ST PAUL, Minn. — Erin Olson remembers tagging along to her brother's scout meetings more than a decade ago.
She wasn't yet in kindergarten, but she watched the meetings and learned outdoor skills along with the boys.
"We would walk in and I would sit at a table on the side," Erin said. "In the beginning, with the Boy Scouts when they would do learning skills ... I would sit in and do the knots."
But while the boys advanced in rank and earned merit badges — Erin could not. At the time, Cub Scouts and Boy Scouts were open only to boys.
It's now been six months since Boy Scouts of America expanded and rebranded its flagship Boy Scouts program. After years of lobbying by girls and their families, Boy Scouts now is known as Scouts BSA, open to boys and girls, ages 11 to 17. And Erin Olson, now 15, is among the thousands of girls who have joined.
"A lot of people had the same experience I did, like growing up and going to Cub Scout and Boy Scout meetings and never truly being involved yourself," said Erin, who also joined Girl Scouts but said it didn't offer the same experiences. "But being able to specifically have a place in the program that's recognized — it's pretty great."
Since the change on Feb. 1, the Scouts BSA program now includes more than 21,000 girls in more than 2,600 troops across the country.
In a statement, the organization said that the change "reinforces that the mission and core values in the Scout Oath and Scout Law are welcoming, inclusive and foundational for both young men and women."
Unlike Cub Scouts — now also open to boys and girls — or the BSA's Venturing program, Scouts BSA has separate troops for girls and boys. But they can be affiliated with each other, under the same sponsoring organization. And they take part in the same activities.
In the Northern Star Council, the largest scouting council in Minnesota, there are 55 Scouts BSA girls' troops with more than 400 members.
Erin is one of them, belonging to Troop 283 Girls in Wayzata. The troop began to form in 2018, right after the formal announcement that girls would be allowed in the Boy Scouts program.
Northern Star Council director of marketing and communications Kent York said the change opened the door for more kids to benefit from scouting.
"There's plenty of kids who are not involved in scouting that could be," he told Minnesota Public Radio News. "We're offering options and opportunities."
Nine girls showed up to the first meeting for Troop 283 Girls, then five more by the second. Eventually, Troop 283 Girls became the largest all-girl troop in Minnesota, with more than 20 active members.
At first they operated in an unofficial capacity, holding meetings ahead of the start of Scouts BSA. And once Feb. 1 rolled around, it was full speed ahead.
"It was pretty much a no-brainer that we were going to do this," said Mike Lawrance, recruitment chair for Troop 283. "And we had a pretty good response."
As for any pushback to the policy change?
"If a gender joining an activity spoils the activity for you — personally, I didn't think you were that committed to the activity in the first place," Erin said.
Girls who have joined Scouts BSA so far said they're aspiring to experience everything that the program has to offer.
Troop 7091, the first all-girl troop in St. Paul, attended Many Point Scout Camp for the first time this summer alongside other troops — boys and girls — from around the state. Ten members of the troop returned with a total of 50 merit badges in one week.
Troop 7091 scoutmaster Jerald Dosch said he has never seen so much enthusiasm before.
"The troop that I was scoutmaster for, for my son — we didn't meet that much over the summer," Dosch recalled. "(But) the young women in this troop said 'we want to keep meeting. We're going to meet all summer long.'"
Rowan Akins, who like Erin Olson is a member of Troop 283 Girls, said everyone in their troop sees a chance to be more than "just scouts."
"Since we all just joined, we (still) kind of all want to get to know each other," she said. "Instead of being patrol buddies and mates, we're going to be friends instead of just people we see at scouts."
Erin has set lofty goals for herself.
"I want to earn the Eagle rank," she said. "But I also want to make sure that I'm not rushing through it. I want to have the experiences that I think I'm kind of catching up on . . . because I entered this late in the game."
Girls and boys who join the Scouts BSA program at a later age this year can apply to extend their time to reach Eagle Scout status, as it requires scouts to hold leadership positions for a certain amount of time.
Erin said being a scout in a new troop has its challenges, but it's providing the girls opportunities to forge their own paths.
"There's no example for us," she said. "We're setting the example of, 'this is how it's going to run,' and starting traditions of our own.
"It's like we are going to be the history."
Information from: Minnesota Public Radio News, http://www.mprnews.org