Secrets of Philmont, Part 1

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This week, I’ll be traveling to Philmont Scout Ranch to participate in a series of meetings. As I’ve been making travel plans, I’ve been thinking about why people go to the ranch–and how those reasons can improve your troop.

If you’ve ever been to Philmont, you know that getting there is not the easiest thing to do. Tucked into a remote corner of New Mexico, Philmont is 2 1/2 hours from the nearest airport–and 4 hours from the Denver airport, which most people fly into. The ranch is 20 miles from the nearest interstate and farther than that from the nearest big town. A consultant would never suggest building a Scout camp there. Yet every year, troops and crews from across the country flock to Philmont, often driving past or flying over other Scout camps that offer similar activities. In fact, as many groups are on the waiting list each year as actually get in.

Why? One reason is the sense of tradition. Philmont is 76 years old and has countless traditions, including the Philmont Hymn, the arrowhead patch you can only receive for completing a trek, its own lingo (for example, chipmunks and ground squirrels are called mini-bears), and songs and legends shared across generations of backcountry. Philmont has even spawned its own bands, like The Tobasco Donkeys.

But here’s where you and your troop come in. Traditions don’t have to be old to be appealing. Since Scouts can only stay in your troop for seven years, when you do something for just a few years in a row, it becomes a tradition, and your troop becomes that cool troop that does X, Y, or Z every year.

What sorts of traditions could enhance your troop’s mystique? Here’s a simple example:

Every spring, our troop holds what it calls the Golden Spoon campout. The patrols compete to prepare the best-tasting and best-looking dinner for a panel of adult judges, and the winning patrol gets to keep the Golden Spoon–a kitchen ladle spraypainted gold–for the year. It’s a simple tradition, but it gets the Scouts serious about cooking (our original intent) and has become a can’t-miss event. It’s also a great recruiting event for the Webelos dens that sometimes participate.

Other troops have other traditions: a polar-bear patch for Scouts that camp in below-zero temperatures, for example, or special privileges accorded to Scouts who’ve served as senior patrol leader.

What traditions does your troop have? How do they make a difference? Post your ideas in the comments section below.

Later this week: another secret of Philmont that you can use in your troop.

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