Members of a local Girl Scout troop have cleaned up a natural habitat behind their elementary school, allowing the area to be used once again.

The fifth-grade girls – Emily Bartlett, 12, and 11-year-olds Kaitlyn Bradshaw, Claudia Maxim, Lia McGlone and Madeline Zeher – from Girl Scout Troop 1865 in Worthington received a Bronze Award with distinction for cleaning up the land lab behind Worthington Hills Elementary School, 1221 Candlewood Drive in Columbus.

Chelsea Coleman, project manager of marketing and communications for Girl Scouts of Ohio's Heartland, said the award is the highest that junior Girl Scouts can receive.

The land lab is a natural ecosystem behind the elementary school that students use for educational purposes.

Principal Alexandra Seiling said the area has been on the school property since 1970, and she remembers using the area when she attended the school. She said she is not sure how long it has been out of use, but it has been at least several years.

"I don't think it's been in use for several years," Seiling said. "One of the reasons for that is that it hasn't been suitable for teachers to bring students out there."

She said the girls identified trash buildup as a barrier to use.

Seiling said the girls also helped with designing lesson plans so that teachers could see the possibilities for the area.

The girls said they started their project in November 2018. They said it took about two hours to clean up the area, but the whole project took about 10 months, between asking their school for permission, doing required Girl Scouts paperwork and presenting in front of their teachers at a faculty meeting.

"We really wanted to do something with nature animals and habitat," Madeline said.

Donna Bobbitt-Zeher, Madeline's mother and troop leader for the girls, said the girls enjoyed the cleanup process and never once complained.

"This group had a good time doing the hard work," she said.

Bobbitt-Zeher said the girls have wanted to do a project that would benefit their school since the troop formed when the girls were in second grade.

"Everyone talks about cleaning up the land lab," she said "This is the first group that put their money where their mouth is and did it."

Bobbitt-Zeher said the next step for the girls, as they move into sixth grade and a new school, is to establish a process to maintain the land lab when they no longer are students there.

Seiling said second-graders and students in art classes have been taking nature walks and using the space. She said the girls not only made the land lab usable but also were able to provide an example for other students about making an impact.

"It doesn't take someone else to make a change in their environment," Seiling said. "I think that was something they were able to model for the students at our school."

The girls said they felt good about being able to help their peers and the environment.

"It makes us feel good because there was so much trash," Madeline said. "We recently went down there, and it looked a lot cleaner."