For 18-year-old Annika Zenger, scouting is in her blood.
Because her father and three older brothers were Boy Scouts, she spent much of her time around the Boy Scout community. So it was no surprise when in May she became the first female Eagle Scout in the organization’s San Juan Mountains District, which includes Southwest Colorado and northern New Mexico.
Before girls were allowed in Boy Scouts, Annika would go to her brother’s meetings while growing up in Las Vegas. She moved to Bayfield in 2017, and her interest in scouts only grew.
“I went to his scout meetings most of the time and got to participate in what they were doing,” Annika said. “It really sparked my interest.”
In 2019, the Boy Scouts of America let girls join, and during that time, Annika became the only girl in the district to join Scouts BSA.
She said the fellowship and experiencing the outdoors got her hooked. Annika faced many challenges, but she said her biggest challenge was trying to find a merit badge counselor.
“There were so few (counselors), and I didn’t really know most of them,” she said. “But luckily there was an online merit badge.”
There are various merit badges and requirements to earn a badge, which is why the counselor was helpful. She said her cooking merit badge was difficult because she wasn’t part of a troop. Instead, she had to prove her abilities by cooking for her family using a specific camp stove.
“We had to learn about the different nutrition values in different foods and how to properly store it and handle it,” she said.
Annika worked through the ranks of Scouts BSA on a lone scout plan because there wasn’t a girls’ troop in Durango or Pagosa Springs. Because she was well-liked by other troops, she was often invited to participate in events with them.
“She did all her leadership and her other activities through following along with the other troops,” said her father, David Zenger.
David Zenger said the COVID-19 pandemic was hard on the female BSA troops because they had just started when social distancing regulations were enforced, making it hard for them to meet consistently. He hopes Annika’s success can inspire more interest in Scouts BSA from girls.
Annika said it was a strange and exciting feeling to be the first female Eagle Scout in the San Juan District. She takes pride in being a mentor for other girls involved with scouts.
“I feel like if the girls need something, I’ll be there to help them,” she said. “I feel like kind of a mentor or guide to these younger scouts.”
She said her favorite scouting memory was a camping trip she took with one of her venture crews. During the weeklong trip, she encountered extreme weather conditions, including rain, hail and even snow. She remembers a puddle of water seeping through the tent.
“We were just all there having fun and not having a care in the world,” she said.
Annika said being in scouts changed her life perspective, especially as it relates to taking care of the forest. She hopes her story inspires other young girls to join scouts and not become discouraged because there are fewer girls.
She is also an Order of the Arrow member. Order of the Arrow is an honors society for Scouts BSA members. She has fond memories of attending a conference in Tennessee.
“We just had loads of fun learning about training and how to improve your lodge, or what fun things you can do to bring in new members and how to increase our numbers,” Annika said.
She said she wants to pursue a career in medical sonography by earning a degree from Pueblo Community College. She said she finds the way the human body works fascinating.
Annika values the skills she developed while in Boy Scouts and cherishes the moments she spent with her friends and family.
“I learned how to talk to people and how to tie knots,” she said with a laugh.