OK, let’s get this out of the way right at the start: Yes, these girl scouts have sold cookies.

Not those familiar Girl Scout cookies in their brightly colored boxes. No, these scouts raised money for their new troop by selling chocolate chip cookies and brownies they’d baked. After all, they’re not Girl Scouts. They’re scouts who happen to be girls.

They’re members of Troop 398, a new gathering of girls organized at Northside United Methodist Church under the scouting program created by the 109-year-old Boy Scouts of America.

Members of all-girl BSA Troop 398 pose with the troop’s flag. They are, back row, left to right: Vivian Works, Greer Crow, Emi Reina and Lela Ganske; front row, left to right: Emily Holman, Della Bohlen; standing at right, Laurel Anne Alexander. (Joe Earle)

The Boy Scouts announced in 2017 that it would allow girls to join its iconic scouting program for youngsters aged 11 to 17. It changed the program’s name to Scouts BSA and this year, the once boys-only Boy Scouts started allowing the creation of all-girl BSA troops. In February, when the new program opened for business, Troop 398 filed for a charter. Now it counts 10 girls as members.

“I think it’s awesome,” said Troop 398’s scoutmaster, Brian Bohlen, who’s also an assistant scoutmaster with Troop 298, Northside UMC’s boy scout troop. “My daughter came along and did everything my son ever did when he was Cub Scout. … She was pretty bummed when he graduated to Boy Scouts and she couldn’t do things with the boys.”

But it’s 2019. Who needs boys? Now Della, Bohlen’s 13-year-old daughter, can do anything in scouting that her brother does. That includes collecting merit badges, camping and working toward the rank of Eagle Scout, the BSA’s top award, an honor only a small percentage of scouts achieve.

Several of the girls in Troop 398 say the chance to be Eagles played a significant part in the allure of the BSA program. They want to be part of the first flight of girl Eagles.

“It’d be cool to be one of the first girls who are Eagles,” said Greer Crow, who’s 12. “It would be cool to be one of the girls the younger girls look up to.”

“It’s a big accomplishment in scouting,” said Troop 398’s senior patrol leader, Laurel Anne “L.A.” Alexander. “Especially for girls.”

L.A. turns 14 this month. She said she tried Girl Scouts when she was younger, but it didn’t take. She was attracted to Troop 398 by the chance to do more camping and outdoor activities, she said as she and several other girls grilled hot dogs and roasted marshmallows over an open fire built in a pit in the dark woods behind the church. Bohlen said the troop had been on campouts eight or 10 times since it formed.

Greer Crow, left, and Sairah Seithi prepare supper over an open fire pit during a meeting of their all-girls BSA troop. (Joe Earle)

“My family has always been outdoors,” L.A. said. “My dad hikes the Appalachian Trail and my brother is in scouts in a different troop. I really like camping and hiking… and cooking.”

The new troop caught the attention of some dads, too. Rod Ganske said he worked all the way through the Scout program when he was boy. As an adult, he let scouting drop because he had daughters, but no sons. Then his daughter Lela, who’s 12 now, joined Troop 398.

“Last year, when girls could join, I dived back in,” he said, pointing to the knot badge on his new, adult-sized scout shirt that showed he’d earned his own Eagle badge when he was young.

Troop 398 joined an expansive scouting program at Northside UMC. The church’s Scout Hut, which features a large stack-stone fireplace and canoes hanging from its ceiling, also hosts meetings of a 68-member boys BSA troop, a Cub Scout pack with 157 boys and six girls, and a couple of Girl Scout groups.

The boys in Troop 298 haven’t complained about sharing space with the new girls’ troop or the presence of girls in scouting, Troop 298 Scoutmaster Lee Mann said. The two troops keep their activities separate for the most part, he said, but they have held some joint merit badge classes. “At least for now, things are great,” he said.

Several parents said the girls did face some boyish taunts during a regional scout gathering, but they didn’t let it bother them. They gave as good as they got.

Scoutmaster Bohlen says one thing he’s noticed about Troop 398’s girls is that they’re eager to make their marks in scouting. “They’re super into ranks,” he said. “The girls have something to prove. Because they’re pioneers.”

Joe Earle is editor-at-large at Reporter Newspapers and has lived in metro Atlanta for over 30 years. He can be reached at joeearle@reporternewspapers.net

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