‘I didn’t think it was fair that boys got to do all the fun activities’: Utah girls prepare to join formerly boys-only Scout troops

(Francisco Kjolseth | The Salt Lake Tribune) Miriam Cook, 11, helps her brother Kolbie, 12, with his Eagle Scout project as they assemble bird houses in the family garage in Tooele on Monday, May 14, 2018. Miriam, who is one of the early adopters into the Cub Scouts, has always been interested in the things her brother did in Scouting and has a goal of earning her Arrow of Light — the bridge from Cub Scouts to Boy Scouts (which will be called Scouts BSA after February).

Taylorsville • Some girls wouldn’t want to do what their big brother does, but Miriam Cook loves it.

When Miriam, now 11, saw her older brother, Kolbie, going to his Cub Scout meetings in Tooele, she would tag along.

“I always go to his pack meetings and den meetings and wanted to do what he did,” Miriam said. “I didn’t think it was fair that boys got to do all the fun activities. I wanted girls to learn how to do stuff like that.”

That’s how Miriam, along with five other girls, wound up spending a recent evening in the parking lot of St. Matthew’s Lutheran Church in Taylorsville, gathered around folding tables, constructing birdhouses for Kolbie’s Eagle Scout project. (Kolbie, 12, is quick to dictate a reporter’s story: “Put down ‘He’s the youngest person ever going for his Eagle Scout project.’” He’s not quite the youngest; a boy in California once made Eagle at 11.)

The girls listen intently as Kolbie gives the instructions for assembling the boards he has cut for each birdhouse. Miriam, her blond hair tied in a ponytail that still has traces of salmon-pink dye, applies glue to the seams and hammers nails through the pilot holes Kolbie drilled.

The Cooks — parents Darwin and Patricia, Kolbie, Miriam and little brother Sawyer, 6 — drive 45 minutes from Tooele to Taylorsville, all so Miriam can take part in Scouting.

A year ago, Miriam, a fifth-grader at Tooele’s Copper Canyon Elementary School, wouldn’t have been given the chance officially. It was last October that the Boy Scouts of America announced it would allow girls to take part in its programs, from Cubs up to its highest rank of Eagle Scout.

Since February, some 4,000 girls have joined the Cub Scouts nationwide, through “early adopter” packs that formed all-girl dens.

Mark Griffin, Scout executive at the Boy Scouts of America’s Great Salt Lake Council (which covers Salt Lake, Tooele, Summit and southern Davis counties), said about 20 girl Cubs joined in the Salt Lake Valley, at two locations: St. Matthew’s in Taylorsville and Hilltop United Methodist Church in Sandy.

In her three months as a Cub, Miriam has jumped into the activities with vigor. As a Webelos — the final year of Cubs before Boy Scouts — she has earned 11 badges, each pinned to the three ribbons on the right sleeve of her uniform. The badges include the Webelos Walkabout (hiking), First Responder (first aid), Art Explosion and Cast Iron Chef.

Miriam gave the Girl Scouts a look, but her mother, Patricia, said, “It just didn’t seem to fit her personality and her passion.”

“If you do Boy Scouts, there’s activities like changing car oil and cooking,” Miriam said. “In Girl Scouts, most of what you do is sell cookies.”

Janet Frasier, CEO of the Girl Scouts of Utah, which has 8,000 members statewide, said her organization’s traditions of earning badges, exploring the outdoors and, yes, selling cookies to raise travel money are part of her group’s appeal.

“When you take all those time-tested activities and you match them with the mentorship of a committed, caring adult, that is what the Girl Scout leadership experience is,” Frasier said. “That’s really the magic and the secret sauce.”

Frasier said the Girl Scouts aren’t just competing for attention from the Boy Scouts’ new policy, but with such activities as soccer practice and piano lessons. “Every day, we always say, ‘Girl Scouts have to earn the right, to earn that place, to stay on that family calendar.’”

The girls in Miriam’s Cub den, supervised by her father, focus on Kolbie’s birdhouses for nearly an hour. Meanwhile, another den in Pack 4996 is running around on the grass nearby, playing tag. Those Cubs are all boys.

The dens are separated, boys and girls, though they do some activities, like the Pinewood Derby model-car races, together in the pack.

“The kinds of things that we teach, girls learn better in an all-girl environment and the boys learn better in an all-boy environment,” Griffin said, explaining the segregated dens. “The boys have a chance to lead, and the girls have a chance to lead.”

When girls entered Scouting in other countries, Griffin said, they were mixed in with the boys. “What we saw was initially boys dominate because they’re familiar with the program,” he said, “but after about a year, the girls start taking over because they’re more mature.”

In Miriam’s pack, the difference between the girls and the boys was evident preparing food for their Cast Iron Chef badges.

“The girls might want to make soup or a casserole or some type of a fancy dish,” Patricia Cook said, “and the boys want to make pizza.”

For the Cooks, Scouting is their main family activity. Darwin, who works as production manager for the Tooele Transcript Bulletin newspaper, is a Scout leader and district chairman of the Great Salt Lake Council. When the family members took a trip to Disneyland, they made time to visit a California coastline so Kolbie could earn his merit badge in oceanography.

Next year, Miriam will graduate to the Boy Scouts — or, as they will be called starting in February, Scouts BSA, reflecting their new membership. Darwin Cook says she’ll be in a troop in Tooele.

“This is opening up a new arena, or a new area, for girls to explore and to participate,” Patricia Cook said. “We want our girls to be strong. We want our girls to be leaders. This just opens up another avenue for our girls to excel and grow.”

As the girls of Pack 4996 finish their birdhouses, Darwin Cook has them gather with Kolbie for a photo. He tells the girls that they’re making history.

“This is the start of your own Eagle Scout journey,” he tells the girls, who, for the first time, have the chance to make that journey themselves.