Ranger Gawlik to the rescue

Junior Girl Scout earns Bronze Award for promoting parks.

Taylor Gawlik combined a long-time family pursuit with a gift for public speaking to earn the Bronze Award, the Junior Girl Scouts’ highest achievement.

Gawlik, a Sakai fifth-grader and a scout in Susie Cook’s Troop 911, has addressed groups ranging from the Boy Scouts to Bainbridge firefighters to enlist volunteers for state parks here – a community service Gawlik and her family have long performed.

“We just looked around the parks and saw what needed to be done,” Gawlik said. “We went around and identified plants like poison oak and that sort of thing. We cleaned up the parks’ flower beds and planted more ornamental plants. I cleaned the gun emplacements at Fort Ward; I picked up litter.

“I just thought, this is a really fun thing to do and everybody else should be able to do it.”

For girls in the junior scout program, ages 9 to 11, the Bronze Award is a crowning achievement. Gawlik has been working on the requirements for her award for over a year by earning badges and signs related to her culminating project, a service-oriented activity to which she has devoted more than the mandatory 15 hours.

Gawlik has made presentations to the island’s Girl Scout Service Unit, Cub Scout Pack 496 and the Firefighters Association meeting May 4, explaining the need for the Volunteer Partnership with the State Parks program.

“I realized not a lot of people know about program and so I decided to promote it,” she said.

Because the state parks, funded by state tax dollars, attract not only local residents but visitors from all over Washington, it’s important that the parks be well-maintained to represent the island to those visitors, Gawlik points out – and volunteers are key players in the ongoing effort.

The parks accept any size group and any age to volunteer. Prospective helpers can choose from a list that includes perennial needs like sign and building painting; pruning weeds and enlarging plant beds; building rock walls; repairing damaged picnic tables; and cleaning picnic shelters.

Volunteers can also select a one-time special project, like pouring cement paths at Fort Ward or helping install play equipment at Fay Bainbridge.

Once the project is determined, volunteers meet up with park rangers on the morning of the appointed day to get needed tools and materials. Gawlik says groups typically work until 1 p.m., although “you can work more, if you like.”

Explaining the parks’ need publicly is relatively easy, Gawlik says, because of her knack for public speaking – a skill that has been honed by repetition.

“I really like to do it because I can do it,” she said. “I can speak out loud, I don’t stutter. I tend to not prepare things, but that’s what I’ve been working on.”

Some crowds present more of a challenge than others, however.

“The Boy Scouts were really frustrating because they didn’t pay attention,” she said, “but they were younger.”

For park ranger M’Lee Barlow, who heads Fort Ward and Fay Bainbridge state parks and Old Man House in Suquamish, volunteers like the Gawliks are a welcome addition to a slender staff reduced further, this year, by a ranger on medical leave.

Even one family’s participation may make an appreciable difference.

Without Taylor and her family, projects to improve park aesthetics would have been back-burnered in favor of health and safety issues, Barlow says.

“They’ve done a lot of the things we don’t normally get to until the end of the season,” she said. “Taylor was very instrumental in getting a lot of those cosmetic (touches) out there very early so the public could enjoy it.”

Cleaner, more attractive parks are not the only benefit of the Gawliks’ help; park staff and the family both enjoyed the interaction, and even a few hours may give volunteers a stake in the parks.

“What’s nice about it is that people get to work together, and they go away with a sense of ownership,” Barlow said. “They come back with other groups and say ‘see, I built this, I cleaned this.’”

“The Gawliks would come out and they would spend their time and we never had anything to offer them,” Barlow added.

“As they left we’d be saying ‘we had just a great time, and we’d like everybody else to know that.’

“And so Taylor came up with this ingenious idea.”

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