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Springbrook Park Tree Biodiversity: A Gold Girl Story

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Elyssa Looney of Maryville partnered with Springbrook Park in Alcoa to create a program to educate visitors about native trees and biodiversity. Her efforts resulted in being named a 2022 Gold Award Girl Scout.  

Gold Award Girl Scouts are high schoolers who address issues they’re passionate about by planning and implementing a project that produces lasting change in the community and beyond. It is the Girl Scouts’ highest and most prestigious honor.

Inspired by her parents – both retired park rangers – and from many experiences camping and hiking, Elyssa learned about the negative impact of non-native trees on an ecosystem and set out to educate others and encourage the planting of native tree species.

With more than 133 hours spent working on the project, Elyssa and her team developed an audio tour about Springbrook Park’s native tree species. Park visitors scan a QR code on an interpretive sign that she worked to have made and installed to access the audio tour. She also created a website to further educate people about the importance of tree biodiversity.

“I chose this project because I wanted to help the environment as well as my community,” Elyssa shares. “My favorite part of the project was leading my fellow Girl Scouts through the tree walk.”

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Elyssa leads some Daisy Girl Scouts on her tree tour.

Her total project cost was around $2,500 dollars; $500 of that she received through a Joyce Maienschein Leadership Grant. Elyssa is responsible, determined, and caring, and that proved valuable as she had to work hard to earn the almost $2,000 that was not covered by the project grant. She also worked with others to negotiate free and donated services, such as sign installation and website design.

She walked away with multiple skills that will be helpful in the future including communication and public speaking. She spent a lot of time crafting messages via email to her team and all of her partners, sharing: “This project taught me that good communication is vital for future jobs and projects.”

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Elyssa takes some Cadette Girl Scouts on her tree tour.

After her previous Girl Scout troop disbanded, she joined a new one in eighth grade and felt welcomed and included from the start. She even met Lauren Huffstetler, who ended up being one of her best friends. Interestingly, Lauren also is a Gold Award recipient this year!

In her free time, Elyssa enjoys spending time with her Girl Scout friends, mom, dad, sister, boyfriend, and two cats, Romeo and Jasmine. She loves to volunteer in her community as well as go outdoor rock climbing, hiking, camping, and play the viola.

She plans to attend The University of Tennessee at Chattanooga to pursue political science, then hopes to ultimately obtain a law degree.

Congratulations, Elyssa! Visit to learn more about the Girl Scouts.  

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Elyssa unveils the sign she had made for her tree tour.