Friday, April 28, 2017

Letterboxes and Red Foxes: Promoting Outdoor Exploration Through Programs in a Backpack

Susie, Alice, and Rebecca teamed up on a Letterboxing project.
For two years, the Elliott Wildlife Conservation Grant has made it possible for Girl Scouts to help people explore the outdoors and learn more about wildlife and the environment. Recently, troops from Girl Scouts Heart of the Hudson (GSHH) initiated Programs in a Backpack, inviting Edith Macy Conference Center visitors to choose one of four backpacks (For the Birds, Animal Tracks and Scat, Letterboxing, or Geocaching) to take with them on the property’s Elliott Wildlife Interpretive Trail. The packs are complete with a trail map and program instructions to help visitors ignite their inner naturalist and practice some outdoor skills.

On determining that it would be a great way to explore the natural world and help others learn more about wildlife, too, members of GSHH’s Troop 2320 assembled the Letterboxing pack, with support from the Elliott Wildlife Conservation Grant. Letterboxing is a type of scavenger hunt that has participants following clues and collecting rubber stamps. Hikers practice navigation skills and learn about native plants and animals, and have a ton of fun in the process. Laying out its specific goal—educating people about red foxes as they explore the outdoors—the troop got to work.

We sat down with Troop 2320’s Rebecca and Alice to learn more about the project, including the teamwork involved and the obstacles troop members had to overcome.

What inspired you to focus on letterboxing as part of this project?

Rebecca: Our inspiration came from our desire to teach Edith Macy visitors about red foxes in an active (and interactive) way while hiking. I am very interested in the environment and this was a fun way to get others to explore wildlife as well.

Alice: We wanted kids to have the opportunity to go outside and explore the Edith Macy center, and have a game to play to keep them motivated. We went letterboxing together as a troop, and we had a lot of fun using the clues to find a box! We wanted to create a similar activity for kids, but have it follow a storyline to keep them interested in exploring.

What challenges did your group face while creating the letterboxing activity? How did you overcome them?

Rebecca: Before creating our activity, we went on a letterboxing hike together in Gedney Park. We noticed that some of the directions in the activity we tried were vague. It was confusing to figure out the distance of "ten paces" and how find a box behind “a large rock” when the entire landscape was filled with large rocks. When writing our own directions, we reminded ourselves to be specific. Instead of "ten paces" or "the large rock," we directed visitors to "a tree with double white markings" and "the intersection of the white and red trail."

Alice: It was also a challenge to find a good trail that the kids could follow. We wanted to make sure that the trail was short enough so Daisies and Brownies wouldn't get tired, but still challenging for older children and adults. We were able to overcome this challenge by hiking different trails around Edith Macy and seeing which ones seemed to be the best fit for all visitors.

What made working on the letterboxing activity so much fun?

Rebecca: Creating the games associated with each box was my favorite part of the letterboxing activity. When we hid the boxes, it was fun and extremely rewarding to imagine other Girl Scouts and visitors finding the boxes and bonding and learning about red foxes through the games.

Alice: My favorite part of letterboxing was creating the booklets and stamps for the kids so they could keep track of each letterbox they found. I designed each of the six stamps and then chiseled them by hand. I really enjoyed designing a specific stamp for each box. For example, we had a box about the habitats that foxes live in, so I created a stamp of a fox going into its den.

How did this project help educate you and others about the importance of wildlife?

Rebecca: Through the letterboxing activity, participants follow a story of a baby fox trying to find her mother. As they follow the baby, participants learn about what red foxes eat, how they mark their territory, and where they build their burrows. To create the series of clues that lead participants on the trail, my troop mates and I expanded our own knowledge about red foxes.

When we were creating the boxes, we researched the habitat, diet, and hibernation patterns of red foxes. We were able to learn not only about foxes, but also the environment that surrounds them. In each box, we wrote a story about the fox that included details from our research. We hope that visitors that complete our letterboxing adventure will learn just as much about red foxes as we did and have fun doing it!

What skills did you learn throughout this project that you think will benefit you in the future?

Rebecca: Through this project, I honed my time management skills and gained a new set of letterboxing skills. Since we had a deadline to complete the lengthy project, my troop mates and I had to set deadlines for the completion of each component of the project: researching the habitat and other facts about red foxes, writing effective and specific clues from one box to another, and designing and creating stamps and activities for each of the six boxes.

Alice: I believe that the most important part of this project was being able to work effectively in a group. The girls in my troop divided the research aspect of the project and we also worked as a group to figure out where each box would be located. We had to manage our time and also keep all our materials organized.

What advice would you give to other Girl Scouts working on a similar Take Action project?

Rebecca: I would stress time management to Girl Scouts completing similar Take Action projects. Because we planned ahead, we completed our box contents before the weather was warm enough for us to head out on the trail. This allowed us to focus all our attention on our route and instructions during the warmer months and prevented stress as we were trying to meet our deadline. It is also important to have fun every step of the project! It was fun to create a story, go hiking, and laugh with my troop mates as we created our letterboxing activity. At the end of the year, we invited our families to hike the letterboxing trail as part of our bridging ceremony. I recommend that girls share their Take Action projects with family and friends if possible.

Alice: Other girls working on similar Take Action projects should not be afraid to ask for help when they need it. Take Action projects require just as much communication as they require work!

The Programs in a Backpack project was made possible with funding from GSUSA’s Elliott Wildlife Values Project which also supported another backpack project that educates hikers on the Elliott Wildlife Interpretive Trail through the use of iPads.