Five years ago, Bob Marshall Wilderness Foundation (BMWF) board chair and clinical psychologist Sara Boilen led eight young women on a volunteer backpacking and trail work trip in the Bob Marshall Wilderness Complex, launching “Girls in the Bob,” a program aimed at “introducing young women to Wilderness and public lands stewardship.”
“She kind of recognized the need for these girls to feel comfortable to come on these trips and just realizing how much of a lasting effect they can have,” BMWF Stewardship Coordinator Meg Killen said.
While both Boilen and Killen say there weren’t programs encouraging women in the wilderness when they were kids, Boilen wanted to create opportunities for girls to get outside.
Most of the trips in past years have been on the east side of the Bob in the U.S. Forest Service’s Rocky Mountain Ranger District, which was originally planned this year, but Killen says the ranger district didn’t feel comfortable bringing out-of-town folks into their small community due to the risk of spreading COVID-19.
Now in her fourth year with the BMWF, Killen has led three of the five “Girls in the Bob” trips, with help from an additional chaperone each year.
“I saw the value of giving these girls an opportunity to just be in the woods with each other and get to know themselves and just kind of let go of all their anxieties and fears and really finding strength,” she said.
On July 5, Killen took out a group of girls and women between the ages of 14 and 18 for six days to backpack, clear trails, improve tread and clear drainages on the Vinegar Mountain Trail along the Middle Fork Flathead River.
The girl’s abilities range from no experience to volunteers who are comfortable and confident, Killen says.
“That balance itself is valuable because the girls that have a little more experience can encourage those that don’t, and I think that encouragement that comes through is so much more efficient when it’s coming from your peers,” Killen said.
Killen and Boilen both recall a past trip that included a young woman who had never been camping, hiked up anything strenuous or seen a waterfall.
“By the end of the week she was just a different person … the fact that she had never been camping, she really had no idea what wilderness meant,” Killen said. “Getting them back there in that element is the only way for them to understand it.”
Since the program first started five years ago, Killen says the rosters continue to fill up more quickly every year, with returning volunteers who often bring along their friends.
In the midst of the coronavirus pandemic, Killen emphasizes the importance of the program now more than ever.
“It’s nice to see them kind of get back to the basics … no phones, no TVs, no news outlets,” Killen said. “Especially now, I think it’s really great for them to get away from all that.”
The BMWF welcomes all women and girls, transgender, cisgender and non-binary people who identify with the women’s community, ages 14-18. For more information, visit www.bmwf.org/girls-in-the-bob.