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North Texas Girls To Become Some Of The First Female Eagle Scouts In U.S.

It's a chilly October morning at the Trinity River Audubon Center in South Dallas. A group of young women Scouts from the Dallas Troop 890 are using shovels and pickaxes to chip away at the hard earth.

They're digging holes for new display cases containing information about the local plants and animals visitors can find along the Audubon Center’s trails.

The displays were designed and hand-crafted by 17-year-old Emma Duncan. It’s part of her Eagle project — the last requirement to check off of a long list of tasks completed to earn the highest rank of Eagle Scout in the Scouts BSA program, formerly known as Boy Scouting.

“I knew I wanted to do something where I could work outdoors and work with my hands and I had no idea where to start,” Duncan said.

So Duncan reached out to the Audubon Center. Jake Poinsett oversees volunteers and service projects like this one.

"We had an initial meet-and-greet in the beginning where she kind of said what her idea's going to be like," he explained. "And all we did was say a couple suggestions, you know, ‘We’ll clear out this area, what if it looked like this?’ or ‘What if it was this size?’ and she ran with it and did everything herself.”

Duncan put the last display case in the ground and cemented it in place on October 31.

"This has been most of my life for the past few months and I'm very excited to be done with it as fun as it was," she said.

With her project finished, Duncan is one step closer to earning scouting’s highest honor. And she wasn’t even allowed to join the Scouts until last year.

The Irving-based Boy Scouts of America started allowing girls to sign up for the Scouts BSA program in February 2019 alongside boys. When Duncan discovered that she could apply, she knew right away she wanted to work towards becoming an Eagle Scout.

"Me and my dad were backpacking and on the way out he said, ‘Hey, you know, it's looking like girls in Boy Scouts is going to be a thing. Is that something you might be interested in?’ I said, ‘Well, absolutely,'" Duncan said. "We started thinking about what would it look like to go about getting Eagle, you know, time limits and is that something I'm interested in, and it totally was.”

Most Scouts start working toward the Eagle rank at a much younger age. Duncan wasn’t able to start until she was 16 and she had to be done before she turned 18.

Doing so much in such a short amount of time is no small feat. Scouts are not only expected to live by their oath, there’s also a lot of hard work involved. Scouts need to earn 21 merit badges, serve in a leadership position and finish a service project.

Then a board reviews each scout’s application and decides whether they’re ready to receive the Eagle Scout rank and pin. Checking off those boxes so quickly would make Duncan and a few other girls her age some of the first in the country to earn that rank.

17-year-old scout Caroline Rich is in Duncan’s troop. She finished all her requirements earlier this year and is awaiting her board of review.

“I'm really honored to have this opportunity because I never thought I would when I was little," Rich said. "I didn't think this was something I'd be doing, especially not in, like, the earliest group of girls.”

Although, Rich said she does wish the Scouts had let girls join sooner.

"I kind of feel like I did almost miss out on the Cub Scouts aspect of it. Cause I was a freshman, I think, when I joined," Rich said. "So, I wish I could have had the middle school experience.”

Duncan said she’s proud to be among this first group of female Eagle Scouts. But for her, it’s not just about the title.

“Before I did a lot of camping just with my dad, and that was a lot of fun, but getting to hang out with a group of girls that I'm actually friends with and enjoy being around, it's been super valuable," Duncan said.

And, she said doing this together has been the most meaningful part by far.

“We've spent the past two years together working towards this and I'm glad we get to finish it together, too," she said.

For Duncan and Rich, it’s a waiting game now. They won’t know if they have officially earned their Eagle Scout rank until the board of review in February.

In the meantime, they are focused on helping other members of the troop make it to the finish line as well.

Got a tip? Email Rebekah Morr at rmorr@kera.org. You can follow her on Twitter @bekah_morr.

KERA News is made possible through the generosity of our members. If you find this reporting valuable, consider making a tax-deductible gift today. Thank you.

Copyright 2020 KERA. To see more, visit KERA.

A group of scouts from Dallas Troop 890 helps dig holes for Emma Duncan's eagle project.
Keren Carrión / KERA News
A group of scouts from Dallas Troop 890 helps dig holes for Emma Duncan's eagle project.

Finishing her service project was the last requirement Emma Duncan needed to complete in order to earn the rank of Eagle Scout.
Keren Carrión / KERA News
Finishing her service project was the last requirement Emma Duncan needed to complete in order to earn the rank of Eagle Scout.

Emma Duncan designed the cases' legs to sit at an angle, so rain water will slide off and won't pool on top of the display.
Keren Carrión /
Emma Duncan designed the cases' legs to sit at an angle, so rain water will slide off and won't pool on top of the display.

Scouts from Dallas Troop 890 finish digging holes for the display case Emma Duncan designed and built.
Keren Carrión / KERA News
Scouts from Dallas Troop 890 finish digging holes for the display case Emma Duncan designed and built.

Lane Duncan, Emma's dad and scoutmaster for Troop 890, measures the holes the girls have dug to make sure they're deep enough. They need to be at least 12 inches deep before they can cement the display in place.
Keren Carrión / KERA News
Lane Duncan, Emma's dad and scoutmaster for Troop 890, measures the holes the girls have dug to make sure they're deep enough. They need to be at least 12 inches deep before they can cement the display in place.

Lane Duncan straps the front two legs of the display case together, so they won't shift when the cement is poured around them.
Rebekah Morr / KERA News
Lane Duncan straps the front two legs of the display case together, so they won't shift when the cement is poured around them.

Emma Duncan's display case was finished on Oct. 17, 2020 on the Trinity River Audubon Center's primitive prairie trail. Her other display case was installed on Oct. 31, 2020 on the primitive forest trail.
Rebekah Morr /
Emma Duncan's display case was finished on Oct. 17, 2020 on the Trinity River Audubon Center's primitive prairie trail. Her other display case was installed on Oct. 31, 2020 on the primitive forest trail.

The field just outside the Trinity River Audubon Center in South Dallas.
Keren Carrión /
The field just outside the Trinity River Audubon Center in South Dallas.

Emma Duncan drills the last leg in place on the display case she designed and built for the Trinity River Audubon Center's primitive trails.
Keren Carrión /
Emma Duncan drills the last leg in place on the display case she designed and built for the Trinity River Audubon Center's primitive trails.