Scouts break down a gender barrier
Scouting: Girls make history at Boy Scouts’ Camp Meriwether Anna Spoerre The Oregonian/OregonLive
Beneath Camp Meriwether’s flagpole stood 11 girls, right arms bent and raised to their brows in a salute. In that moment, they made history.
The girls were there with 200 boys at Camp Meriwether, Oregon’s historic Boy Scouts camp, as they became pioneers in breaking down the 108-year-old scouting organization’s gender barrier. The Boy Scouts of America officially introduces girls into its upper ranks early next year, but Camp Meriwether is taking the lead as the only scout camp in the Cascade Pacific Council to open its doors early to a handful of girls, 11 to 15, in preparation for a full transition into a coed camp next summer.
The girls are organized into “prototroops,” or “posts,” as Todd McDonald, director of program and member experience for the Cascade Pacific Council, calls them. They spent this week firing arrows, kayaking and camping in the woods as part of a weeklong summer camp at Camp Meriwether, the nationally
Sydney King, 15, Claire Rounds, 14, and Harlee Sturmer, 11, all from Post 868 of Beaverton. “You have to show that girls should be there,” King said.
Anna Spoerre, staff
recognized Boy Scout camp on the central Oregon coast.
“Words can’t describe how excited and enthusiastic and supportive the community is right now,” Matthew Devore, CEO of the Cascade Pacific Council, said of the incorporation of girls into all aspects of scouting by Feb. 1. At that time, the Boy Scouts program name will become Scouts BSA, though Boy Scouts of America will remain the organization’s name.
Camp Meriwether, on 780 acres nestled between Cape Lookout State Park and Sand Lake Recreation Area, has served up summer experiences to hundreds of thousands of boys since being established in 1926.
“The girls have been saying for years that they just want to do the same stuff as the boys,” McDonald said.
This week, they did.
The dense fog, spread like a blanket over the camp Tuesday morning, didn’t slow the kids down.
The sound of waves tumbling along two miles of oceanfront served as a soundtrack for dozens of excited voices as the boys and girls prepared for their day of sand surfing, metal working and basketry.
The 11 girls split between two posts meandered around their campsite, braiding their hair, slinging backpacks over their shoulders. It was 7:30 a.m., and they were about to head to a flag-raising ceremony.
This was one of Sydney King’s favorite parts.
After lowering her arm at the first flag ceremony that week, King heard one boy say to another, “Oh, the girls actually do know how to salute.”
“You have to show that girls should be there,” said King, 15, who attended Meriwether this week with Post 868 out of Beaverton.
Though there were a number of logistics to sort through in making the camp coed — designating some bathrooms and showers for girls only, for example — the community has “a great deal of willingness to say, ‘Let’s figure this out,’” said Kaleen Deatherage, family scouting chair for the Pacific Cascade Council, which oversees scouting regions in northern Oregon and southern Washington.
This trail-blazing mentality is what helped quickly give girls the opportunity to experience the Boy Scouts from more than just the sidelines or less-established coed programs, such as Venturing Crews.
“It’s wonderful to get them connected to nature and disconnected from the rest of the world,” Devore said. “It’s really amazing how hungry young people in this area are for outdoor experiences.”
One goal of bringing the first batch of girls to camp this summer was to prepare them to help lead the dozens of girl troops that will spring up across the state early next year.
John Cimral, who leads Post 555 out of West Linn, attended camp this week with five girls, including his 15-year-old daughter, Juliana.
He hopes she will be one of the first girls to achieve the nationally recognized designation of Eagle Scout, the highest rank the Boy Scouts offer.
His son, Juliana’s twin, achieved the rank two weeks ago.
Cimral, who graduated from the United States Military Academy in 1975 at a time where women weren’t yet admitted, called the scouts’ decision a “huge, important change.”
“I’m lucky because these changes come through very seldom,” he said. “For my daughter to be on the edge of history is cool.”
Registration for summer 2019 already is open on Camp Meriwether’s website (cpcbsa.org/meriwether), with six of its eight weeklong summer sessions listed as coed. The other two sessions are for boys only.
Sydney King and Claire Rounds leave the Camp Meriwether dining hall following breakfast. “It’s wonderful to get them connected to nature,” a scouting official said. Photos by Anna Spoerre, staff
Boy Scouts perform a flag-raising ceremony at Camp Meriwether. Next summer, six of the eight weeklong sessions at the camp will be coed.
A counselor at Camp Meriwether works at the blacksmithing forge located at the camp’s Fort Clatsop replica.