Thirteen-year-old Lillian Kircher has one word for how she feels: "Finally."
After more than 100 years of children being separated by gender in scouting organizations, girls like Kircher have begun work in the first Boy Scouts of America troops for young women. As of Feb. 1, the Boy Scouts rebranded as Scouts BSA, allowing girls to earn its highest rank of Eagle Scout.
Over the weekend, Troop 2018 — named to honor the year girls were allowed to enter Cub Scouts — ventured out on their first camping trip in the fields of the Davidsonville Recreation Center in Anne Arundel County. Freezing temperatures make no difference for the group of 15 10 to 16-year-old girls. Their smiles beam as they unpack a trailer full of new camping gear.
Kircher boasts one of those proud smiles as she learns how to use the new propane stove and unpacks the cooking supplies.
"It's good to finally get started. Girl Scouts is all about having fun, but we want a challenge. There's a lot of things you're not allowed to do there. We want to experience all of it," she says.
Most of the troop is working toward earning Eagle status in Scouts BSA and completing gold and silver Girl Scout projects. In 2020, they'll be among the first class of female Eagle Scouts.
"We want to show boys we're just like them. Anyone can do this. It's not limited to one gender," Kircher says.
There is nothing gendered about learning how to start a fire, make hot water to wash dishes, set up tents or any of the tasks the girls took on this weekend. The Troop 2018 girls sit around a campfire and sleep in tents, just like the Boy Scouts of the last 100 years.
Kircher's mother, Cherri, has an identical smile watching her daughter learn survival skills she wasn't getting in Girl Scouts. She says Kircher wants to be in the Navy's Judge Advocate General's Corps when she grows up. The moms of the troop agree that being in the top rank of both scouting programs looks great on college applications.
The smells of propane and smoke waft by occasionally as tarps crinkle in the 30-degree wind. One girl directs five others in setting up a pop-up tent.
"Keep going... keep going... now everybody Velcro."
The girls earn their first merit badge, taking a break from the cold to get a lesson on taking fingerprints and the forensics of how to identify them. Then they learn what careers they can choose if they enjoyed fingerprinting.
Troop 2018 is split into two patrols, Aussie Patrol and Running Riders. Before the trip, each patrol planned their own menu for the weekend and went grocery shopping for the ingredients.
Elizabeth Hale is giddy watching her daughter, Madi, 13, get water from taps inside the recreation center. She's excited to have the girls cook for her for once.
Madi Hale is in Aussie Patrol, which planned a menu of pork rice with veggies for lunch and veggie stir fry with chicken for dinner, from Buzzfeed's "Tasty" cookbook. Running Riders planned for Cup of Noodles, fruit salad and ham, turkey and roast beef sandwiches for lunch. For dinner, the girls make mac and cheese, pigs in a blanket and corn on the cob.
For its first camp outing, the troop earns 16 "Frost Points," one for every degree below freezing they camp in overnight. Once they reach 100, they get a cool patch.
When asked about sleeping in the cold, Sarah McFarland gives a nonchalant shrug. The 11-year-old is one of the youngest and smallest of the group, and perhaps also the toughest. She's not worried about sleeping in below freezing temperatures. She's done it before. Her dad led her brother's Cub Scout pack.
"But since girls weren't allowed, I couldn't participate and get to do everything," she says.
She's looking forward to earning her totem chips and making fire. She says more girls should join the BSA.
"It goes against what everybody thinks. They think since we're girls we're so fragile," she says.
MariaCeleste Kistler, known as "MC," is also stepping in from the sidelines in a family of six Eagles, including her father and grandfather. Her brother is also working toward Eagle status. When her father asked if she wanted to join Girl Scouts or wait until girls could be Boy Scouts, she chose to wait.
"It's more adventurous," the 13-year-old says.
Now, as a BSA senior patrol leader, she's closer to her family than ever. As she sets up a stove, she tells the other girls about how her grandfather got stuck in a canyon once and knowing how to tie a one-handed bowline helped get him out.
Her father, Assistant Scoutmaster Larry Kistler, says he's proud of his children for the work they're doing as scouts, but if they choose not to earn Eagle status that's OK too.
"We're doing this to teach them how to be good citizens," he says. "That there are other projects and people out there, not just you."
BSA troops aren't co-ed, but dads and boys from Troops 454 and 758 are helping the girls out before they're on their own for the night.
Andy Kittleson,17, of Troop 758, gives Elizabeth Hale advice for camping overnight and getting through the morning as they stand by the fire.
"The girls should keep the outfit they want to wear tomorrow in their sleeping bags so it stays warm. Don't sleep in sweaty clothes or your sweat will freeze," he warns. "If you start a fire in the morning, no food will get cooked for breakfast because everyone will be standing around it. And you'll spend a lot of time getting it started only to have to put it out when you need to go somewhere."
He looks at the group of girls struggling with the pop-up tent. "They'll learn," he tells Hale.
The older boys know a lot about camping, but the girls have impressed them.
"They're really organized and they're getting a lot done. Boys I've worked with in my troop needed a lot of guidance but these girls want to do everything on their own," Kittleson says.
Information from: The Capital, http://www.capitalgazette.com/