Learning about the wide variety of plant life in Scottsdale’s McDowell Sonoran Preserve is easier than ever thanks to the ambition of a local Girl Scout.
A stretch of the Lost Dog Wash Trail now features 17 small signs identifying cactuses and other native Sonoran Desert plants in the preserve.
Phoenix Country Day School senior Courtney Van Cott, 17, installed the markers last weekend with help from about 25 friends and family members.
For her effort, she’ll earn the Girl Scouts’ coveted Gold Award for public service.
Van Cott will soon complete the project by stocking a mailboxlike container at the trailhead off 124th Street north of Via Linda with brochures she wrote that provide detailed information about each plant.
The city wants as few things as possible in the preserve that aren’t part of the natural environment, but Van Cott’s plant signs and brochures "are an example of something that fits perfectly with the preservation philosophy," said preserve field manager Claire Miller.
It makes the trail an ideal destination for school field trips, plus it’s in an area easily accessible to the disabled, Miller said.
It also provides the public a quick lesson about the biodiversity protected in the preserve, she said.
Van Cott credits Scottsdale resident and Girl Scout mentor Kathe Anderson for suggesting the environmental education project.
Anderson does volunteer work with groups that help maintain the Riparian Preserve at Water Ranch Park in Gilbert and the Nature Conservancy’s Hassayampa River Preserve in Wickenburg. She also teaches bird-watching classes.
But Anderson said Van Cott, an avid hiker and backpacker, capably took the reins in getting Scottsdale officials’ approval and organizing placement of the signs.
Van Cott is considering studying biology and chemistry in college, but thinks business and politics also look interesting.
In researching her project, pitching it to city officials and supervising the field work, Van Cott has given herself a jump-start for all of those career options, Anderson said.