Scouts Get Their Boots Wet for Science and Stewardship

800 600 Stroud Water Research Center

By Mandy Nix

Lions and Tigers and Bears, Oh My!

Saturday descends on Stroud Water Research Center in a flurry of paintbrushes, stream boots, and aquatic nets. Clad in the armor of junior stream scientists, kindergarten through fifth grade Cub Scouts wade through the East Branch of White Clay Creek with parents, little siblings, and Stroud Center educators in tow. Together, they pluck wriggling crane fly larvae from slimy leaf packs, excavate underwater dragons from the streambed, and gently brush mayflies off their stone hideaways.

“We get to put on big boots and play in the stream to collect aquatic insects, and then use microscopes to help identify them,” says Pack 216 Cubmaster Scott Heath, whose dens of Lions, Tigers, Wolves, Bears, and Webelos met requirements for the Science Everywhere STEM Nova Award during a boots-in-the-water stream study. “What kid doesn’t like to play in a stream and turn over rocks?”

This tailor-made badge program for Cub Scouts invites young minds to explore the scientific method and exercise their most powerful scientific tools: their senses. While collecting real data on the color, smell, and speed of water, scouts forge personal connections with their backyard water resources. These discovery-based investigations, Heath says, inspire scouts to think critically about whether a stream is healthy and can support a vibrant ecosystem.

One such scout is 9-year-old Webelos Cub Scout Zach, who says he dreams of becoming a scientist to help people solve common problems. The Science Everywhere STEM Nova Award taught him how to answer the tough questions on water quality.

“Knowing what makes fresh water good for fish and aquatic insects helps you protect the water,” explains Zach, “because a lot of plants, insects, and animals depend on healthy water.”

Zach was among 480 youth and 255 adults engaged in 32 Stroud Center education programs and events in 2018 for the Chester County Council, Boy Scouts of America (CCCBSA). Thanks to the generous Thomas P. Bentley Muddy Boots Fund and a growing partnership with the CCCBSA, the Stroud Center provides free overnight and day programs to scouts across this council.

“We are grateful to have this wonderful resource for our scouters,” says Richard Curth, director of development at the CCCBSA. “The Stroud Center’s education team has done an amazing job with delivering programs. We are delighted that our Scouting membership is taking full advantage of this great program opportunity.”

Planting Trees and Growing Lifelong Stewardship

Education doesn’t end with the youngest citizens of the scouting world. The Stroud Center facilitates service projects and stream studies for all scouting ages, in addition to offering three conservation-related merit badge programs for Scouts BSA ages 11 to 17: Fish and Wildlife Management, Environmental Science, and Soil and Water Conservation.

“The Soil and Water Conservation Merit Badge isn’t like other merit badges,” says Danny, 11, who participated in the Stroud Center’s pilot program for the merit badge last fall. “You get to experiment with living plants and the running water to figure out what each one does and how you can conserve them.”

Danny spent two back-to-back Saturdays at the Stroud Center drawing connections between healthy land and healthy water. On a crisp Sunday morning with soil under his fingernails, he earned his very first merit badge and planted his first tree for clean water — a gangly river birch sapling.

“This was a whole new experience for me,” reflects Danny. “But if we didn’t care about things like water or trees — if we didn’t study and protect them — our water would get dirtier, our trees might die, and our world might become more polluted. We have to care and we have to study the world around us, because you never know if something new might happen.”

After all, the mission of boots-in-the-water education at the Stroud Center is not to hang your boots up to dry after a day of discovery. It is to awaken curiosity and stewardship that can bloom for a lifetime.

Get Involved

Stroud Water Research Center offers programs year-round for Girl Scout and Boy Scout groups. Your den, pack, or troop will learn about stream and watershed health through fun, hands-on educational activities while earning a unique Stroud Center activity patch. View available programs