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In a historic shift, the Boy Scouts of America announced Wednesday it will admit girls into the Cub Scouts starting next year and establish a new program for older girls based on the Boy Scout curriculum that enables them to aspire to the coveted Eagle Scout rank.

Under the new plan, Cub Scout dens, the smallest unit, will be single-gender, either all-boys or all-girls. The larger Cub Scout packs will have the option to remain single gender or welcome both genders. The program for older girls is expected to start in 2019 and will enable girls to earn the same Eagle Scout rank that has been attained by astronauts, admirals, senators and other luminaries.

Founded in 1910 and long considered a bastion of tradition, the Boy Scouts have undergone major changes in the past five years, agreeing to accept openly gay youth members and adult volunteers, as well as transgender boys.

The expansion of girls’ participation after unanimous approval by the organization’s board of directors, is arguably the biggest change yet, potentially opening the way for hundreds of thousands of girls to join.

The changes reverberated in Michigan, which has the U.S.’s largest Boy Scout Council serving 66 counties, 68,000 boys and girls in the Lower Peninsula, according to the Michigan Crossroads Council.

“I think it’s about time and make things easier on families,” said RJ Winter, the father of a former Cub Scout and two young daughters. “If you say that you believe in scouting, what it does for young people, then why shouldn’t we want to expand this?”

The Girl Scouts of the USA, which had sought unsuccessfully to dissuade the Boys Scouts from making this move, have criticized the initiative, saying it strains the century-old bond between the two organizations. Girl Scout officials have suggested the BSA’s move was driven partly by a need to boost revenue, and they contended there is fiscal stress in part because of past settlements paid by the BSA in sex-abuse cases.

“Girl Scouts is, and will remain, the scouting program that truly benefits U.S. girls by providing a safe space for them to learn and lead,” the Girl Scouts said in a statement.

Donald Shepard, CEO/Scout Executive for the Lower Peninsula of Michigan, said the council is looking forward to the changes. “We strive to give all of our youth the opportunity to experience what our organization does best, developing character and leadership for all young people,” Shepard said in a statement.

Matt Biermann of West Branch is a scoutmaster for his 13-year-old sons’ local troop. His wife is an area manager for 10 Girl Scout troops, and their 8-year-old daughter is a Girl Scout. He said gender should not limit a child’s opportunities, especially in scouting.

“As a parent, I am excited that my daughter will have access to the same opportunities that my son has had in scouting, if she wishes to do so.”

Steve Ghostley recently enrolled his 8-year-old son in Cub Scouts. He said he understands the interest in making the Boy Scouts open to the entire family, but he doesn’t think the program needed to be changed.

“The decision just doesn’t make sense to me,” he said. “I know Boy Scouts has programs that are co-ed but not the Cub Scouts or the Boy Scouts ... but I just feel like it’s a chance for boys to be boys and the Girl Scouts is a place for girls to be girls. I don’t think it’s excluding anyone.”

Founded in 1910, the Boy Scouts have undergone major changes in the past five years, agreeing to accept openly gay youth members and adult volunteers, as well as transgender boys. Boy Scout leaders said the change was needed to provide more options for parents.

“The values of scouting — trustworthy, loyal, helpful, kind, brave and reverent, for example — are important for both young men and women,” said Michael Surbaugh, chief scout executive.

Surveys conducted by the Boy Scouts showed strong support for the change among parents not currently connected to the scouts, including Hispanic and Asian families whom the BSA has been trying to attract. BSA distributed videos and held meetings to discuss possibility expanding girls’ participation beyond existing programs, such as Venturing, Exploring and Sea Scouts.

During the outreach, some parents expressed concern about possible problems related to overnight camping trips. Surbaugh said there would continue to be a ban on mixed-gender overnight outings for scouts ages 11-14. Cub Scout camping trips, he said, were usually family affairs with less need for rigid polices.

Winter said the changes reflect what’s already taking place in scouting on an informal level. “These girls are already coming to Cub Scout meetings with their brothers and participating, but not officially,” he said.

Winter said his daughters have shown interest in Cub Scouts. If they want to join, he said, he’ll embrace it.

Last year, Nick Meier, 19, of Plymouth served as the Venturing President for Michigan. Venturing is the co-ed portion of Boy Scouts.

“So many of the people I worked with were women who loved being apart of the program but they wished they had joined earlier,” Meier said.

Detroit News Staff Writer Sarah Rahal contributed.

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