Meet the Trail Community: Girl Scouts
The Girl Scouts empower young women to become people of courage, confidence and character. Anishka Kanjilal and Elena Boyle are two such girls, learning about the importance of nature, trails, and our place in the world.
For WTA's 50th Anniversary, we're highlighting trail users across Washington state. Hear what hiking means to them, and the future of their on-trail pursuits.
The Girl Scouts’ mission is to build girls of courage, confidence, and character, who make the world a better place. The nonprofit has a variety of paths that girls can choose to follow as they grow, earning badges as they develop their skills in fields like personal finance, creativity, and the natural world.
Hiking is a big part of the natural world path, and Anishka Kanjilal and Elena Boyle, fifth-graders in their fourth year with the Girl Scouts and currently second year Juniors, both recently received the Hiking badge. I met up with them on a sunny Sunday at Saint Edward State Park to talk about their experiences on trail.
Aniskha Kanjilal and Elena Boyle have been friends since their first year in Daisys. Photo by Archana Bhat.
Girl Scouts inspires confidence in nature
From the first meeting, it’s clear both girls are very comfortable in nature. Both were well prepared, with practical outfits for walking – leggings, long-sleeved shirts, tennis shoes and backpacks with extra gear in them. And though they each had minor injuries from soccer, it didn’t stop them from embarking on a short walk with me and Anishka’s mom Archana Bhat along the Perimeter Trail.
Along the way, Elena told me about a project the troop did that put them into the boots of the Lewis and Clark expedition. Daily, they cataloged species ‘spotted’ and recorded how the day was spent in a journal. A big part of this project was encouraging the girls to become more in tune with the natural world. Anishka exemplified this. As we walked, she pointed out fungi, moss and mushrooms that lined the trail, as well as several well-camouflaged black slugs.
Girls can earn badges for practicing this close examination of your surroundings. Activities like Letterboxing and Geocaching have their own badge, as do those that require spending more time getting to know the natural world, like Flowers and Trees.
Sparking curiosity about nature is part of the adventure of being a Girl Scout. Photo by Archana Bhat.
Families nurture a love for nature
Before joining the scout troop, led by Elena’s mom Tracy Fuentes, the girls had their first outdoor experiences with their families. Anishka says she thinks she was probably riding in a backpack on trail since before she can remember, but more recently, she went with her brother out to Yellow Aster Butte last summer – a substantial hike for two kids aged nine at that time. Though it was long, it was gorgeous, and Anishka noticed what so many other people love about that hike: the wildflowers. In fact, she says that’s what she likes best when she’s hiking along any trail.
But it’s overnight trips that really appeal to the girls.
“My favorite place to go is Shi Shi Beach,” says Anishka. “We backpack our own stuff out there and camp.”
An affinity for overnights, and the experience of already having been on one, puts the girls in a great spot to earn the Camping merit badge, the next step up from the Hiking Badge. As they advance through Scouts, they can also earn the Trailblazer badges as Cadettes and the Adventurer badges as Seniors; each requires a little more responsibility on the part of the girls.
Elena and Anishka head down one of many trails at Saint Edward State Park. Photo by Archana Bhat.
I asked them what they think about on their hikes out to their preferred campsites and what they are they excited to see. Anishka speaks up right away.
“I’m excited to go tide pooling. At Shi Shi, there was this big rock and a pool of water with jelly fish, starfish, anemones, and mussels. It was really cool.”
Elena, whose family usually heads to Hood River for camping says, “We stay at this campsite that has a rope swing, so I’m always excited for the swing.”
And if they’re at the beach, Elena looks for driftwood forts built by those who came before her. But she also likes to have some quiet time on trail. She says if she’s not exploring a beachy area, she looks forward to spending her time outside sitting on a log and reading.
Becoming girls of courage, confidence, and character
In addition to fostering responsibility, the Girl Scouts instils values like volunteerism and stewardship in young women. One of the requirements for earning the Hiking badge is doing volunteer trail work. Elena and Anishka’s troop has worked in several places, including Evans Creek Preserve, Grand Ridge and Tiger Mountain. When I asked if the girls liked these projects, they said, almost in unison, “Yes! It’s really fun.”
The girls and their parents do volunteer work to learn the value of helping keep our public lands open. Photo by Archana Bhat.
What’s their favorite volunteer activity? Anishka likes clearing trail obstacles, or as she put it, “cutting down stuff.” She’s not alone; logouts are historically WTA’s most popular projects. Turns out, adults like cutting out stuff, too!
Sometimes there’s just too much foliage growing into the trail. This moves hikers, and eventually the trail, downhill. Removing that foliage is called brushing, and that’s Elena’s preferred project.
“There was one place where we went and there were lots of ferns. We had to yank and pull and whack at them. That was fun.”
On the same project, the girls got a chance to dismantle a log that was in the way of the trail. They both agreed it was awesome, partially thanks to the newts they discovered while removing the tree. The group paused and got to spend a little time examining the newts before finishing their project.
When I asked the girls if they thought about how the work they did affected other users, they gave answers that would make Girl Scout founder Juliette Gordon Low proud.
Elena likes thinking about how the people who hike the trail after they’ve worked on it might enjoy their hike more because of the clear trail. Anishka added, “Yeah. They don’t have to recognize the work we do, they can just enjoy their hike.”
WTA agrees – the best kind of trail work is the kind you don’t notice.
Right before we parted ways, I asked the girls if they would continue to hike and camp after they are grown up, after the badge requirements are fulfilled and their parents aren’t planning vacations. They both said yes, and each offered a dream destination they had in mind.
Elena: “I want to go hiking in Yosemite!”
And Anishka’s looking forward to seeing the Grand Canyon.
The values Anishka and Elena are learning from the Girls Scouts and their families promise to add two more well-prepared, enterprising girls of courage, confidence, and character to Washington’s trail community.
Anishka and Elena get up close with nature on a hike at Saint Edward State Park. Photo by Archana Bhat.