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Old 1st July 2008   #1
Wes von Papineäu
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Default PA Press: Amphibian ally - With program to increase newt’s numbers ...

TIMES-LEADER (Wilkes Barre, Pennsylvania) 30 June 08 Amphibian ally - With program to increase newt’s numbers at area camp, Brigid Smith earns highest honor in Girl Scouts (Tom Venesky)
White Haven: On the surface, it seems like a harmless activity that’s been going on in the lake at Camp Kresge.
For years, the red-spotted newt population has been under barrage by campers. They pick them up, carry them around, throw them at the girls and even take them to their cabins for pets. The newts can be found in the swimming area of the lake, and they are easy to catch.
But the seemingly harmless practice has had an impact, and Brigid Smith, a senior Girl Scout with Troop 33362 in Mountain Top, has taken notice.
Smith, 15, said the constant capturing and handling by campers through the years has caused the newt population to drop. She felt the matter could be easily rectified with a little public awareness, and Smith launched her own outreach campaign. The work earned Smith a Gold Award, the highest honor achievable in Girls Scouts.
“I noticed how kids pick up the newts and are rough with them, so I decided I wanted to do something about it,” she said. “The first step was to raise awareness about the newts.”
A volunteer lifeguard at the camp, Smith designed and printed informational brochures and made a public presentation at the Kirby Library to accomplish the step. She wanted to get the word out before the current summer camping season began.
If campers could be educated as they arrive at camp, the impact on the newt population might be lessened, Smith said.
“This year we had double the amount of kids, so that would be twice as many campers picking them up,” she said.
Smith said that the two-inch long newts are often taken for granted. But once she started researching and studying the amphibians, Smith found they are actually fascinating and somewhat complex.
Newts are born in the water and have gills and minute forelegs. After a couple months, the forelegs grow, the gills disappear and the newts move to dry land and turn a brilliant orange color. Called the eft stage, Smith said this is when the campers start picking up the newts.
At the end of the eft stage, the newts turn brown, develop a strong, rudder-like tail and move back into the water where they will live their adult lives.
Smith didn’t want to discourage the campers’ curiosity with the newts, but she wanted to tell them the best way to appreciate the amphibians.
“I wanted to tell campers that it’s OK to look at the newts, but just return them to the lake. Don’t try to take them home,” Smith said.
To earn the Gold Award, Smith had to do more than just study newts. She had to put a minimum of 60 hours of work into the project, plus 40 hours of career-related activities (in this case marine biology), earn three patches and perform 30 hours of community-related activities.
“Achieving the award gives them an opportunity to test out different careers,” said troop leader Wanda Ruppert. “The Gold Award is the highest award you can achieve in Girl Scouts. It’s the pinnacle.”
Smith spent almost a year working for the award and she also installed signage around the lake with information on the newts and designed a “newt hike” for the day campers.
Smith’s efforts caught the attention of the campers and her parents as well, who said they became “newt experts” indirectly by following their daughter’s work.
Smith’s father, Henry Smith Jr., said the years his daughter spent at Camp Kresge offered her insight into the issue.
“She had a real handle on this problem and wanted to mitigate it,” he said. “This has really been a fun project to watch.”
Although Smith has achieved the top award Scouting has to offer, she said she wants to stay involved in Girl Scouts and the camp as well.
“Just a year ago I was trying to sell 100 boxes of cookies for a prize, and now I accomplished the Gold Award,” she said. “It was a lot of work, but it makes you proud when you achieve it.”

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