Girl Scouts fostering strong women at Lake County canoe base this summerIn northern Lake County, about 10 miles from Ely down a long single-lane dirt road, a small group of volunteers is braving a steady drizzle and below average temperatures.
By: Tammy Francois, Lake County News Chronicle
In northern Lake County, about 10 miles from Ely down a long single-lane dirt road, a small group of volunteers is braving a steady drizzle and below average temperatures. Theirs is a labor of love. Terry Swanson and company are preparing the Girls Scout canoe base for another season of adventure. In a couple of weeks, girls and women from all over the state, some who have never been to the northwoods, will arrive and paddle into the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness. They’ll be accompanied by trained, experienced guides and learn new skills. Mostly, however, they’ll learn about their own strength and ability.
The canoe base is on the shores of Moose Lake, a popular entry point into the BWCA, and is little more than a few spartan cabins (used by guides between trips), a shower house, a two-stall garage that serves as a program center, a house for the camp director and, of course, a canoe barn. There’s nothing fancy about it, but, say alumni, what happens there is life-changing.
“The biggest thing I’ve seen,” said Swanson, who has been a Girl Scout leader and volunteer for over 15 years, “is (the development of) personal confidence. The girls learn to paddle and carry a canoe, pack, and get along as a team, but it’s what you learn inside that gives you an ‘I can’ attitude.”
Summer program director, Ann Mc Nally agreed. McNally spoke to the Lake County News-Chronicle from her home in Seattle, where she is an adjunct chemistry professor. She and her partner will be packing up their six-month old and toddler and heading for the canoe base this weekend. McNally is also a canoe base alum who took her first trip into the BWCA in 1992. She said she’s returned as director over the years because she values the experiences girls and women have in the woods and on the water.
“They encounter challenges and they learn they have to overcome them. They learn that if they lean on each other and strategize, they can get across any portage and any lake. It’s unlike camping in any other place because it’s just a group of nine people — it’s really up to the girls to do it all,” she said. The girls pack the gear, prepare the campsite and the meals, paddle and portage and look out for one another’s safety. Mc Nally said that many girls have limited experience in the outdoors and some come from challenging backgrounds and difficult family situations, but the lessons they learn transcend their time in the northwoods.
“We have had good success in helping the girls learn to thrive in a challenging environment. It really makes them able to take on any challenge,” she said.
The relationship of the Girl Scouts to the BWCA was forged in 1962 by Dorothy “Ma” Harry, a troop leader from Hibbing, to whose memory a monument has been placed under the trees by the lakeshore. Harry is credited with expanding the program throughout the council and making it possible for girls from out-of-council areas to participate and “join her on the trail until she was well into her 60s,” according to the plaque. Ongoing efforts by Doris Kolodji, trained as a guide by Harry and also from Hibbing, have helped ensure the canoe base’s mission is carried forward. The Girls Scouts of Minnesota and Wisconsin Lakes and Pines Council has maintained its commitment to Harry’s vision by keeping the wilderness experience affordable, much less than the other guided canoe trips in the area. All inclusive four-day trips are $230, an 11 day trip is $585. Participants need not be Girl Scouts, in fact McNally said that groups of six – friends, mothers and daughters, relatives and mentors — can plan a guided trip by calling 218-365-6517 or emailing email@example.com. The Girls Scouts are also committed to trying to accommodate people with special needs whenever possible. Girls must be at least 12-years old to be registered for a trip. Scholarships are also available.
“We try not to turn anyone away,” said McNally, although dates are filling quickly.
Swanson and her team of helpers who had travelled from the Brainerd area to prepare the camp mowed the laws, cleaned and organized the buildings and took the canoes out of the barn. They then headed back down the road toward their homes. Swanson however, will be returning soon.
“I’ve been able to take the skills I’ve learned at this canoe base into personal trips” she said. Swanson has begun taking her own groups of friends and outdoor enthusiasts into the BWCA. “And I have the joy of coming out here and doing what I love.”
Bill François, Tammy François’ husband, is the property manager for the Girl Scouts of Minnesota and Wisconsin Lakes and Pines Council.