A fitting memorial for Caitlin

Scouts are working on a nature center and garden at Camp Conowingo in teen's honor

May 21, 2006|By KAREN NITKIN | KAREN NITKIN,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

Caitlin Dunbar loved the outdoors and was active in Girl Scouts. "We called her our tree-hugger," said her father, Alex Dunbar. "Caitlin was really interested in adventure, excitement, things like that."

As a youngster, Caitlin spent as much time as she could at Girl Scout Camp Conowingo, a 600-acre property owned and operated by the Girl Scouts of Central Maryland.

She attended summer camps there and was particularly enchanted by an oar hanging on the wall in the lodge, signed by previous generations of Girl Scouts, including her mother, Marty Dunbar. "The fact that Mom came here was even better," Alex Dunbar said. "The ultimate goal was, she wanted to be a counselor here."

However, Caitlin never did become a counselor at Conowingo. She died of leukemia in December 2004. She was 15 years old and had been diagnosed less than 24 hours before she died.

Now, Girl Scouts from her troop and the troops of her younger sisters are working on a nature center and garden at Camp Conowingo in her honor. Last weekend, more than 30 Girl Scouts from Howard County drove more than an hour to the camp in Cecil County. Over two days, they turned a donated 45-foot- by-10-foot trailer into a nature center and transformed a pile of dirt into a garden.

Seven Scouts from Caitlin's troop, 2159, stayed Friday and Saturday night, while the younger Scouts - sixth-graders and third-graders - stayed only Saturday night. The girls and parent supervisors who accompanied them slept in lodges. There was running water and electricity, but no flush toilets.

Alex Dunbar, led the effort to create the Caitlin Dunbar Nature Center. He said that about $5,000 had been donated to a "Friends of Conowingo" fund in Caitlin's name, but he hadn't been sure what to do with it.

When he learned that a trailer had been donated to Camp Conowingo for use as a nature center, he knew he wanted to help build the nature center, making a memorial for Caitlin at the same time.

The nature center is on schedule to be completed in time for a dedication ceremony June 18, which is Father's Day. By then, Caitlin's best friend, Patti Veasey, who knew her at River Hill High School, will have painted the trailer's interior with murals of woods and ponds. Shelves will be installed, and other nature-related displays will be in place.

Patti, however, couldn't be at Conowingo with the other Girl Scouts during the recent working weekend. She had just lost her mother to cancer, and was staying behind for the funeral. "So much sadness for young people to bear," said Alex Dunbar.

For their work on the memorial, Patti and another Girl Scout will earn gold patches - the highest award for a Girl Scout between ages 14 and 18.

Normally, such patches are given to girls who do their good works outside the Girl Scout community, but Dunbar said he was able to convince the Girl Scout leadership that this project qualifies because the nature center will be used by Cecil County schoolchildren, he said.

Ashley Kneale, a junior at Atholton High School, will earn a gold patch for creating the garden. But she said she would have done it even if it meant sacrificing the patch. "It just has to get done. It's for Caitlin."

All of the girls working on the nature center will get nylon patches designed by Billy Heinbuch, outdoor program specialist for the Girl Scouts of Central Maryland. The patch has a rose, which was Caitlin's favorite flower, as well as her initials in blue, which was her favorite color.

Caitlin's sisters, Kelsey, 11, a sixth-grader at Lime Kiln Middle School, and Kristy, 8, a third-grader at Fulton Elementary School, were both on hand with their Scout troops.

Kelsey, digging with a shovel, said she was enjoying a day of working outdoors. "I think the funnest part is helping out with gardening she said. "Caitlin would really like it."

Kristy agreed. "I like playing in dirt," she said. She said the nature center would be a good memorial for Caitlin. "She really, really liked nature, so I'm pretty sure she would like it," Kristy said.

Contributions to the Friends of Conowingo fund can be sent to GSCM - Friends of Conowingo, Girl Scouts of Central Maryland,4806 Seton Drive, Baltimore 21215. Note on the check that the donation is in memory of Caitlin Dunbar.

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