COMMENTARY: On the heels of last year’s successful development of a Girl Scout achievement patch for the Organ Mountains-Desert Peaks National Monument, the Girl Scouts of the Desert Southwest Council this month is officially launching a new patch that can be earned by girls who have successfully engaged in hands-on, active learning at the White Sands National Monument.
The new White Sands achievement patch is also in celebration of the centennial anniversary this year of our National Park Service.
Girl Scout patches are important benchmarks that are earned when a girl spends time exploring and gaining confidence in the outdoors, STEM, entrepreneurship, and important life skills. The White Sands National Monument patch will be earned by girls who successfully visit areas of the monument, hike in the monument, and search and log their experiences identifying plants, animals and other features unique to White Sands.
The idea for this patch arose from last year’s Organ Mountains-Desert Peaks National Monument patch, which is earned by girls who gained quality outdoor experience exploring the monument and by taking action to make a difference. So far, 75 Girl Scouts have earned this patch.
An important benefit of both the White Sands and Organ Mountains-Desert Peaks patches is increased interest from our girls to get out onto our protected public lands and truly explore. As we have witnessed over the past decade or so, too many of our young people would rather spend time on their smartphones instead of out in nature. This patch, and other efforts to get our girls outside, seeks to reverse that trend. As girls learn to connect with nature, they are inspired to take action and protect the environment.
Creating an achievement patch tied to direct exploration of a specific place has been a huge success for our council and for our girls. Many girls who never heard of places like Dripping Springs, Kilbourne Hole or Aguirre Spring a year ago are now old hands at exploring Organ Mountains-Desert Peaks and understanding the history and ecology that makes these places so special.
These are girls who, at a young age, are learning to have a lifelong appreciation for the great outdoors that will hopefully stick with them their entire lives. In fact, we hope these very girls someday will be able to pass along an appreciation for places such as Organ Mountains-Desert Peaks and White Sands National Monuments to their sons and daughters.
That’s why, when people question the value of having these protected public spaces near us, we need only turn to the faces of our girls and see how they light up with discovery and wonder when they visit a pristine and wild space right in their backyard.
The White Sands National Monument patch will draw more girls into the great outdoors. Changing the lives of children for the better is the main reason I got involved in scouting. Helping girls discover their interests and leadership potential is ultimately what Girl Scouts is all about. I can think of very few things more beneficial to our incredible girl scouts than getting them out and active in our shared public lands. It’s why important protections for public lands were put in place to begin with.
Diane Flanagan is CEO of the Girl Scouts of the Desert Southwest.