Shea Decoteau of Brookline earns Girl Scouting’s highest honor with project
BROOKLINE, NH – If there was one silver lining to the COVID-19 pandemic, it may be the number of people who discovered the joy of being outdoors. Many began taking walks and exploring the many hiking trails in the area, including the Sargent Trail in Brookline, which has been improved by the addition of a footbridge by Gold Award Girl Scout Shea Decoteau.
Decoteau, 18, of Brookline, saw that the trail was getting heavy use over the past few years, so she spent over 80 hours designing and installing a bridge to allow hikers to safely cross a stream where people needed to jump across slippery rocks. Her project, Sargent Trail Bridge, resulted in her earning the highest honor available to Girl Scouts in grades 9-12, the Girl Scout Gold Award.
Not only did Decoteau gain construction and organizational skills through this work, she also discovered a career passion.
“My Silver Award was also a bridge,” she said, “at one of our local schools, and at that point I had already known that I wanted to do bridges for the rest of my life. I’m going to the University of Maine for civil engineering, so I can focus on structural. So I knew pretty solidly I wanted to build a bridge.”
She knew that getting exercise can relieve stress, and that many people began using the trail during the pandemic to feel better.
“The parking lots at every major trailhead had to be signed to keep people from parking on Routes 13 and 130 in Brookline,” she wrote in her project report. “Every lot was filling up, every weekend day and sometimes these parking lots were filling during the week with spillover parking. The Brookline Conservation Commission encouraged people to access the trails from lesser-known trailheads, and then those began to fill up too. The Brookline Conservation Commission even put in two new trails, and the most heavily used trails are showing signs of widening, erosion, and compaction.”
Using a computer-assisted design program, Decoteau worked out plans for the bridge, made of wood decking with a structural steel beam for support. She organized a team of volunteers, including Girl Scouts, Boy Scouts, her high school robotics team members, and some adults. Pieces were measured and cut before being transported to the trail.
“This project, I had to learn for myself that I had to take a step back,” she said. “I was the one directing everyone, so I couldn’t be the one doing everything. I had the robotics students teach some of the younger scouts how to use some of the power tools and drills. Normally, on other people’s projects, that would be me. But I had to learn to take a step back.”
Sadly, not everyone appreciated the work. Vandals destroyed the ramps and shifted the bridge out of place shortly after it was installed.
“It was crazy!” said Decoteau. She brought some of her team along with new people to reconstruct the ramps and bridge in an even stronger design, which so far has survived.
While the bridge should last well into the future, making her project sustainable, Decoteau also added a geocache in the area for those enjoying that aspect of getting outdoors. Geocaching is a sort of treasure hunt, where participants use a GPS device to find containers, or caches, at specific coordinates all over the world using www.geocaching.com. The geocacher fills out a logbook in the container to prove they found it, and may trade items in the box.
“It’s a good spot for different scouts to do their Geocaching badge,” she said. “I asked all the other local Girl Scout troops if they wanted to donate something to put into the geocache, to help bring them in, and it was a very full geocache.”
Decoteau has been a Girl Scout since kindergarten, with her mother as her leader in her early years. She joined a new troop after a move, and found “a really good group of girls doing interesting things.” They’ve gone camping and became Girl Scout Cookie entrepreneurs, which helped fund their activities.
“We’ve been planning our local camporee for the past couple years, and that is always so much fun,” she said.
Earning her Gold Award was a fulfilling experience, and one that she would encourage other Girl Scouts to go for.
“Start early! If I could go back and do it again, I would have started a year earlier,” she said. “It improved my people skills. I had to talk to people. I had to promote it. That just really helped me grow as a person.”
This Girl Scout Ambassador is a member of the National Honor Society at Hollis Brookline High School, from which she is graduating this spring. She plans to attend the University of Maine for civil engineering in the fall, where she will work to make the world a better and safer place as she learns to construct bridges on a far larger scale.
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Gold Award Girl Scouts don’t just change the world for the better, they change it for good. The Gold Award is earned by girls in grades 9–12 who demonstrate extraordinary leadership in developing sustainable solutions to local, national, and global challenges. Since 1916, Girl Scouts have answered the call to drive lasting, impactful change. They earn college scholarships, demonstrate high educational and career outcomes, and are active in their communities.
Shea Decoteau has answered the call to drive lasting, impactful change, and her Gold Award is a testament to her remarkable dedication to improving her community and the world.
About the Girl Scout Gold Award
- Gold Award Girl Scouts on average spend one to two years on their project.
- A Gold Award project must be sustainable after the girl’s involvement ends.
- The average age of Gold Award Girl Scouts is 17.
- Since 1916, more than 1 million girls have earned the Gold Award or its equivalent.
- Gold Award Girl Scouts are entitled to enlist at a higher pay grade when they join the military.
- University research indicates that noting you are a Gold Award Girl Scout on a college application is influential in the admissions decision-making process.
- Thirty young women from New Hampshire and Vermont earned their Gold Award in the 2021-2022 membership year as part of Girl Scouts of the Green and White Mountains.
- The Girl Scout Gold Award is the mark of the truly remarkable.
We Are Girl Scouts
Girl Scouts bring their dreams to life and work together to build a better world. Through programs from coast to coast, Girl Scouts of all backgrounds and abilities can be unapologetically themselves as they discover their strengths and rise to meet new challenges—whether they want to climb to the top of a tree or the top of their class, lace up their boots for a hike or advocate for climate justice, or make their first best friends. Backed by trusted adult volunteers, mentors, and millions of alums, Girl Scouts lead the way as they find their voices and make changes that affect the issues most important to them. To join us, volunteer, reconnect, or donate, visit girlscouts.org.
Girl Scouts of the Green and White Mountains serves girls throughout New Hampshire and Vermont through volunteer-run troops, events, and virtual programs. Visit www.girlscoutsgwm.org to learn more.