Scouts Help Maintain Philmont’s Ecosystem

17/02/2024
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Doing conservation work at Philmont

As the guys of Troop 187 from Kennesaw, Georgia, trekked through Philmont Scout Ranch’s backcountry this past June, they noticed bare, charred tree trunks — the remains of a massive wildfire. That devastating blaze, the Ute Park Fire, consumed more than 36,000 acres and forced treks to be canceled in 2018.

The blackened timber reminded the Scouts of how important conservation work is for our environment. As part of a 12-day trip, the troop sawed and moved downed trees, which staff members could easily burn later, reducing the amount of potential wildfire fuel.

Scouts clear downed trees from a meadow

Scouts work together to clear meadows in Philmont’s Lower Bonito Canyon.

“It can help prevent or minimize the damage that happens during fires,” says Gavin Tate, 15, a Life Scout with Troop 187. “By doing that, we helped something big like that from happening.”

You, too, can help protect this natural treasure in northern New Mexico that Scouts have loved for generations.

Carrying a downed tree during conservation work at Philmont

As part of their Philmont Scout Ranch treks, Scouts complete conservation work. Some work includes removing overgrown vegetation.

A HISTORY OF CONSERVATION

Since 1939, Philmont has provided a rugged place for Scouts to backpack and explore. With more than 140,000 acres, 315 miles of trails and dotted with dozens of backcountry camps, it’s the world’s largest youth camp.

More than 1 million participants have visited since it opened, and everyone who goes on a trek serves the camp in some way before heading home. They’ve improved trails, fought erosion and removed overgrown vegetation. The work helps future generations enjoy the ranch.

Scout removing limbs from tree trunk

Trimming branches makes stacking tree trunks easier. Removing the downed timber allows space for other plants to grow.

If you do three hours of conservation work during your trek, you earn the iconic Philmont expedition arrowhead patch. Crews that log 10 hours of work can get the 50-Miler Award, another honor available at Philmont.

The traditional 12-, nine- and seven-day treks each include one day to complete three hours of conservation work. However, you can sign up for other treks that offer more opportunities to serve.

Vegetation and downed trees are added to piles, which are burned in the winter.

MAINTAINING THE BALANCE

Over the past 15 years — and especially after the Ute Park Fire — conservation projects have focused on stream restoration, trail-building and wildfire mitigation. Stream restoration battles erosion — building trails cuts down on human impact by defining pathways — and wildfire mitigation removes fire fuel.

Simply getting rid of overgrown brush can transform the environment. Not only does it reduce wildfire risks, but it also cuts down on competition for space and sunlight, allowing native grasses and wildflowers to flourish. Seeds that have sat dormant for decades can finally sprout and grow. This encourages deer, birds and rodents to make the place home.

Sawing limbs from a downed tree

Grant Penner of Troop 187 from Kennesaw, Ga., saws limbs off a downed tree trunk.

Here are some specialized programs in which you can concentrate on conservation:

• Trail Crew treks develop your conservation and leadership skills during two weeks that explore the field of environmental stewardship.

• Order of the Arrow trail crew is a 14-day trek. Scouts spend a week constructing trails followed by a custom, seven-day itinerary.

• Spend 12 days on a STEM trek exploring the backcountry while examining the science, technology, engineering and math underlying Philmont and its most popular programs and activities.

• The Roving Outdoor Conservation School offers a 21-day experience of working on conservation service projects, meeting resource management professionals and protecting Philmont’s unique landscapes.

• Improve the health of Philmont’s forests during a one-week spring break program called Philbreak.

Scouts sawing limbs

Marian Evans and Grant Penner prepare a tree trunk to be placed on a pile.

FEEL ACCOMPLISHED

Scouts who have gone on specialized programs have built longtime bonds with their fellow crew members. Of course, any trek at Philmont can become transformational. Just as everyone does a service project, everyone returns home from experiences that are hard to find anywhere else.

You can go backpacking, mountain biking, horseback riding, burro packing, gold panning and rock climbing. From witnessing the sunrise atop the 9,003-foot-tall Tooth of Time to tackling the next daunting hill with your friends, you can have a lot of fun while discovering your inner strength.

“You don’t remember the easy stuff as you remember the hard stuff,” Gavin says. “Day four had probably the worst hill. I realized how well I did on that day, but it was still a really hard day. I know myself better now. I know I can do that hard stuff.”

Working on the railroad at Metcalf Station.

You can have all kinds of adventures at Philmont, including learning about American railroad history at the Metcalf Station.

ALPS Mountaineering

Philmont Scout Ranch is partnering with ALPS Mountaineering to support the Wilderness Guia Program, an outdoor experience that involves conservation and sustainability efforts (guia is the Spanish word for guide). Find out more about the program and how you can become part of a journey that leaves a lasting impact on the pristine landscapes we cherish at go.scoutlife.org/wildernesspledge

Make Plans Now

Sign up for 2025 Philmont Scout Ranch treks at go.scoutlife.org/philmont

Where Will You Go?

Philmont Scout Ranch is one of the BSA’s four national high-adventure bases. Here’s what the others have in store for you:

• The Summit Bechtel Reserve in West Virginia offers treks on kayaks, whitewater rafts, ATVs and bikes — or you can try the Summit Experience, which includes BMX, skateboarding, mountain biking, zip lines, canopy tours and more.

• Northern Tier serves up epic lake-hopping canoe treks and winter camping experiences from its bases in northern Minnesota and Canada.

• Sea Base in Florida lets you explore the ocean from the surface and below with adventures focused on scuba-diving, sailing, fishing, coral restoration and more.

Scouting is full of adventures. Visit go.scoutlife.org/adventure to find the adventures that await!

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