Wild, Wild Life
On a Girl Scout destinations Trip in Wyoming, Girls Go Deep Into the Wild, and then Prepare to Take Action Back Home

Standing 20 feet from a big brown bear in Wyoming's Teton mountain range, Girl Scout Laura Henson was on cloud nine. After all, her main goal in attending the Wyoming's Wildlife Wonders trip was to get up close and personal with nature. And with several skilled instructors from Teton Science Schools and some fellow Girl Scouts alongside her, she was just about as close as she could get.

"It was exciting. We stayed still and watched the bear until it walked away," Henson, now 17, remembers, adding that advice instructors had given them in advance made her feel very safe.

Henson was one of 22 girls from across the country who took part in the program in the summer of 2008. For the past 13 years, Wyoming's Wildlife Wonders has provided Girl Scouts ages 13–15 with the opportunity to spend a week in the Tetons and get hands-on exposure to the natural environment while learning about science careers. The program is a Girl Scoutsscience destinations trip and is sponsored by the Elliott Wildlife Values Project. Girl Scouts-Western Oklahoma (GS-West) has been the host council in recent years, providing adult chaperones along with overall project coordination.

Attendees wake up in cabins at Jackson Hole's Teton Science Schools closer to bears, bison, antelope, and ospreys than most have ever been. "They get to see these animals outside of a zoo environment, which is great," says Megan Stanek, director of outdoor education for GS-West. The girls also hike and canoe, try their hands at bird banding, visit Yellowstone National Park, and learn about the area's ecology. They meet with park rangers, naturalists, and environmental researchers, getting introduced to a wide range of professions.

"It seems like a different world when you're in Wyoming," says Sarah Olsen, 16, an attendee from Virginia. "It just gave me a greater appreciation for everything in the environment."

Girls are required to complete a back-home action project within a year to share what they learned. In 2008, each girl went to Wyoming with a partner from her council, and the teams conceptualized and created projects together. Olsen and her partner, Emily Nagel, for instance, put together a presentation to explain to teens how they can help the environment in simple ways such as saving energy and not wasting water. Henson and her partner, Ashlee Parson, created a binder with environmental activities and challenges for Girl Scouts of all ages to complete in outdoor settings. (Next summer, girls may be able to attend without a partner and to create individual projects.)

"This trip has refocused its outcomes based upon the Discover, Connect, and Take Action keys of the Girl Scout Leadership Experience," says GS-West's Stanek. "Girls discover environmental resource issues, connect with nature and each other, and take action once they return home."

For chaperone Nicole Fritz, a geologist and longtime Girl Scout, watching the girls work together was inspiring. "They're from all different backgrounds, but they have a common bond through Girl Scouting," she says. "And they get to come on this awesome adventure to work together. I think they left this one sort of capable of changing the world."

For photos of the Wyoming's Wildlife Wonders program over the years, go to www.gswestok.org and click on "Outdoor Education." Information about the 2010 trip will be posted on destinations. Applications are due between Thanksgiving 2009 and February 2010.