Have you ever been enjoying the beauty of the great outdoors and found yourself distracted by litter? The Girl Scouts of the Emory Valley Service Unit (EVSU) have and decided to do something about it. The girls and adult volunteers of the EVSU started a hiking club as a way to get outdoors and experience hiking from a beginner’s level, with the opportunity to grow and develop their skills along the way. Then, before one of their hikes, an idea sparked about how they could improve their surroundings while exploring them.
Let’s start at the beginning. It was Tracy Jarnigan of troop 20769 who first had the idea of the hiking club. She then recruited avid hiker and Girl Scout volunteer, Kathy Smith of troop 20793, to be the club’s hiking guide. The EVSU Hiking Club held its first hike at Ijams Nature Center in June. A total of seven troops and 32 Girl Scouts participated, ranging in age from Daisies (kindergarten) to adult members.
The idea of picking up trash while they hiked came about a few hikes later. While preparing for the club’s third hike at High Grounds Park, Kathy noticed there was a tremendous amount of trash on the trail. She brought grocery bags for the girls to collect the litter and dispose of it in the proper receptacle. Picking up the trash really made the girls think about how they should leave a place better than they found it.
The hikes have also been an educational experience for the girls in several other ways. While hiking, the girls have learned about identifying plants that are native to East Tennessee, as well as some history about the places they’ve visited. For example, they hiked Seven Island State Birding Park during the sunflower season and learned about the family who managed the farm that is now the birding park. Everyone had a great time touring the farmhouse and barns on the property. Kathy is currently training a service dog, Jewell, who accompanied the club on one of their hikes. Jewell is part of the Smoky Mountain Service Dog Program and when she graduates at age 2, she will go to help a disabled vet. Having Jewell on the hike was a great opportunity for the girls to learn more about the service animal training process and how you should behave around service dogs.
For their future goals, they would like to increase the difficulty of the hikes and learn more about backpacking, as well as what it takes to become a trail keeper. The hiking club has sparked the idea of a fitness club, where girls can come together and have fun while staying fit and active. Early plans include biking trails, walking local greenways, and possibly Zumba. There is certainly more to come from this group!
Lucy Branam is creative content coordinator for Girl Scouts of the Southern Appalachians