© 2023
Virginia's Public Radio
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations

Girls To Join Boy Scouts; New Blacksburg Girl Den Blazing Trail

James Glass

The Boy Scouts of America is known for its leadership training through service and outdoor activities. As its name suggests, it's for boys only. But that's about to change. 

One of the very first 'girl dens' just got certified in southwestern Virginia.  It's part of a test group aimed at opening Boy Scouts to girls.

A 'Den' of five 4th grade girls girls is gathering gear at St. Michaels Lutheran Church in Blacksburg.  For the first time, the girls will join dozens of cub scout packs for a big weekend camp out.

"We're so excited! We'll be hiking, camping in the freezing cold and snow!"  Reporter:  "And that doesn't worry you?"  But the girls say, "No. Not really.  And one adds, "I have plenty of warm clothes and a big sleeping bag."

It was just a few months ago, the Boy Scouts of America organization announced its plan to include females by August of this year. But first, there'll be a trial run on the road to fully opening Boy Scouts to girls.

Jan Helge Bøhn, a mechanical engineering professor at Virginia Tech, has led Boy Scout troops here and in Norway for thirty years.  He says this trial run is "sort of like in the restaurant business, so the same basic concept and we had about 10 days to get everything in order."

Bøhn immediately contacted Ashley Bell, a math major at Tech, who has waited for this to happen for a long time.  The two worked together to quickly form Troop 158.

Ashley says she would have "loved to have had this opportunity" when she was younger.  "I looked into Girls Scouts and I wasn’t really interested, and Boy Scouts wasn’t  an option."

Bell wanted more of a wilderness experience than she could get in Girl Scouts. Her dad earned the rank of Eagle Scout, a difficult and revered achievement, and she grew up wishing she could be one too.

As Den leader she'll be able to give these girls an opportunity she didn't have.

Credit James Glass
Cub Scouts and Scouts enjoying hotdogs and marshmallows over the campfire

Here's what this group of girls have to say about it: "Normally you don't get much chance to camp but like in Boy Scouts you have opportunities to do it.  You can learn how to make a fire. You can learn how to survive in the outdoors.  I just like getting messy. I just like getting messy too!"

The BSA formed in 1908. By the 1970's girls could join something called the Venture  Scouts but not the official Boy Scouts.  Bøhn says the U.S. is perhaps the last hold out for the 'boys only' organization.

"I believe there’s only one other country besides the United States, in the world, that doesn’t have girls.  Even Saudi Arabia has girls."

In the U.S., Boy Scout troops are franchises usually organized by a community group.  If girls are allowed to join, as expected, each troop will get to decide if it wants to admit girls.  But what about the name, 'Boy Scouts?'

One of the girls says, "They should at least change it to "Scout" because not just boys can do it.  Girls can do it now."

For the trial period, it's called, "Early Adopters Family Scouting Program," and Troop 158 is blazing a new trail for the BSA.

Jan Helge Bøhn says, "A year and half from now in July 2019 the World Scout Jamboree will be returning to the U.S. first time in 50 some years and we're going to have 50-thousand boys and girls aged 14 to 17, one hour and 41 minutes from where we're sitting right here up in West Virginia. And, guess what? Probably about 60% of them are going to be girls."

Credit James Glass
The International Space Station streaking across the night sky while the Cub Scouts and Scouts are sound asleep:

Robbie Harris is based in Blacksburg, covering the New River Valley and southwestern Virginia.