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The energy is palpable when a group of girls gathers in a semi-circle under the pavilion at Charles D. Owen Park on a Thursday evening. Girls ages 7-11 discuss what they learned the previous the last time they gathered for their weekly run. 

Catherine Rawlings recalls why it's important to take a permanent marker with you when trail running. 

"In case you get bit by a snake," she exclaims proudly after some prompting. "You circle where the bite is so when you get to wherever you're going you can show them."

The Girl Scouts Summer Trail Run Series is a non-traditional, seven-week program, organizer Mindy Smith, the outside recruitment and marketing manager for Girl Scouts Peaks to Piedmont said. 

"I started this series because Girl Scouts is partnering with the outdoor clothing brand North Face," Smith said. "That partnership will involve rolling out some new outdoor adventure badges and one of those will be trail running, which is my passion."

But there is a lot more to Smith's passion than simply showing up and getting on the trails. Nutrition is a key component, which is why Smith asked her friend Kate Dwyer to come out and talk to the group about the foods they eat. 

"Why is food important?" she asked the dozen-or-so girls gathered around her. 

"It gives you energy," many respond in unison. 

"And what is it in the food that gives you that energy?" asks Dwyer. 

"Nutrients," several of the girls say together. 

Dwyer encourages the children to think of their favorite whole food snacks and tells them they should drink five to seven cups of water per day. Once the group thanks her for coming, they all make their way to the nearby trailhead together. 

"One of the things I love doing with the Girl Scouts is teaching girls about leadership," Smith said. "It's a great feeling to see the girls develop confidence and character."

The Swannanoa group is one of two led by Smith and volunteer coaches. 

"We have about 17 in this group and 32 in a Tuesday night group that meets in Bent Creek," she said. "We've had so much interest I've had to turn people away."

Some runners, like 10-year-old Ella Jameson, come a long way to participate in the weekly runs. She makes the trip from her home in Hot Springs.

"I've been running for a couple of years," Jameson said. "I like running on different trails and I like making new friends." 

Jameson's parents learned about the program on Facebook and thought their daughter would enjoy it. 

"It's a lot of fun," said Jameson, after she finished her run and waited for the rest of the group to return. "I'm happy to be a part of it."

The program is free, according to Smith, but the girls must be members of the Girl Scouts to participate. That membership is $25 per year, and allows them to have access to other programs offered by the organization. 

"This is a way we can get girls involved in Girl Scouts in a non-traditional environment," she said. "It reaches kids who might not sign up otherwise."

It also introduces the children to a sport they can be a part of for years to come, Smith said. 

"We're teaching these girls all about running on the trails safely," she said. "Once they get out here and run most of them really love it and that makes them likely to continue doing it after the program is over."

While Smith hopes the girls who are participating this summer will stick with running, there are plenty of other important lessons they can take with them. 

"Running is great and I'm happy to have the chance to do it with these girls," she said. "But the best thing about this program is how it keeps the girls engaged and teaches them valuable lessons about life."

 

 

 

 

 

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