bank, and they require that the CEO, a Ms. Stackpole, be one of the account owners, and have signature authority on the account. We are required, therefore, to trust her, but the Council, it seems, does not trust Troops, or rather their leaders.

    This year, the Council continued a trend of control. They required that for any checks people buying cookies write to the Troop, the Troop is required to collect a driver’s license number for the council. The Council also required all Scout parents checking cookies out. The reason? Presumably, so the Council can more easily go after cookie scofflaws.

    Another control thing. This year, the Council demanded that deposits of collected cookie money be made on certain dates. Why? So the Council can automatically pull what they say they are owed on particular dates. If the sales are slow, that could wipe out a units account. I don’t know if there is a way to keep that from happening.

    I contrast this to the Boy Scouts. Each unit is fundamentally distinct from the Council. The Council charters each, but each unit operates pretty much independently. Our Troop has a bank account, and no one from the Council has forced their way into that account. When popcorn sales are going on, the popcorn is delivered to the unit with a bill, essentially, and after the popcorn is delivered, and money collected, the unit writes a check to the Council for the amount billed. The rest is profit.

    The GS Council, in another issue of control, requires that all donations be funneled to the Council, which does something administrative, then returns the donation to the Troop, at some point. Hopefully.

    Finally, each Troop that has more than $250 in their account is required to justify that to the Overlords (er, Council) by having some plan to use the money in the upcoming year, or the Council can TAKE IT (now, in my experience, that’s theft, but I’m sure the Council has a fast lawyer in their nice new building who has come up with some legal reason that it’s OK).

    In summary, the GS-West Council seems a lot more interested in collecting cookie and other money than in delivering outdoors program to Girl Scouts.

    Backpacking Part of the Ozark Highlands Trail

    20 October 2010

    This past weekend, the Oklahoma City area Girl Scout High Adventure Team (HAT) did a backpacking trip along the Ozark Highlands Trail (OHT) in western Arkansas. It was a great trip, with perfect weather.

    The HATs are a newish idea that are meant to keep the girls interest in Scouts as they start to get older (11+). The HAT for the OKC area is a great group, and they have already had three adventures that Erin has been able to attend; all three were outstanding.

    This time, the trip started with a rendezvous at the KOA Kampground in Alma, AR. I have never camped at a KOA. We pitched out tents out next to a nice pond, and had a great nights sleep. The next morning we got up and had breakfast. One interesting thing: a group showed up as we were setting up camp (around 2330), and set up a couple tents the next campsite over. The next morning when we woke up at 0730, they were gone. The camp manager came around looking for them, and it seems they gave a false name and phone number, and so skipped paying for the camping. Kind of crappy, I think.

    We divided into two groups (beginner backpackers, and those with some experience), and headed to the trail heads. We went out a a trail crossing at mile 10.5, and the experienced group went to Lake Fort Smith State Park, the OHT trailhead, and started from there.

    We got to the trailhead around 1015, got squared away, and headed out at 1030. We had a pretty happy group:

    Erin was raring to go (at least that’s my interpretation):

    My apologies for the smearing on a lot of these pictures. I had some crud on the lens, and I finally noticed and cleaned it much later, on the trail.

    The parking area for the trailhead is right in front of the eastern departure for the OHT. The western departure is about 50 meters back along the road to the south.

    The trail up here is largely dirt and occasional roots. There is quite a bit of brush along the trail. The trail is marked with white blazes, and it’s easy to follow.

    We walked a quarter mile or so, and then stopped and had an equipment check.

    The trail is really nice. It meanders around a lot of native rocks.

    We took a break after about a half mile. These girls being beginner backpackers, we let them set the pace, so we were not blazing along the trail. That’s OK, though, since we didn’t want them to get burned out.

    We crossed a large number of dry watercourses along the trail. Many of them are filled with rocks.

    At about 1.3 miles into the trip (so this would be about OHT mile 9.2), we crossed the first water we saw. At the crossing, the water was quite brackish, but as we walked along, we climbed a bit above the water, and saw clean water flowing below us.

