By Mandy Nix
Like mayflies popping off the water in the summer sun, 20 Girl Scout Juniors and Cadettes swarm the ponds at Anson B. Nixon Park. Under the skilled tutelage of anglers from Trout Unlimited (TU), the Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Commission (PFBC), the Delaware Valley Women’s Fly Fishing Association (DVWFFA), and the Stroud Center, the fourth- through eighth-graders cast their very first flies. Ponytails swing from the backs of Orvis 50/50 On the Water trucker caps as the girls catch one goggle-eyed bluegill, more than one tree, and one hulking carp that snaps the fishing line of a green-vested Junior — just seconds before she would have met the behemoth face-to-fin.
This is STREAM Girls, a national TU program that combines outdoor education in science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) with art and recreation to creatively connect girls to two fields historically underrepresented by women: STEM and fisheries.
“Let’s face it — when someone hears the words ‘fly fishing,’ they automatically think of it being an old white dude sport,” says DVWFFA President Alysson Cwyk, who helps narrow the gender gap through her women’s angling outreach and youth fly-fishing camps.
“That stereotype needs to be retired, as fly fishing really is an activity that all folks can participate in at any point in their life. I truly believe that the best way to sustain the sport, and to break the stereotype, is to get youth involved, especially young women.”
Cwyk represents one of fifteen volunteers from over sixteen partner organizations behind the first-ever STREAM Girls in southeastern Pennsylvania on August 17-18, 2019. The pilot program, which spanned two full days and one overnight at the Stroud Center plus the fishing field trip to the local park, bloomed from a powerful partnership with the Valley Forge Chapter of TU (VFTU).
Under the leadership of Dave Dickens Sr., VFTU’s STREAM Girls and Trout in the Classroom representative, and with special guest instruction from the Sporting Gentleman Fly Fishing Shop, VFTU spearheaded the fly-fishing, fly-tying, and scavenger hunt portions of the national program. Stroud Center educators adapted and led the remaining STEM-focused sessions, including data-driven lessons on water velocity, stream habitats, and aquatic macroinvertebrates.
“We saw more stream bugs than I ever knew existed under one rock, but we also got to fly-fish for the first time, learned how to tie our own flies, and hiked a whole lot!” reflects 10-year-old Charmy, a STREAM Girl who channeled her passion for weather and water science into the two-day program. “It’s always fun to learn new things, but STREAM Girls was different because of how many new things we experienced that we never had before.”
For Girl Scout Troop 4241 Leader Anna Marcotte, the wealth of new experiences will not end with STREAM Girls. The four troops engaged in the program, which included Marcotte’s own two daughters, discovered outdoor opportunities like fishing and stream studies they can practice again and again in their local waterways.
“This was one of the most engaging, educational programs in which we’ve ever participated,” recalls Marcotte. “Usually, programs don’t allow the girls to do so much hands-on work and are rather lectured, or literally hand-held. The experts gave them the confidence to do the tasks on their own.”
These experts included PFBC Southeast Region Outreach and Education Coordinator Andrew Desko, a key partner who helped plan the program, provided practice fly rods, and lent his own fishing instruction. “The girls were given the skills to actively fish [and collect field data] independently with some supervision and coaching from instructors, not just be passive participants,” says Desko, who believes protection of water resources begins with direct connections between youth and their waterways. “They were casting on their own; they were encouraged to fix tangles on their own. They were being empowered and not enabled.”
While enriching girls’ perspectives as artists, anglers, and scientists alike, STREAM Girls empowers the girls of today to be the leaders of tomorrow — a tomorrow that will look to them to tackle environmental issues, like access to clean water, that are also women’s issues.
This leadership readiness is a chief goal for a partner spreading STREAM Girls statewide: the Pennsylvania Council of TU (PATU).
“STREAM Girls is a great opportunity to introduce girls, who as Scouts are already budding leaders, to the critical nature of TU’s conservation work,” says PATU Southeast Vice President Brian McGuire, who helped shepherd the planning and funding of the southeast’s STREAM Girls pilot. “STREAM Girls and other youth programs represent our future as an organization.”
They also represent the future of fresh water. With STREAM Girls programs gaining footholds across the state and the Stroud Center planning to offer the program annually with VFTU, the new hatch of STREAM Girls are the first of many to find adventure, inspiration, and stewardship in their backyard streams.
Thank you to the following partner organizations for their generous contributions to the first STREAM Girls of southeastern Pennsylvania (organizations on planning team in bold): Bucks Chapter of Trout Unlimited, Delaware Valley Women’s Fly Fishing Association, Donegal Chapter of Trout Unlimited, French Creek Outfitters, Orvis Company’s 50/50 On the Water Women’s Initiative, Orvis Downingtown Store, Pennsylvania Council of Trout Unlimited, Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Commission, Pennsylvania Women Anglers, Ray Neirle Chapter of Trout Unlimited, Spring Creek Chapter of Trout Unlimited, Stroud Water Research Center, Sporting Gentleman Fly Fishing Shop, Tulpehocken Creek Outfitters, and Valley Forge Chapter of Trout Unlimited.