Girls in Ridgefield’s Troop 19 are becoming Eagle Scouts

The girls of Troop 19 are, back row from left: Katie Bitner, Sophie Desmarais, Gabriela Rogers, Jax Mantione, Maddy Gonley (sort of in the middle row), Della Fincham; and front row, form left: Maya Pereyra, Evia Rodriguez (middle row), Caroline Vilinskis, Jordan Mooney and Lisa Van Gompel.

The girls of Troop 19 are, back row from left: Katie Bitner, Sophie Desmarais, Gabriela Rogers, Jax Mantione, Maddy Gonley (sort of in the middle row), Della Fincham; and front row, form left: Maya Pereyra, Evia Rodriguez (middle row), Caroline Vilinskis, Jordan Mooney and Lisa Van Gompel.

Contributed photo

Soaring on eagle’s wings isn’t a gender-specific male-dominated king of thing. Or it doesn’t have to be. Girls can do that, too.

And they will, soon.

Eleven girls in Ridgefield’s BSA Troop 19 — among the nation’s first troops of “girl boy-scouts” — are now slated to be part of the nation’s’ first class of female Eagle Scouts.

“Congratulations to all Troop 19’s Scouts,” said Steve Mortinger, the troop’s scoutmaster, “and we look forward to Ridgefield having one of the nations’ largest classes of new Eagle Scouts to join the first ever group of female Eagles!”

The first class of girl Eagle Scouts is scheduled to get their rank Feb. 8, 2021 — all across the nation.

With Eagle projects that range from building bog bridges and open space trails to removing invasive species to creating an aquaponics system to feed a turtle, the final requirements to become Eagle Scouts have been enthusiastically tackled by girls of Troop 19 — a BSA troop founded two years ago and named after the 19th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, which gave women the vote in 1920.

Honor for flags

Maddy Gonley’s Eagle project is to set up “flag retirement boxes” where people can drop off old or damaged American flags, and then organize a rotation of local scout troops to give flags that are turned in an appropriate ceremonial end.

“One of the many things that inspired me to pursue my project is how hard veterans fought to protect this country and the people who are still fighting for it today,” Maddy said. “I hope that with my project I will be able to do one small thing to help honor them and show them the respect they deserve.”

There is a right way to retire an American flag.

“During a flag retirement ceremony scouts will gather around a fire and salute as two scouts, called color guards, walk to the fire and place the flag in need of retirement in the fire to the tune of Taps on a trumpet or bugle.

“A leader will then conduct a respectful memorial service as the flag burns, often singing God Bless America, then saying a few words about the meaning of the flag, then the Pledge of Allegiance, followed by silence.

“As the flag is almost completely consumed, those gathered, except for the color guard and leader, will leave single file, in silence. The leader and color guard will leave once the flag is completely consumed and the fire is extinguished.”

Aquaponics

Evia Rodriguez designed and constructed an aquaponics system out of PVC pipes to help feed a turtle.

“I built an aquaponics system which grows plants using the water from a turtle’s tank in Woodcock Nature Center,” she said. “I have volunteered at Woodcock many times in the past and was inspired to design and create this project after hearing about their need for an aquaponics system to feed the turtle and promote further research on the benefits of aquaponics.”

A number of the girls’ Eagle projects involve work to improve open space areas.

Della Fincham cleared a picnic area at Bennett’s Pond State Park, built two benches and a picnic table, and restored a historic brick patio there using reclaimed bricks she got from local residents.

“Bennett's Pond State Park, and the particularly scenic spot that I selected for my Eagle Project, has always been a favorite hiking location for my family,” Della said.

“...My dad used to hike there a lot when he was a teenager living in the neighborhood.

“The history of this particular spot, previously the location of the Conley mansion and Fox Hill Inn, has also always intrigued me and inspired me to select it for my Girl Scout Silver Award (researching and writing historical signate for the site, with the help of Ridgefield historian Jack Sanders).

The benches she built were financed partly by “donations from friends and family” and with wood provided by the state Department of Energy and Environmental Protection (DEEP), which owns Bennett’s Pond State Park.

“I designed the benches and provided the specifications,” Della said.

“My volunteers and I constructed the benches ourselves on site. The picnic table was a kit donated by the DEEP, which we also put together on site.”