    We stopped for lunch after about 1.4 miles. We found some nice rocks piled up, and they made good tables. We had peanut butter and jam, on pita bread. Some of the girls got to experience in-the-woods potty for the first time here. Erin climbed up on a big rock, and found a partial deer skull with small partial antlers.

    The trail was getting a bit more crowded with brush along here. A couple of the hikers (including me) got scratched by brambles on the trail.

    We ran across this tree that had an odd growth around it.

    The trail goes up and down, but overall down, as it travels towards Lake Fort Smith. The highest altitude gain isn’t very much, but the trail is occasionally steep. You are looking down about 40 feet here.

    This was a really neat watercourse that had a stone bottom, like a natural flume.

    At one point along the trail, our leader, one of the Scouts, did a very heads-up observation of a three-foot rattlesnake in the dead center of the trail. I think it’s a timber rattlesnake; the rust-colored stripe along the back is diagnostic. There is a good article on them at Wikipedia.

    After about 3.8 miles (OHT mile 6.7), we found a nice water source, and stopped to pump filter some water.

    We continued along the same stream, which got wider and was flowing faster. We found a nice camp spot. This was 4.1 miles into the walk, or about OHT mile 6.4. The water here was really nice! There were two places just downstream of the camp that would make fine summertime swimming holes. There were some flat rocks that made for perfect cooking and sitting places.

    Dinner that night was all dehydrated. We had beef stew, potatoes, and mac and cheese, and fried bread dough with cinnamon and sugar for dessert. It was excellent, we were all pretty hungry. Most of the kids had never had dehydrated food before, so it was quite the experience for them.

    A couple words on food. Our trip leaders had put the menus together, and they were pretty much perfect. Great quantity, taste, and ease of cooking and cleanup.

    The kids played along the river for a bit, and there was some talking, but not much.

    I left my pocket Sudoku book in the car (poor planning on my part), so when I retired to my tent around 2015, I lay there and thought for a bit, and then just went to sleep.

    I woke up the next morning at 0715. I had almost 11 hours of sleep, and really felt well. I do not think I woke up all evening.

    I really liked my tent. This was my second use of it. It is a Kings Canyon two-person three season tent from Academy ($60). It weighed about 4.5 lbs. The extra weight was worth it for the space. I made a ground cloth out of heavy black plastic sheet that worked just fine.

    While I was packing up my stuff, a really nice buck ran through the part of our camp where my tent was. It passed no more than 20 feet away from me, bounding along through the woods.

    I FINALLY realized that my camera lens was all crudded up. Here is a before-and-after.

    We got started after breakfast. The trail was a bit more winding, and had a lot of rock on it. This was an example.

    A bit farther along the trail, we ran across one of the two campsites that were along the trail. This was nice, in that it had some more flat tent spaces, but I liked our rock ledges better.

    The flora also slightly changed as we got a bit farther on. There was less underbrush.

    About a half hour into the hike, we ran into the other crew, who were working their way east. We took a group photo, and then headed back out again.

    A bit farther and we started seeing Lake Fort Smith.

    We crossed a number of ravines and stream beds. Some of them were a bit steep, but the total altitude change was only about 30 feet each time.

    We found this tree across the trail, and Erin was kind enough to move it :).

    We soon had our second and third snakes on the trail. These were both the common Rough Green Snake. One was climbing up a limb, and the other was right in the middle of the trail, and was lucky to not get tramped by the passing crew.

    We had been preparing for the infamous water crossing of the north end of Lake Fort Smith. It turned out that it was down far enough that we were dry the entire way.

    There is what would normally be a marshy area between the two parts of the water crossing. It was high and dry.

    I carried my GPS for the entire hike. This is an overlay of the track on Google Earth. The total length of the trip was 6.8 miles.

    This is the topographic map of the area with the GPS data for the path we hiked overlayed. The topo map shows a trail (dashed line), but the actual path is a little offset for most of the length of the trail. I would look at the GPS every once in a while, and the error calculated was usually in the 16-25 ft range. The flags: OHT TH (Trailhead) is where we started, Lunch is, well, where we ate lunch, and Camp Water is where we overnighted. EOT is End of Trail.

