INDEPENDENCE — The first cold spell of the season to blow through the Florida Parishes failed to chill the hundreds of Girl Scouts and their families and friends visiting the Juliette Low Fall Festival and Duck Derby held at Camp Whispering Pines on Oct. 28.

The special day is designed to honor the birthday of Girls Scouts’ founder Juliette Gordon Low, afford Girl Scouts the opportunity to see what Camp Whispering Pines has to offer, and to raise funds for the camping programs offered by Girl Scouts Louisiana East.

Highlight of the Juliette Low fête was the Duck Derby, the fundraising facet of the special day. Girl Scouts and patrons purchase rubber ducks that are raced in the camp’s swimming pool. Winners of the race’s heats are awarded Girl Scout bucks that can be used to purchase scouting supplies.

In previous years, Jill Pollard, chief development officer for Programs and Properties for Girl Scouts Louisiana East, would jump into the pool fully clothed and hurry the ducks along by creating waves with her arms. She announced, with a hearty laugh, that she would not be jumping into the pool this year. Instead, a leaf blower was used to assist the rubber ducks on their journey to the finish line.

Pollard termed the festival and duck derby a “win-win” proposition for the Girl Scouts. “This is a glorious day for us. We get to showcase the great property that we have here, and this gives us the chance to show the Girl Scouts what they can enjoy by attending our camps. We have some really good property here, and we love to show it off. We try to stress that Camp Whispering Pines belongs to the girls and that our camping programs are among the things that we can offer them. The Girl Scouts movement continues to be one of the most import youth training programs in the nation.”

Maleiya Porter-Jones, communications specialist for Girl Scouts Louisiana East, said funds raised by the Duck Derby support the three camps maintained by the organization: Camp Covington, Camp Marydale located in East Feliciana Parish and Whispering Pines. She said all three camps are operated on a year-round basis with emphasis on the summer months when weeklong camping sessions are offered. Weekend and day camp sessions are also offered at different times of the year.

Whispering Pines, in a large, wooded area in north-central Tangipahoa Parish, is fully developed and capable of giving girls a traditional camping experience, Porter-Jones said. “For our Fall Festival and Duck Derby, we offer hayrides, canoe trips on Timer Lake, rock wall climbing, archery, nature walks and our very popular SWAPS area.” SWAPS stands for Special Whatchamacallits Affectionately Placed Somewhere. The girls make SWAPS using safety pins, ribbons and small trinkets that are traded with other girls or saved as souvenirs.

Porter-Jones said that affording girls and young women the opportunity to experience the outdoors remains an important aspect of Girl Scouting. However, she is quick to add, “While enjoying nature and the great outdoors remains as an important part of Scouting, there is much more to Girl Scouting today than just going camping. Girl Scouts teaches life skills, we are involved with teaching STEM — science, technology, engineering and math — we inform girls about career choices. We are trying to give girls many experiences through Scouting.”

Asked her opinion about the recent announcement that Boy Scouts of America will begin accepting girls at certain age levels, Porter-Jones replied, “Girl Scouts remain the leader in positive training for young women. We are the experts ... our legacy shows that we remain the most creative instrument for training young women for adulthood. We remain the principal pipeline that provides women’s leadership to the nation.”

Porter-Jones explained that the Girl Scout program offers something for girls of all ages. The divisions at which girls can participate in Scouting are: Daises, kindergarten-first grade; Brownies, grades 2-3; Juniors, grades 4-5; Cadets, grades 6-8; Seniors, grades 9-10; and Ambassadors, Grades 11-12.

“For some, Scouting stays a part of their lives. We have Girl Scout alumni here today who come back to reminisce about their years in Scouting and help a new generation of Scouts. For many, once a Girl Scout, always a Girl Scout,” she said.

Scouting can be a generational experience as well. Amy Zirtzmann served as the official “duck mascot” for the Fall Festival and Duck Derby. Three of her children were visitors for the day, with daughters Ainsley and Maddie  already involved in Scouting. Son Andrew was along for the fun. Zirtzmann said her mother and grandmother were also involved in Scouting.

Staff at Camp Whispering Pines are a large part of the camp’s continuing success, and a number of staff members were part of the Fall Festival and Duck Derby. Whispering Pines Ranger Jason Brown, who lives on the campgrounds and maintains the sprawling complex, said that the Fall Festival and Duck Derby involved “ a lot of work.” He added, however, that the success of the day was the reward for all the work. “It’s great to see so many people come out and explore what we have to offer. I especially enjoy being the host for those making their first visit. We are proud of Whispering Pines and enjoy showing it off,” he said.

Sarah Dominique, who was assisting girls brave enough to try and summit the rock-climbing wall, serves as a counselor for summer camps and returns for special events. “It’s a joy to work with young girls here. This camp is a great place to spend some time, and sharing the experiences with the young girls is rewarding.”

“This is our best day of the year," Pollard said. "The Fall Festival is becoming a prized tradition for Girl Scouts Louisiana East, and it’s something that has grown each year. It’s a day we all look forward to because it showcases what we have to offer to the great people involved in Girl Scouting.”

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