Please Don’t Take Away My Girl Scout Camp

While many of us binge on Girl Scout cookies, many Girl Scouts themselves are thinking ahead to the yearly summer ritual of Girl Scout camp. So as you might expect, Pennsylvania scouts were saddened to hear that Girl Scouts of Western Pennsylvania plans to close five camps throughout the region, citing high costs of maintaining nine camps and low participation. The announcement even drew protests from some scouts and their leaders at the council’s office in Pittsburgh’s Northside neighborhood. Among the demonstrators was veteran Pittsburgh Girl Scout and Allderdice High School sophomore Maeve Denshaw, who sent us these thoughts about what camp has meant to her. (Photo: Nellie76 via Flickr)

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For as long as I can remember, I have been a Girl Scout. I started off when I was six years old, so I began as a Brownie. Now, here I am ten years later, a sophomore in high school, and a Senior Girl Scout.

Over the years, girls have come and gone from my current Girl Scout troop, and right now, our troop has six girls, myself included. One of the differences I have with all of my fellow troop members, however, is that I attend Girl Scout camp. Girl Scout camp is one of the fundamental experiences of Girl Scouting, and it can often become sort of a second home to many girls who attend. The camp that I attended for five years was Camp Redwing, and while the camp may still remain open, the summer program is scheduled to end.

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Maeve Denshaw (left) with a friend at Camp Redwing in western Pennsylvania. (Photo courtesy Joan Soulliere)

It was beyond devastating to hear the news, and my immediate fear was not the fact that I won’t be able to spend my summers there anymore. It was the fact that other, younger girls won’t be able to either. The experiences I had at Redwing changed me, because it impacted my love for the outdoors and gave me the opportunity to learn outdoor skills. It also helped shape my confidence and helped me become the person I am today.

One of the most memorable experiences I had from going to Girl Scout camp was participating in a program called River Runners. I was only 13 at the time, but I had the chance to canoe up the Allegheny River and spend three nights tenting out on islands, carrying all of the supplies we needed in the canoes with us. The counselors and the campers who came with me had the best attitudes, and we were ready to take on the world after it was all over. If it had not been for that opportunity Redwing offered me back during the summer before my seventh-grade year, I believe I would not have the confidence and the mindset that I — a city-born-and-raised girl — could have a strong love of the outdoors and knack for knowledge about everything wild that goes with it.

Camp is a safe haven for many girls of any age, and not just at Redwing. The other four camps — Curry Creek, Roy Weller, Resting Waters and Camp Elliott — have all been sacred places of Girl Scouting for almost 100 years. These five camps have served as a place where scouts of all ages, backgrounds, abilities, disabilities and interests have gone to be somewhere where they feel like they belong. Closing these camps won’t just be selling some land that could be turned into housing complexes or grocery stores or landfills; it will be closing a sacred place where girls have gone — some for generations — to experience the outdoors and the joys that come with it.

The Girl Scout Research Institute published a study back in 2014 called More than S’mores: Successes and Surprises in Girl Scouts’ Outdoor Experiences. It showed that girls who were a part of outdoor experiences with Girl Scouts indicated that they were more willing to be a leader in activities. Girls who participated in Girl Scouts who are part of a lower socio-economic status have benefited the most. The study reads, “The effects of monthly outdoor exposure were even more pronounced for less advantaged girls. When lower socioeconomic status girls had regular exposure to the outdoors in Girl scouts, they were significantly more likely to say that they had been a leader because of Girl Scouts.”

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Western Pennsylvania Girl Scouts at summer camp in the 1920s. Photo: Cecily Dyer via Flickr

Girl Scouts is not just about the cookies; it is about the experiences, confidence and leadership roles you get from being a Girl Scout. Girl Scouts is not just for little girls either; it is for older girls like me. One of the many reasons I have remained in Girl Scouts all of these years is because I love to go to camp, and I want the younger girls to feel the same way.

Girl Scouts teaches girls they should not be afraid to take charge and be a leader. It teaches them it’s OK to love bugs and snakes and spiders — and how they are beneficial to our environment. It teaches them that no matter who you are, no matter where you come from or what you believe in, you can succeed with grit, friendship and determination. This is what being a Girl Scout and going to camp means to me. And I’m sure all of my fellow campers, counselors and scouts can agree with me that being a Girl Scout can make you feel like you can do anything.