    There were some ups and downs on the trail. This is the altitude plot of the hike.

    This is interesting in that it generally follows the drainage into the lake.

    This was a great weekend. I would not mind hiking more of the OHT. The weather was perfect. I thought it was a tiny bit cool after the first day of hiking, so I wore my sweatshirt, but I didn’t need my sweatpants at all. The amount and type of food was just right. The Scouts were real troopers. There was no complaining or beefing at any point along the trail. We had a couple of the girls be hike leaders.

    Our rate of advance was fairly slow, but only if you compare the usual rate of an adult to an 11 year old girl, carrying everything she needs for two+ days on her back! I was really impressed by the girls (and the adults), with their stamina, and their work ethic. The tents went up smoothly, and they went down smoothly. We had no injuries, except a couple scrapes by brambles near the trail.

    We had little wildlife, a noticeable lack of birds, but had three snakes and the deer that came through camp. There were a tremendous number of critter holes along the trail.

    Over the two days on the trail, we saw about 10 groups, and a couple singles, out backpacking. Most of them were going west to east, and we had two groups pass us east to west.

    The water was clear (except that one place it was brackish, but it was clear a few yards upstream).

    Since we were hiking to the west, we ended up at Lake Fort Smith State Park. Everything looks pretty new there. The Visitor Center had a couple critters on exhibit, and a small gift shop. They needed showers! The Visitor Center had wifi, but it wasn’t working. We had a couple hours until the other group met up with us, so I hiked the Warren Hollow trail (1.6 miles one way); it ended up at two buildings (again, new) that are the Group Camp area, on top of a hill. Those buildings had open wifi, so I used my Blackberry to connect and get my first email download since Saturday morning, and to call Raegan and give her a quick update.

    I don’t know that I would through-hike the OHT (although I might change my mind on that!), but I would like to get some of the other sections over the next couple years. Great fun!

    GS-West Closing Campsites

    25 August 2010

    It will come as a surprise to some that I am a Girl Scout. I am also a Boy Scout. More specifically, I am a registered leader in both organizations. I am also a strong supporter of the aims of both organizations, if not always how the organizations perform their mission.

    And so it is now. The Girl Scouts of Western Oklahoma (GS-West) is apparently going to close, and presumably sell, the camps of Red Rock and Kate.

    I have several issues with this. While I have never been to Camp Kate (it used to be part of the Sooner Council before GS-West ate it and our Redlands Council in a merger that was apparently messy), I have been to Red Rock numerous times. It is a lovely camp, has a wilderness camp area, platforms, a corral, hiking, and a nice building. It is an ideal Scout camp, for girls or boys. It is fairly close to the OKC metro area.

    There is also the issue of how this decision was taken. My wife and Troop Leader participates in Service Unit meetings (and never misses them), and there has never been mention of camp closings. The Council commented a couple days ago about feedback received during some evaluation process, but no news of that ever reached the Service Unit. I think that the “process” must have been very secretive.

    Why sell the camps? A Council-wide camp was held at Red Rock last year, to great success. Were there problems that were not reported?

    Are the camps underused? This might be an issue. Girl Scouts has experienced a decline in outdoors activities over the years. The obvious solution is for the Council(s) to ramp up outdoors program. One question I have asked: how many Girl Scout Troops actually own tents and other gear, in contrast to Boy Scout Troops?

    I wonder if money is too involved. The Council is moving to a larger building soon, and I wonder if the closures(and sales?) of the camps is the funding stream to support this. I understand that the Council(s) already make each Troop justify having more than some small amount of money in Troop checking accounts at the end of each accounting year, with the Council taking funds it considers “unjustified”. It could be that GS-West (and National?) is focusing on money rather than the girls.

    All of this is very disturbing to us. We want our daughter, and our other Troop girls, to have every opportunity to experience the full range of outdoor activities that are available. Closing camps limits those opportunities, and degrades the mission of the Girl Scouts overall. The Council needs to think through why they are trying to do, and should perhaps be a great deal more open in their dealings with the volunteers, and the girls we are all trying to serve.