"What I love about Girl Scouting," noted Michele Stradling, "is we get to do the unique things that you don't normally get to do."
Stradling, the leader of Girl Scout Troop 23165 of Tabernacle, N.J., traveled two hours to bring four of her scouts, including three of her own children, to meet with musher Brad McMillan of Ma-Luk Sled Dog Adventures at the Glen Onoko trail head in the Lehigh Gorge State Park. The Scouts came to earn their Dog Sledding Badges.
"I started researching because one of the girls was interested in learning about dog sledding," Stradling said. "I searched on the Internet. Ma-Luk Sled Dog Adventures was pretty hard to find. I finally found Brad McMillan through the Inn at Jim Thorpe. They gave me the contact information. I contacted him and asked if he could help the girls earn their dog mushing badge."
So, how did a troop of Girl Scouts from New Jersey decide to go for a dog sledding badge?
"I'm obsessed with going online and looking at all the Girl Scout badges they can earn," Stradling explained. "I visit the different Girl Scout council web site, and see what badges are unique to them, and I happened to come across the Dog Sledding badge on the Alaska Girl Scout site, a site that offers such unique badges as an Alaska Gold Panner Badge, and an Arctic Survival Skills Badge.
To qualify for the badge, the Girls Scouts were required to complete two mandatory activities, and four out of ten selected activities. The required activities were: to interview a dog musher to learn about sled dogs and ride on a dog sled, and to visit a kennel to learn what is involved in the upkeep of a kennel.
The Scouts needed to learn about what dogs eat, what is carried for first aid, how to harness a dog, and how to steer a sled (sleds are steered by verbal commands given to the lead dog).
The optional activities include learning about local mushing groups, learning about the parts of the sled, making a model sled, illustrating mushing dog breeds, reading about dog sledding, and learning about sled dog races.
"Working with Girl Scouts is great," said Brad McMillan. "It gives the Scouts the opportunity to meet the dogs, and interact with the dogs if they like. The dogs give them a ride and the Scouts have a ton of fun while they earn their patches in dog sledding."
The Scouts watched McMillan set out the sleds and harnesses, and they then fed and petted the dogs. The dogs were friendly and full of energy, ready to form a pack and hit the trail, pulling the sled.
McMillan shared interesting facts about sled dogs with the Scouts, including how they survive if the temperatures drop near 50 degrees below zero.
"They make a depression and cover themselves with snow," he explained. "They wrap themselves in a ball and put their tail in front of their face so they don't breathe cold air."
Two girls sat in a sled with McMillan guiding from the back, and up to five dogs pulled the sled on a 15-minute run along the Lehigh Gorge Trail.
"The ride was awesome," said Girl Scout Alison Stradling. "It was fast and fun."
Some of the troop's other adventures include: a trip to a dude ranch where they learned to ski-earned by selling Girl Scout cookies, a tour of a country radio station, and an overnight stay on the Battleship New Jersey.
"It was for a Navy Pride badge," Stradling said. "We had a sleepover on the battleship. We slept in the same bunks where the crew slept."
Arrangements for a dog sledding adventure can be made through the Inn at Jim Thorpe. For information, email macmillanbj@ verizon.net, or call 570-386-3539.