Scouts earn badges and find friends at Oliver Nature Park

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In an age when kids seem to be connected to screens before they can even walk, a surprising trend appears to be taking over Mansfield: scouting. The centuries-old traditions of mastering knots and braving the wilderness is increasingly popular among local kids, who crave something more concrete in the face of all the digital noise in their daily lives.

Mansfield’s Elmer W. Oliver Nature Park has been a favorite of area residents looking for wildlife in the middle of the growing city, and now it’s become an equally popular destination for scout troops hoping to earn badges and expand horizons.

Michelle Draper has been leading a Girl Scout troop for nine years, and says they’ve stuck with the program because it offers so many opportunities beyond cookie sales.

“We started when they were so little, just something fun and different,” Draper said. “But each year they’ve learned something new. They’re becoming leaders, and adventurer. I’m so proud of how they’ve each grown and thankful for what part the scouts played in that.”

Draper’s troop recently completed a badge at Oliver Nature Park, where the Naturalists have designed a series of programs specifically to fit both Girl and Boy Scout requirements in activities including hiking, forestry, bird identification, geocaching and even kayaking and fishing. Troop leaders book the class at their convenience and simply show up to let the trained Nature Education Specialists run the program, providing all supplies and leading the instruction.

“It was so easy,” said Draper. “We’ve wanted to earn the hiking badges but that’s not something I’m particularly experienced at so it was great to let the instructors take over. The girls had a great time and we’re already planning what we’ll go for next.”

The naturalists program at Oliver Nature Park is a good fit for scouts working on badges.

The nature education specialists at Oliver Nature Park assist young scouts working on badges.

The convenience and fun of the Mansfield Parks and Recreation programs has kept many troops like Draper’s excited about scouting.

“For me, scouting is about freedom,” said Allison, a 13-year-old Girl Scout from Mansfield. “Freedom to do things and learn things that a normal teen would never try or even have the chance to do, and without worrying about what people thing. We’re in it together, and we love it.”

Nearly four million boys and girls combined across the U.S. are currently active in the Boy and Girl Scouts programs, and leaders say each groups seeks something a little different from the experience. For some, it’s a way to make new friends. For others, scouting helps them build a skill or follow a passion. Allison says its less about the activities and more about how the activities make her feel.

“Being a Girl Scout makes me feel strong,” she said. “So many kids my age—not just girls—are pampered, and have to rely on others to take care of them. I feel like I’ve been empowered to handle the real world. Even little things like sewing, cooking, first aid…they’re really simple but lots of kids and even adults don’t know how to do some basic stuff on their own. I can, now, and that makes me really proud of myself.”

For more information about scout programs, and to find a troop near you, visit girlscouts.org or scouting.org.  For details on Elmer W. Oliver Nature Park scout badge classes, check out olivernaturepark.com.

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