Women. Scouts. Trailblazers.
Updated: Aug 4
The first all-female OATC trek makes history at Philmont Scout Ranch
Caitlyn Oliva rests her additional two troop patches on her arm during the OATC Banquet on July 10, 2022. Visiting Philmont Scout Ranch was Olivia’s third stop this summer after also participating at Northern Tier and Sea Base. Photo by Marielle Scott.
August 1, 2022 — A group of young women made history when they stepped on the trail as crew 627-OA-1, the first all-female Order of the Arrow Trail Crew trek on June 27, 2022. They started their adventure on the side of Mount Phillips, building trail for a week, before traveling further into Philmont’s backcountry for their trek week. But the journey of women in OATC at Philmont did not start with crew 627-OA-1. Three years ago, Emma Penczek and Hannah Stuart became the first female Order of the Arrow Trail Crew foreman.
“I remember at the end of the summer [of 2018] when I was filling out my application for 2019,” Penczek said. “I called my dad, and I was like, ‘hey, I think I know what I want to be next year.’ And he’s like ‘oh, you want to be a ranger?’ And I said ‘no, I want to be an OA Trail Crew foreman.’ And he basically laughed at me and said ‘no, that’s not going to happen. They’re not going to allow females.’”
The summer of 2019 was the first-time girls came to Philmont as members of Scouts BSA and Order of the Arrow. For young women, conversations with their brothers and friends after their treks were the most girls were able to experience OATC.
“I had this mindset of we’re moving the BSA forward. We have female Eagle Scouts, and they’re allowed to join the OA,” Penczek said. “Why is it that these females aren’t allowed to go on this trek that I hear is so amazing and so life-changing?”
The summer of 2019 not only had the first female foreman but participants as well. Christiane Fletcher had heard about OATC years prior but never thought she would get to experience it firsthand. When the Order of the Arrow opened to girls, Fletcher immediately held elections within her venturing crew to begin the process of joining the OA and becoming eligible for OATC.
Fletcher completed her OATC experience as one of two female participants in 2019 and could only hope for the day of an all-female OATC crew. She returned to Philmont as a foreman in 2021 after COVID-19 prevented the ranch from opening in 2020. As a foreman, Fletcher didn’t have an opportunity to lead any co-ed crews but was able to interact with female participants during the work week.
“We never thought last year that we’d have an all-female crew within the next five years or so,” Fletcher said. “But here we are, and it’s just been so nice to see all these girls going through their ordeal, getting involved and getting all these leadership positions within the OA.”
OATC foreman, Christiane Fletcher, right, instructs Dellaney Flower, left, and Jessica Parker, middle, to remove a boulder from the trail to Mt Phillips on June 30, 2022. This summer, OATC participants have completed 2,400 feet of trail, including two switchbacks. Photo by Marielle Scott.
But joining Scouting and the Order of the Arrow did not come without obstacles for both Fletcher and other members of the crew. Since joining a Scout troop in 2019, Jessica Parker has faced adversity and discrimination but has not let it deter her from Scouting.
“I think at the beginning, it was to prove a point that girls belong,” Parker said. “But the more time that you spend trying to prove to that one individual it’s like, why am I trying to prove one person wrong when there are so many people who want me here?”
Parker is not the only one in the crew to experience discrimination during her time in Scouting, but the shared experiences only brought the crew closer.
“A lot of us sometimes think we’re the only ones going through those certain situations,” Parker said. “We feel alone in that sense, but the more time that you spend with girls in Scouts, the more you realize you’re not the only one who’s gone through it. There’s that kind of bond in how we’ve gotten through it.”
Throughout their OATC experience, the women of 627-OA-1 were able to take their mutual experiences and similar backgrounds and learn from each other. Dellaney Flower joined Scouting when she was in seventh grade, and the trek was one of the first times she had older female Scouts to learn from.
Despite being the youngest member of the crew, Flower is the oldest member of her troop. She has learned the importance of sharing her experiences with younger Scouts and how to motivate them to move beyond hardships.
“Don’t be small,” Flower said. “It’s kind of hard to be the little kid coming up. Even here, I was the youngest one, and I was ready to prove myself. I think it’s important that they are allowed to just be here. They don’t need to prove themselves.”
Jessica Parker poses for a portrait during the OATC Banquet on July 10, 2022. Parker has extensive involvement with Philmont, including a participation in NAYLE at the beginning of the summer season. Photo by Marielle Scott.
While learning from each other, the young women grew together and became a team throughout their work and trek weeks. After seven days of trail building on the side of Mount Phillips, they hiked 75 miles during their trek week, culminating in summiting Baldy Mountain.
“I think anyone can walk up there,” Flower said. “It was kind of the peak of the week because we’d been walking towards it all week. We could see it in the distance and to finally get there all together and to be the first ones up there … it was cool to finally reach that goal together.”
Summiting Baldy Mountain was not only the peak of their trek but also a culmination of their Scouting experiences. By coming together as an all-female crew and completing an OATC trek they inspired themselves and the next generations of young women in Order of the Arrow.
“Taking the time to reflect as an individual and then as a crew definitely opens up the eyes of many groups of people to realize women belong in this program,” Parker said. “Women are more than capable of doing what young men have been doing for years in this program, and to see a collective group of women doing the exact same thing, I’m definitely very proud of that. It’s very rewarding.”