Sturges fire pits

Maya Pereyra designed, built and installed 18 benches to provide seating around fire pits at three campsites at Ridgefield’s Sturges Park.

“The existing benches around the fire pits were decaying and unsafe,” she explained.

“I enjoy designing and building, and wanted to have an Eagle project that allowed me to be creative, lead a larger group of people, and contribute to something that would be useful for years to come.”

Invasive species

Caroline Vilinskis' project was focused on a stone wall at the town’s McKeon Farm open space.

“My project involved the removal of invasive species (plants) along an approximately 80 foot long section of a historic rock wall at McKeon Farm,” Caroline said.

“We removed invasive weeds, trees, shrubs, barbed wire, metal fencing and poles.” she said.

“Much of the work required chainsaw cutting (thanks to my dad) and the focus of several scouts on a particular area.

“Some of the roots and fence poles were very deep,” she said.

Walking the site with a member of the town Conservation Commission “invasive species such as Russian olive, black swallow wort, reed canary grass, barberry, bittersweet and grapevine were identified,” she said.

“Native species that were to remain were marked with orange tape,” Caroline said.

“In the end, what was once a completely invisible stone wall emerged.”

As a result of the work, the town Conservation Commission, which oversees most town open space, will be in a position “to plant more native species along the wall in the future to enhance the beauty of the wall, rather than completely blocking it.”

Hemlock Hills

Two of the scouts did projects in the Hemlock Hills, one of the town’s largest and most heavily used open space areas.

Katie Bitner cleared and blazed a new trail in land recently acquired by the Conservation Commission, enlarging the more than 300-acre preserve.

“I knew it had the potential to turn into a spectacular trail,” Katie said. “It is a beautiful area with unique features and I automatically felt connected to it!”

Jordan Mooney built two bridges there.

“After I took a walk through Hemlock Hills, I knew I wanted to help improve the trail,” Jordan said. “I thought replacing some bridges along the trail would be helpful and fun to construct.”

Sophie Desmarais did similar work — building a bridge, and trail clean-up — at Conservation Commission’s Marjoy Pond open space area.

“I knew that I wanted to do something that involved construction,” she said. “When I was shown Marjoy Pond I really enjoyed the trail and it gave me the perfect opportunity to build something for my Eagle Project.”

Hiker-friendly

Gabriela Rogers rerouted and updated one of the trails — the Yellow Trail — at Levy Park “to create a more enjoyable and hiker-friendly experience” in that open space parcel.

“Levy Park trail is minutes from my house and in recent years has become overgrown with reduced hiker traffic,” Gabriela said.

“I was inspired by the opportunity to design and construct a new route for the trail which improved aesthetics, function and safety.”

Lisa Van Gompel built bog bridges and did trail clean-up at Barrack Hill Refuge, another Conservation Commission open space tract.

Jax Mantione built and installed a hanging display case for community activities for our Sponsoring Organization, St. Stephens Church which is the sponsoring organization for Troop 19.

There’s quite a bit to becoming an Eagle Scout.

“The Eagle Scout award requires a scout to earn all the ranks prior to Eagle Scout (Scout, Tenderfoot, Second Class, 1st Class, Star and Life) as well as to earn 21 merit badges (13 of which are the same for every Scout and 8 are chosen as electives),” Scoutmaster Mortinger said. “The Scouts then do an Eagle Scout Project (which has to be approved before started and after completed), complete a Scoutmaster Conference and a Board of Review where Scouts BSA approves the awarding of the rank.”

He shows pride in what the girls of Troop 19 have accomplished.

“In less than 2 years, 11 Scouts reached Life Rank and proceeded to being in the first group of girls to work on to Scouting’s highest rank - Eagle Scout,” Mortinger said. Each Scout must “participate in countless hours of community service, camp, hike, etc. just to be considered for the rank of Eagle Scout,” he said.

“Additionally, each Eagle Scout candidate has to plan and give leadership to others to carry out an Eagle Scout Project to benefit their community,” Mortinger said. “In the course of several months and in the midst of a global pandemic, Troop 19’s Eagle Scout Candidates have safely led significant projects to benefit Ridgefield.”