Can a Girl Inspire a Generation of Outdoors Women?

TX_FundDev14_0284What can I do? I’m just a girl. Have you ever asked yourself that question or heard others say that of themselves? This reminds me of one of the first songs I remember learning back in my Daisy troop days — “Can A Woman?”

Can a woman fly an airplane?
Yes, she can, yes, she can!
Can a woman build a building?
Yes, she can, yes she can!

The song continues on through a list of other careers that woman can do. After each question the answer is always an affirmative, “yes, she can!” Yes, you can do many things once you set your heart and mind to them. Your passion will lead you to gain the education and experience necessary to achieve your goals.

One of the girls in that Daisy troop, back in 1994, was 5-year old Caitlin Dunbar. She wanted to do many things with her life. She wanted to fly an airplane — become a pilot. She wanted to help people. She wanted to protect Planet Earth. She believed she could do all of these things and more. Throughout her school years she spent as much time outdoors, with nature, as she could; she listened to her friends’ problems and tried to help as best she could; she even took her first flying lesson.

When she was 6-years old, Caitlin realized there was a place that could help her with two of her goals — helping people and protecting Planet Earth. That place became her favorite place to be — Girl Scout Camp Conowingo. Caitlin was drawn to Camp Conowingo because that was the same camp her mother attended as a Girl Scout. Her first visit to Camp Conowingo was the Open House in 1995. There she and her mother discovered that the canoe paddle from her mom’s canoeing adventure, 20 years earlier, was still mounted on the dining hall wall. At the end of her first week at Camp Conowingo, Caitlin asked if she could return the following week. Sadly, that was not possible; her family had other summer plans.

TX_FundDev14_0287Caitlin spent 10 consecutive summers at Camp Conowingo. She attended a week or two each summer. She was building up to spending the entire summer as a Counselor-In-Training. In those 10 years, Caitlin made many camp-friends and inspired them to return annually. During that same time period, she became a Program Aide at Camp Ilchester. She gained much experience in helping people during those years.
From her youngest years, Caitlin was known as a tree-hugger. She actually hugged trees. She also hugged people when she saw they needed a hug. One day, Caitlin noticed all the trees along both sides of the road had been knocked over. She became upset when she learned they had been bulldozed to make way for a new road. She wanted to find whomever was in charge and have the trees put back to the way they belonged. Learning that that was not possible was a tough lesson for her.

She later found success in helping to protect Planet Earth when she assisted in planting sea grass to reduce beach erosion. School projects provided other opportunities to take care of the Planet. Many days, she simply went outdoors to hug her trees and do what she could do for her home area.

In December 2004, at the age of almost 16, Caitlin died of previously undetected Leukemia. That could have been the end of her story. Instead, it became the flame of inspiration for her family and friends and others. They joined together, along with Girl Scouts of Central Maryland, to create the Caitlin Dunbar Nature Center at Camp Conowingo. The Nature Center opened on Father’s Day 2006 to a crowd of 500 visitors for Camp Conowingo’s annual Open House. From that summer through today, the girls of summer resident camp have all passed through the Caitlin Dunbar Nature Center and participated in the associated nature and outdoors activities. That’s 10 summers so far, just like the number of years Caitlin spent at Camp Conowingo.

On March 9, 2008, Caitlin’s 19th birthday, the second Caitlin Dunbar Nature Center location opened at Camp Ilchester. The work of creating each of these nature centers was completed mostly through the efforts of Girl Scout girls of all ages. Most of the girls who worked on the Camp Conowingo project knew Caitlin personally. Those who created the Camp Ilchester nature center were drawn by Caitlin’s spirit.

Alex Dunbar (Caitlin’s father)
Friends of Caitlin Dunbar Nature Center

3 replies »

  1. And now for the rest of the story…

    Women’s History Month is celebrated every year in March. In March 2009, the Maryland Women’s Heritage Center honored a select group of Maryland women whom they felt fit that year’s theme — “Women Taking the Lead to Save Our Planet” — women who have taken a lead in the environment or “green” movement. Among the honorees was our own Caitlin Dunbar whose “lifelong interest in nature and the outdoors lives on in the Caitlin Dunbar Girl Scout nature center established in her name by family, friends, and the Girl Scouts of Central Maryland following her sudden death from leukemia at age 15. This nature center offers stewardship activities on rescued wildlife and “hands on” environmental opportunities for Scouts and visitors to enjoy and appreciate.”

    Girl Scouts of Central Maryland will celebrate the first 10 years of the Caitlin Dunbar Nature Center during 2 Signature Events. The first is the BIG Outdoors Event at Camp Ilchester on Sunday, April 24, 2016, from 10am until 3pm. The second event is the annual Open House at Camp Conowingo on Sunday, June 19, 2016, noon-5pm. Girls who have been inspired by the life of one girl will run programs at both events. Remember to register online for these events.

    So, yes, you are so much more than just a girl. Discover your passions. Follow your heart. Lead with your mind. Get outdoors and embrace nature. Become the woman you are destined to be. You’ll be glad you did.

    I look forward to seeing you at both the Camp Ilchester and Camp Conowingo events.

    Alex Dunbar (Caitlin’s father)
    Friends of Caitlin Dunbar Nature Center

    • That’s our goal for troop 3989 — Caitln’s Outdoor Adventurers. We spend much of our time together working on outdoor projects. The owl nesting platform they built is now home to a pair of nesting owls at Camp Ilchester. They will soon begin work on bird boxes for other species of birds.

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