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The Girl Scouts Are Getting More Adventurous

A new collaboration with The North Face will offer programs to earn badges in outdoor skills like backpacking, rock climbing, and trail running


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Long associated with cookie sales and friendship bracelets, the Girl Scouts of the United States of America (GSUSA) recently announced a new adventure-oriented collaboration with The North Face. With 12 new adventure badges, it will be the largest national organization to offer skills like trail running, mountaineering, rock climbing, and backpacking specifically for girls.

Still in the development and piloting phase, the badges will be available to earn as early as summer 2019 for girls from kindergarten to senior year of high school. The North Face is developing the programming alongside GSUSA, offering its outdoor expertise to the 106-year-old organization. The partnership bolsters The North Face’s Moves Mountains initiative, which aims to elevate the stories of female role models in the outdoors and beyond. GSUSA, for its part, seem to be responding to continued requests for more adventurous and skill-based curriculum.

“When we were looking at how we could truly enable the next generation of female explorers, our way forward was really clear,” says Cara Williamson, senior brand manager at The North Face. “We wanted to partner with the longest-running and most-established organization in support of the next generation of women. And that was the Girl Scouts.”

To earn the badges, the girls will take turns leading and learning teamwork as they discover new outdoor skills. As with all GSUSA programming, girls will meet each requirement at their own pace to complete each badge. According to the Girl Scouts, these new adventure badges will continue to allow girls to take a hands-on role in their accomplishments. GSUSA has yet to release further details on what skills will be offered.

The new badges come at a time of change for both the Boy and Girl Scouts: The Boy Scouts of America started allowing girls into limited programming in October, then changed its name to Scouts BSA in May. The Girl Scouts remain, in the organization’s words, “all-girl, girl-led, and girl-friendly.” And while it has sometimes been criticized for not serving girls as well on the outdoor-adventure front, GSUSA has a well-documented history of being the organization more willing to make changes for inclusivity. “[The Girl Scouts] always had more badges than the Boy Scouts. Their variety of activities have always been pretty vast, and this seems like a continuation on this path of variety,” says Kathleen Denny, whose 2011 research explored the implicitly gendered content of Girl Scout and Boy Scout handbooks and manuals. “This doesn’t really represent a dichotomous shift from a black to white, A to B, or yes to no. I think it seems like a pretty consistent or not totally unexpected continuation of [the Girl Scout’s] evolution, which has been ongoing for some time.”

The new adventure badges are also unique in that they factor socioeconomic or cultural barriers to the outdoors into a girl’s successful completion of the program. For example, while GSUSA owns 427 outdoor camps and more than 180,000 acres of land throughout the country where girls can get outside, scouts can also earn these new badges in less-traditional outdoor environments. “Girls can do the badge steps with inexpensive, common items they might already own and just go outside,” says Jennifer Allebach, vice president of girl experience at GSUSA. “Or they can complete them with more sophisticated equipment.”

GSUSA also offers outdoor acclimation programs for kids who have never left an urban environment or spent much time in nature. The organization’s 112 regional councils throughout the country determine the needs of each of the troops in their area. Girl Scouts of Greater New York, for example, brings girls from the city upstate to Camp Kaufmann to “understand and find their balance in nature,” says Meredith Maskara, CEO of GSGNY, in a video about the group’s trip. “Instead of just bringing girls directly from the city and throwing them out here in the middle of the woods, we need to acclimate them,” she says.

While the focus of the new badges is on the outdoors, the skills girls will learn through this new programming will extend far beyond the trail or crag. “It’s definitely not restricted to the outdoors, and it shouldn’t be,” says Williamson of both the GSUSA partnership and Move Mountains. “If we can lead the way in the outdoors, because that’s our world of credibility and authenticity, then fantastic, but we want it to go further.”

By expanding the definition of exploration and encouraging outdoor adventure, the new outdoor badges offer Girl Scouts hands-on experience with problem-solving, risk, and creative-thinking skills.

“From the Girl Scout perspective, if you can get girls outside to be comfortable in their own skin and develop leadership qualities, those skills are in direct correlation to the experiences they can bring into social settings with their family and friends, even to the boardroom,” Allebach says. “We’ve always had the outdoors as a cornerstone of our movement, but we have also always been very interested in and committed to really shaping them into confident women. That’s our whole goal. That’s what we’re trying to build.”