Sophomore Rebecca Arnold brings letterboxes into the limelight

Published by The Enterprise on January 17, 2019

By Jamie Drake

To follow Rebecca Arnold's ('21) letterboxing efforts, follow her on Instagram @golden_arrow_letterboxing or read her blog at smcletterboxing.wordpress.com.

You know the statistics. The formal diagnosis is that American kids are too sedentary.

They don't get enough exercise or spend much time outdoors and are headed for a life of health challenges because of it.

To be blunt, our kids are becoming couch potatoes. It's really a shame. But one of our local high schoolers is doing her part to change that.

Rebecca Arnold, a sophomore at St. Mary's Ryken High School, has made getting children and their families outside and moving around the focus of her Girl Scout Gold Award Project.

St. Mary's Ryken High School sophomore Rebecca Arnold, pictured in her Girl Scout vest, teaches the public about letterboxing at St. Clements Island Museum on Children's Day this past August.

Photo by Dee Wunder

You might not be familiar with the Gold Award. It's a community oriented project that is planned out and completed to earn the highest award offered by the Girl Scouts. It's the equivalent of becoming an Eagle Scout for a Boy Scout.

Arnold has been in Girl Scouts since she was in kindergarten. She already earned a Bronze Award for a troop project and a Silver Award for teaching kids how to make blankets and donating nearly 100 to the Cancer Care and Infusion Services Center at St. Mary's Hospital.

Now, a decade after she began her Girl Scout journey, she's working hard to earn her Gold Award.

Originally, she thought she might do a project centered around geocaching.

"My family geocaches, but I had recently heard of letterboxing," Arnold said. "When I realized there were literally none located in St. Mary's County, I decided to use that as my project. It's a little less popular and something I could teach other kids about."

I had never heard of letterboxing either. It's a nice combination of geocaching and arts and crafts. Using clues, you hunt for a small weather-proof box hidden in a publicly accessible location. When you find it, you use a hand-made stamp to put your personal mark in the letterbox's logbook and you use the letterbox's stamp to mark your own journal.

You don't need many supplies, just a small notebook, ink pad and stamp. Of course you can use a store-bought stamp, but where's the fun in that?

Your stamp is your signature, a symbol of who you are, so making one is part of the fun of letterboxing.

"I recommend hand-carving it," Arnold said. "That makes the experience more unique and the activity more meaningful."

I remember making potato stamps when I was a kid. Well, potatoes don't hold up very well, but these days it's easy to make a stamp thanks to Amazon.

There is a do-it-yourself kit, called the Speedball Speedy-Carve Rubber Stamp Making Kit, that's available for less than $10 (with free shipping also). As luck would have it (or perhaps due to the fact that I am a mom to five girls), I just happen to already have one of these kits on hand and I can personally attest it's not complicated, even a second-grader can do it. All you do is pick a name, draw it, then carve it. By the way, my letterboxing ID is "momof5girls."

The only other thing you need to go letterboxing is an Internet connection. You don't even need to bring a phone along if you don't want to. You can just download and print the clues from your home computer.

Log on to letterboxing.org or atlasquest.com, set up an account and search for letterboxes in your area. It's simple and fast. For those who want to check for letterboxes on the go, you can download the "Clue Tracker for Letterboxing" app by Pearl Crescent ($4.99 in iTunes).

After you've logged on, you can search for letterboxes by location or name. To find Arnold's letterboxes, search "St. Mary's County" in the location field or by her trailname "Golden-Arrow."

Once you get the list of letterboxes, click on the letterbox name to read the clues. Users have the option to return to the website and log their finds, report attempts (if they couldn't find the box) or even indicate to the box owner that repairs may be needed.

Arnold has chosen some interesting places to hide her letterboxes. She selected her locations because many folks just don't know the local history of St. Mary's County and don't even realize what's in the county.

"I am using letterboxes as a way to get people outside but also to teach them about local places of historical significance," she said. She's worked with several of the museum directors to not only help promote her project, but to help promote their museums as well.

Does the name Moll Dyer ring a bell? If it doesn't, maybe you'll want to investigate her rock located in Leonardtown.

You can visit a lighthouse, a one-room schoolhouse, and even an island (if you own a boat, or else you'll have to wait until the water taxi starts running again). Bringing your stamp to the Patuxent River Naval Air Museum will even earn a free admission to the museum. Some of the letterboxes are hidden in parks that require an admission fee. That sort of information is noted in the clues.

Arnold getting others involved

Arnold has been working on this project since July last year. Besides making the letterboxes, creating the clues and registering them online, she also has been passing on the activity to kids in the community.

Earlier this school year, she went back to her alma mater, Leonardtown Elementary School, and held a series of workshops for third- through fifth-graders. She taught them about letterboxing, schooled them in compass work, carved stamps and then ran a practice course with them.

St. Mary's Ryken High School sophomore Rebecca Arnold, pictured in her Girl Scout vest, teaches third-to-fifth-graders at Leonardtown Elementary school about letterboxing this past November. 

Photo by Bridgett Arnold '94

"The best part of this project has been working with the kids," she said. "Letterboxing is like a treasure hunt, and what kid doesn't like a treasure hunt? I helped them. I introduced them to it."

Rachel Hall, a teacher at Leonardtown Elementary School, praised Arnold's work with her students.

"Our students need these opportunities to have hands on experiences, to go outside, to work as a team, to practice communicating for a common cause, to feel success, to feel proud of their efforts, to see a project or idea through to a finished product, and to learn from people, like Rebecca, who are so passionate about what they are teaching," Hall said.

Now Arnold wants to invite the public to come out and learn more about letterboxing.

There will be an informational "Treasure Hunter" event for tweens and teens featuring her project at the Lexington Park Library from 4 to 5 p.m. Jan. 24. Read maps, follow clues and solve puzzles.

You don't have to register for this event — walk-ins are welcome. For more information, call the library's teen services librarian Christine Biglin at 301-863-8188.

Arnold will be submitting her final project paperwork to the Girl Scout Council in Washington, D.C. for approval this month.

As a local parent of five children, I applaud her initiative. She has positively impacted many children through her workshops, and by setting up most of the letterboxing locations in the county, she has provided the infrastructure that will give families a good reason to get out and about for many years to come. She hopes her project will inspire people to place new letterboxes, too.

I watch the news and regularly hear stories about the tragedy that is our kid's sedentary lifestyles. This project provides many of our local kids an opportunity to increase their activity levels.

I am confident that her Gold Award Project is already a success.

To follow Arnold's letterboxing efforts, follow her on Instagram @golden_arrow_letterboxing or read her blog at smcletterboxing.wordpress.com.

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