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Girl Scouts earn Silver Award at Sucker Brook Conservation Area

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By Rachel Whitehouse Nov. 21, 2023

It was winter 2020, in the depths of the pandemic, and Irina Puscasu, co-leader of Winchester Girl Scout Troops 79021 and 82793, was worried about her scouts who were isolated and couldn’t meet in person. She and fellow troop leader Nancy Conroy wanted to find an outdoor location where the Scouts could connect to nature and each other. They researched and tried several regional hiking trails, but found the answer in their own backyard: Winchester’s Sucker Brook Conservation Area near Vinson-Owen School.

“Despite it being within walking distance of my house, I didn’t even know it was there,” Puscasu said. “But it was the oasis we really needed.”

The Scouts started with regular hikes on the Sucker Brook Trail, which takes about an hour to complete. But the Scouts soon found that their oasis needed help. The trails needed maintenance, foot bridges needed to be rebuilt, and trash needed to be hauled out. So with the help of Lloyd Street resident Phil Coonley, a member of the Winchester Trails organization and longstanding Land Steward of Sucker Brook, they organized fall and spring clean ups, re-blazed trails, built steps in the steepest trail section, and boardwalks in the muddiest.

But soon, the scouts wanted to do even more. Following a meeting with the Conservation Commission, the scouts decided to work toward the Silver Award, which is the second highest honor a girl scout can earn. As part of this leadership experience initiative, scouts explore their community, identify the root cause of an issue, and work in small teams to create a project that addresses it through direct action, education and advocacy.

Overall, the scouts wanted to work on “preserving, renovating, protecting natural spaces in our town, while raising awareness and engaging the community.” After researching potential projects, they chose three and split into teams to support them: Trail Sustainability and Wood Working, Geocaching and Advertising, and Animal Habitats.

While each group took slightly different approaches to their projects, they all essentially conducted research, created presentations to the Winchester Conservation Committee, created their projects, ran badges with younger girl scout troops, created informational pamphlets and posters, and updated residents at Winchester Town Day. They submitted a grant application to EN KA, which was approved and funded. And, in the midst of this, they also continued regular seasonal cleanups.

Fast forward three years later to Fall 2023, and it’s fair to say that the oasis and its natural inhabitants, community members, and neighbors have benefitted from the scouts’ dedication. It’s no wonder, as Silver Awards require 50 hours of time per scout. There is a new handmade entrance sign where the trailhead is accessed at the end of Hawthorne Road, just before it merges to Old Lyme Road. There are new trail signs, a registered Geocache game, and new animal habitats including a bat box and a brush pile. Wet areas have been mitigated, erosion controlled, and bridges and boardwalks over the river and swamp are repaired.

The brook, named after the fish that live in it, now runs more freely. These projects were built to be sustainable, and all information about them has been passed to younger Scouts so they can continue to expand on them.

In recognition of their efforts, the Scouts received their Silver Awards at a ceremony on Nov. 19, and Representative Mike Day sent them a citation acknowledging their accomplishments.

Those Scouts receiving Silver Awards included:

  • Rosalia Nottleson and Audrey Quilter, Sucker Brook Conservation Area Trail Sustainability and Wood Working
  • Sarah Fromm, Leah Suzuki, Elise Fromm, Geocaching and Advertising
  • Katie Conroy, Brynne Gohel, Hannah Chan-MacRae, Sucker Brook Animal Habitats

“For a town as developed as Winchester, we are fortunate to have several sizable, well-preserved conversation spaces,” said David Miller, Conservation Commission Chair. “The commission is proud to be overseeing their management but is absolutely dependent on volunteers to do critical infrastructure work. Scouts have been invaluable volunteers and, notably, the Girl Scouts at Sucker Brook.”

About Winchester’s Conservation Spaces

Winchester has more than 110 acres across seven conservation spaces—Mt Pisgah, Town Forest, Smith Pond, Locke Pond, Sucker Brook, Sachem Swamp and Winning Farm. The Conservation Commission works to engage more Winchester residents in the care and oversight of this land. In addition to the Scouting program, the Commission in 2021 reestablished a longstanding land stewardship program. There are now about a dozen residents volunteering as land stewards.

To learn more about Winchester’s Conservation Areas, check out the map. If you spend time in or live close to a conservation area and want to be involved, contact Elaine Vreeland (evreeland@winchester.us), Conservation Commission Administrator, and let her know which property you might be interested in supporting.

Rachel Whitehouse reports on conservation topics for the Winchester News.

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