Scouting program makes a ‘culture shift,’ welcoming girls and changing its name to be more inclusive — and Miriam couldn’t be more thrilled

(Francisco Kjolseth | The Salt Lake Tribune) Scouting is a family affair for the Cook family of Tooele as Miriam, left, plans to join the boy scouts on Friday, Feb. 1, when the Boy Scouts of America will begin admitting girls into Scouts BSA. With a portrait of Robert Baden-Powell, founder of the scouts, lying agains the wall nearby, Darwin Cook joins his children Miriam, Kolbie and Sawyer, from left, as they talk about what scouting means to them during a recent visit to the Great Salt Lake Council Boys Scouts of America building in Salt Lake.

While her older brother hiked along hills, slept in a tent, cooked over a campfire and did other “adventurous" things that Boy Scouts do, 12-year-old Miriam Cook waited.

She hung a large calendar in her bedroom that “I’ve been crossing off every day,” she said, counting down to Feb. 1 when the previously all-male Boy Scouts of America officially began accepting girls into its program for youths ages 11 through 17.

The day has arrived and the sixth-grader at Copper Canyon Elementary School in Tooele — along with others girls from across Utah — is ready to make history.

Cook’s troop of six submitted its application weeks ago, so it could be processed on the first day possible. The troop already has been given a number, 314, and the members have dubbed themselves the Pi Patrol.

“I’m so happy. I can’t wait for our first meeting,” Cook said. “I’ve always just wanted to be a Scout.”

To coincide with its inclusive model, the Scouting program for youths in this age group will change its name to Scouts BSA.

From now on, participants will refer to themselves as “Scouts,” rather than adding “boy” or “girl” as a modifier, said Mark Griffin, the Scout executive for the BSA’s Great Salt Lake Council, which covers Salt Lake, Tooele, Summit and southern Davis counties.

Scouts BSA troops will be divided by gender, with all-girl and all-boy units pursuing the same activities and earning merit badges that could eventually lead to coveted Eagle awards.

While it’s unclear how many girls will sign up now that the option is available, the more inclusive membership is a “cultural shift", said Griffin, and one that the national organization has been moving toward incrementally.

In 2018, Boy Scouts of America began allowing girls to join the previously all-male Cub Scouts, for children in kindergarten through fifth grade. At that time about 20 girls — including Cook — joined Cubs in the Salt Lake Valley.

Griffin said the Great Salt Lake Council will host an event at Camp Tracy in Mill Creek Canyon on Friday and Saturday to welcome girls to the program and to celebrate the program’s new name.

For Utah Scouts, more changes lie ahead.

In May, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints announced that it was ending its relationship with the Boy Scouts of America, effective Dec. 31, 2019.

The church plans to create new youth programs for its members around the world.

The Utah-based faith is the biggest participant in U.S. Scouting, with approximately 425,000 Mormon youths in Cub and Boy Scout programs. Latter-day Saints account for about 19 percent of the BSA’s membership, which totals about 2.3 million, according to the Boy Scouts. In Utah, the church sponsors 95 percent of the troops.

The Scouting changes are not without controversy, though. Nationally, the Girl Scouts have sued, accusing the organization of infringing on its trademark, engaging in unfair competition and causing public confusion.

But that’s of little consequence to Miriam Cook, who could have joined Girl Scouts, but said, it just didn’t fit her personality because "the boys get to do adventurous stuff.”

She joined Cub Scouts last year. To accommodate their daughter’s wishes, Miriam’s parents — Darwin and Patricia Cook — made the 45-minute drive from their home in Tooele to St. Matthew’s Lutheran Church in Taylorsville. Miriam easily completed the five adventures needed for her Arrow of Light rank and has been eagerly anticipating the chance to move up in Scouting.

“She’s waited for this for a really long time,” said her father.

Her enthusiasm is part DNA. The Cooks have made Scouting the main activity for their family, which also includes older brother Kolbie, 13, and Sawyer, 7. 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 Kolbie, took 5- and 10-mile hikes to earn merit badges, Miriam went along with his troop. Miriam’s Cub Scout pack even helped him assemble birdhouses for his Eagle project. When he and his family took a trip to Disneyland, they visited a California coastline so Kolbie could earn his merit badge in oceanography.

"Now we’ll have to do that again,” she said, so she can earn her badge.

Scouts BSA is probably not for every girl, said Troop 314 leader Mike Sumner, whose 12-year-old daughter, Kenzie, also is in the group. In advance of the February acceptance date, the troop has been meeting and attended — along with 140 other Scouts — an overnight camp, put on by search-and-rescue officials at Grantsville Reservoir.

“I’m not sure how many girls want to sleep out in the snow,” Sumner said. But Scouting is for those who want to try. “I’m really excited for the opportunities that will open up for them.”

Before the winter camp, Sumner said, the girls expressed concerns that they would be treated differently or would be told they don’t belong.

“There are going to be prejudices," Sumner said. "But they are aware of it and ready to face it and tackle it together.”

That — and those hillside hikes, campfire cookouts and other “adventurous” things.