It's a cold, windy day in Washington, D.C., but that's not stopping a group of about 20 girls from taking a 5-mile hike in Rock Creek Park.
As the girls in their khaki uniforms walk through the woods, they said they are happy to be in the first all-girls Boy Scout troop in the nation's capital. Olivia Hurley, whose brother is a Boy Scout, said she always wanted to be one.
"I think I'm going to get life skills and community service opportunities," said the teenager. "I like being with all girls because it gives us an opportunity to learn and empower each other."
The Washington troop was formed on Feb. 1, when the 109-year-old Boy Scouts of America allowed girls ages 11 to 17 to join all activities. Now called Scouts BSA, boys and girls are placed in separate troops. Girls were able to join the younger Cub Scouts program last year.
?According to the Boy Scouts of America, approximately 15,000 girls have joined about 2,000 new Scouts BSA troops in the United States. There are about 40 troops in the Washington metropolitan area.?
The girls in the Washington troop said they like the challenge of learning and doing the same things as the boys, including leadership and outdoor activities. Today, they are learning to build a campfire, which Sophie Schell discovered is easier said than done as the wind kept extinguishing the flames.
"I thought it would be a cool opportunity to practice my leadership skills, so I get better at leading and being more in the outdoors," she said. "I also know some pocketknife safety, and I've swung an ax, which is pretty awesome."
Dressed in a traditional Boy Scouts uniform, Scoutmaster Craig Burkhardt is leading the girls. Scouting is a tradition in his family, and he hopes it will continue with his daughter, who asked to join Scouts BSA.
"Scouting is a very adaptable program for girls," he said, despite critics who think girls should not be in the Boy Scouts. "The girls in my troop jumped into it with more enthusiasm than I've ever seen in any of the boy troops."
Girl Scouts program
Perhaps not surprisingly, Girl Scouts of the USA is critical of the all-girl Scouts BSA troops, calling Girl Scouts the world's single best leadership development program for girls. The group has a trademark infringement lawsuit against the Boy Scouts of America for changing Boy Scouts to Scouts BSA.
Samantha Hermoza said she joined Scouts BSA because Boy Scouts do a lot more outdoor activities than Girl Scouts.
"The Girl Scouts is a good organization," she said, "but I prefer being outdoors with nature."
In the Washington suburb of Arlington, Virginia, another girls troop is reciting the Scouts BSA oath at their monthly meeting in a local church basement. Today, they are learning first aid, how to properly fold an American flag, and how to tie different kinds of knots.
Scoutmaster Meghan Thomas said the girls have jumped into the program.
"They're excited to be pioneers by being part of an all-girl troop," she said.
Her daughter Corbett joined Scouts BSA, but also remains in the Girl Scouts.
"They both have different activities that they do, so I enjoy both of them," Corbett explained. "And I didn't want to quit one just to join the other."
Her sister Sophie preferred Scouts BSA.
"It gives more opportunity to show that just because we're girls, we can go hiking or camping, and things like that," Sophie said.
Assistant Scoutmaster Mark Sprulls hopes each of his three daughters will become a coveted Eagle Scout, which is the highest rank in scouting, like him.
"I want them to have the same opportunity and learn the same types of skills that I learned. I would like them to be confident in themselves, and be able to handle any situation, and not think that they have to rely on a man to help them," he said.