Lo, how a rose

Lo, how a rose

Lo, how a rose e’er blooming,
From tender stem hath sprung

An amazing thing happened on October 13, 2012. The Girl Scouts of the USA celebrated their 100th year, and to mark this momentous occasion, 26,334 Girl Scouts from 49 counties across Minnesota, Wisconsin and Iowa threw themselves into service in their local communities. The Girl Scout mission, “to build girls of courage, confidence, and character, who make the world a better place,” was reflected in the Girl Scouts of the River Valleys’ decision to focus on water, which unites us all, for their Centennial Day of Service.

Council leaders began planning their service event more than a year in advance when they reached out to local watershed groups to learn how the power and enthusiasm of more than 25,000 girls could best be put to work to make a difference in cleaning up our local lakes and rivers. After connecting with Metro WaterShed Partners and one of its members, the Freshwater Society, council leaders learned that fall leaves that wash into storm drains are a major source of phosphorus to urban water bodies and that this excess phosphorus makes many lakes and rivers unhealthy in the summer. The answer seemed obvious, and the women decided to organize a one-day event with local clean-ups in 170 communities across the region. The Girl Scouts would rake and bag as many leaves as they could from streets and parking lots near sensitive water bodies and also stencil storm drains and distribute door hangers to educate others in the community about the importance of keeping leaves and grass clippings out of storm drains throughout the year.

Of Jesse’s lineage coming,
As men of old have sung;

In a paper published in 1973, years before any of these Girl Scouts were born, researchers William F. Cowen and G. Fred Lee at the University of Wisconsin – Madison, discovered that oak and poplar leaves contained high amounts of phosphorus that could easily leach into rainwater running off of yards and streets and into storm drains. Phosphorus is a naturally occurring element that is vital for plant growth and a healthy lake or river, but most water bodies already get plenty of phosphorus from trees along the shore, aquatic plants and other natural sources. The researchers feared that if stormwater transported phosphorus from leaves in streets all over town to local lakes and rivers, this additional phosphorus would quickly overwhelm the natural systems. As a result, Cowen and Lee recommended that communities protect their water resources by enacting programs to quickly clean up leaves in the fall. Though many cities now sweep streets in the fall to pick up leaves, there is a limit to how many leaves can be collected through sweeping alone. The best way for residents to help is to take responsibility for the stretches of road in front of their own houses.

It came, a flow’ret bright,
Amid the cold of winter,
When half spent was the night

The morning of October 12 dawned cold and gloomy with a frigid drizzle, though you wouldn’t know it from looking at photos taken that day. The girls are grinning from ear to ear with the joy of spending time with friends and the pride in doing something that matters. That day they collected 101,904 bags of leaves, which is the equivalent of more than 20,000 pounds of phosphorus. In the East Metro, Girl Scouts organized clean-ups near Forest Lake, Big Marine Lake, Square Lake, White Bear Lake, Lake Phalen, Beaver Lake, and at Ojibwe Park in Woodbury and Hamlet Park in Cottage Grove. Girls marked 6,872 storm drains with clean water messages and distributed 50,000 door hangers. An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure, and in one day, the Girl Scouts saved taxpayers in the River Valleys region $6 million in future environmental clean-up costs. As one 5-year old Girl Scout aptly put it, “We have to clean up the leaves because the fish can’t do it.”

This Girl Scouts Centennial Day of Service event demonstrates the power of volunteer action and gives us all hope for the future. Today, these girls mobilized to protect the Mississippi, Minnesota and St. Croix Rivers, as well as more than 100 well-loved lakes. One day they will take on the world. Lo, how a rose e‘er blooming.

Learn more about the event or see photos of the Girl Scouts in action.