The leaves are falling and there’s a chill in the morning air. Colorado has its first snow of the season under its belt, but on Saturday, Girl Scouts from the Longmont area and beyond put on their big-girl waders to learn about fly fishing and water conservation.

The junior and cadette scouts spent the brilliantly clear day on St. Vrain Creek at Izaak Walton Park in Longmont, experiencing their local watershed as scientists, anglers and artists, courtesy of the Stream Girls program.

Stream Girls is an outdoor STEM educational program organized by Trout Unlimited in partnership with Girl Scouts USA. It was hatched in Wisconsin in 2013 and has now taken root in other states like Washington, Oregon, Arizona, Michigan, South Carolina and Pennsylvania.

Participant Audrey Haller, 12, from Niwot, said the application of science, technology, engineering and math to the conservation they were learning through the program was crucial to affecting climate change.

“It will make us want to protect what we have because nature is beautiful, so we should protect and learn about it,” Audrey said.

Throughout the day, the scouts assessed the streamflow and took samples of macroinvertebrate lifeforms of the St. Vrain, studied the human impact on the area and learned the basics of fly casting and tying. They toted around their field journals to sketch and write what they encountered, which on this day included a skateboard, an old shoe and a dead turtle. The girls sloshed around the river in their oversized, unwieldy waders while mayflies glided through the air.

They learned about the scientific process of sample testing, including the obligatory exclamation of “Ew!” when discovering the aquatic larvae of a caddis fly.

The fly casting part of the day held the promise of turning many of the girls into future anglers. The scouts practiced their casts with a piece of orange yarn at the end instead of a fly, much to the relief of some of the mothers standing behind them. Starting out uncoordinated and wild, after a bit of practice, their “flies” soon landed in the middle of the target hoops sitting in the Izaak Walton Pond.

The program is operating in its first year after receiving funding from Occidental Petroleum in the Fall 2018. Barbara Luneau, Colorado Trout Unlimited northeast regional vice president and former consultant at Schlumberger, helped in securing the funding from Occidental to start the pilot of Stream Girls in the state.

“They’re a great supporter of STEM education, particularly for girls,” Luneau said about the petroleum company. “They were really attracted to the Stream Girls program because it was very nicely aligned with their goals.”

Luneau works with Colorado Trout Unlimited on a volunteer basis and wears many hats within the organization. In addition to serving as regional vice president, she sits on the board of directors, is the chairperson of the headwaters committee and the youth coordinator. She said there are numerous reasons why a program like this is so important.

“As the mental health crisis amongst youth seems to grow every year, I think this is a really important part of having kids grow up healthy, spending time outdoors so that they know how to seek relaxation,” Leneau said.

She also mentioned the lack of gender diversity in both STEM and fly fishing. According to the National Girls Collaborative Project, in 2018 women constituted 47% of the total workforce but only 28% of the science and engineering workforce. This number is slowly trending upward, but Leneau said it’s imperative to encourage young girls to widen the scope of possible careers.

“We have a lot of perceptions and unconscious bias in our society about things that are for girls and things that are for boys,” she said. “Every generation we get a little bit better. We just have to make it a concerted effort to encourage girls to seek careers in STEM.”

Out on the water, things are similarly bleak. Women make up only 31%, or about two million, of the 6.8 million fly-fishers in the U.S., according to a 2018 Recreational Boating and Fishing Foundation report.

Bianca McGrath-Martinez, who works with Trout Unlimited through Americorp Vista, hopes this program will have a lasting impact on the girls who participate. The initiative uses volunteers from numerous women’s networking groups around Denver, from the oil and gas industry, fishing guides, teachers and graduate students. McGrath-Martinez said these women can inspire the scouts to reach for occupations they thought may not be available to them.

“We have this great group of volunteers that are mostly women,” McGrath-Martinez said. “They’re just an incredible group of role models for these young girls. And it means so much for them to be able to see someone like them.”

The Longmont event is the fourth one in the state this year, with one more in Montrose on Oct. 27 to wrap up the season. Next year, organizers are hoping to branch out to Grand Junction and Salida to bring hands-on STEM education to even more girls across Colorado.

Kinzie Brommer, 12, of Longmont, said fly fishing could be a good way for kids and adults to deal with stress. She wants to be a lawyer who works on behalf of children in the future, and thinks that fishing and being outdoors could be a good escape for kids from troubled homes.

“For me, going outside is almost like an escape from just everything I have to deal with,” Kinzie said.

Kinzie’s friend Anna Longenecker, also 12, said she liked the hands-on learning of science and math that were applied to the outdoors. She hopes to be a math teacher when she gets older and wishes that STEM was taught in school the way it was at Stream Girls.

Both girls agreed that learning about conservation of their watershed is information everyone should know. Kinzie said she knows there are volunteer opportunities to help clean up the community, but that people should take the initiative to take care of their environment without being enticed to do so.

As Girl Scouts, the youngsters regard it as their job to help make the world a better place.

Cliff Grassmick

Terra Brubaker leads a team of girls through the water of the St Vrain Creek at Izaak Walton Pond on Saturday in Longmont, during a program cosponsored by Girl Scouts USA and Colorado Trout Unlimited.


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