There are just oodles of reasons why the “Great Girl Scout Hike” was created. Barbara Duerk of the Girl Scouts of Virginia Skyline Council concocted it to invite scouts and their mentors to tackle sections of her beloved Appalachian Trail this year. Sure, it’s to celebrate the Girl Scouts’ 100th anniversary.
It was a butterfly that helped inspire the Great Girl Scout Hike. Jennifer Pfister, an organizer for he Girl Scouts of Virginia, vividly remembers taking a little Roanoke girl hiking for the first time. The girl belted out a blood-curdling scream when an innocuous butterfly landed on her because she feared it was going to bite her. The girl had never seen a butterfly except in a book.
“Kids aren’t getting outside enough,” says Pfister. “They’re very much glued to their computer screens inside. We’d like to get back to the basics of Girl Scouting.”
So she and her colleague Barbara Duerk created the Great Girl Scout Hike, inviting scouts and their mentors to tackle sections of the Appalachian Trail in 2012. The hike also celebrates the Girl Scouts’ 100th anniversary, and it was inspired by Honorary Chair Mary “Mama Boots” Sands, who trekked the iconic footpath’s 2,181-miles over two decades with her scouts.
“The idea is to get girls outside, to get girls on the move and to appreciate our natural resources,” says Duerk, a long-time scout leader and A.T. trekker.
That’s a huge part of what scouts did back when Juliette Gordon Low founded the girls’ leadership group in Savannah, Ga. on March 12, 1912 – before American women even secured their right to vote. The hike officially began on the scouts’ March 12 anniversary and ends on Low’s birthday, Oct. 31.
So far, girls from 137 troops in Virginia, Maryland, Florida, New Jersey and other states, have registered to hike legs of the A.T. One group of alumnae dubbed the Eaglet Express is even staging a northbound thru-hike.
Seeing the scouts hit the trail makes Mama Boots beam. “It gets them back into the importance of physical fitness,” says the Louisville, Ky. octogenarian. “There are a lot of girls out there who aren’t athletes and ballet dancers, but they can hike on the Appalachian Trail and they feel like they’ve accomplished something.”
In Burke, Va., Aly Kliem, of Troop 6115 wasn’t thinking about building muscles when she signed on. “It’s fun. You get to be outside,” says the 13-year-old. And, she added, “I’d like to see a black bear.”
Kliem’s troop leader Sandy Latta is prepping her scouts for an overnight backpacking trip on the A.T. near Front Royal with neighborhood training hikes and expert speakers. Latta “felt there was a need for older Girl Scout high-adventure activities.” But even Daisies, Brownies, and other pint-sized scouts can join in by taking mini-hikes.
“For some, this is the first time they are going to step on a hiking trail,” says Duerk. “We want the girls to go outside and think, ‘We’re having fun.’ That will carry on to the next generation.”
This generation of high-tech hikers and their leaders will be texting, tweeting, shooting videos, and tapping their smart phones to update their Facebook pages on the trail–during rest breaks. They’ll also be adding their own voices to the storied trail at gshike.org.