Is Backpacking Too Hard for Scouts?

Here are some of the results from Meridian District’s Camping Report for 2010

The Meridian District has always been an “Alpha District” for delivering outstanding High Adventure programs to older Scouts. Northern California is blessed with a multitude of great places for Scouts to go and the Meridian is lucky enough to have lots of dedicated adult leaders to take them there. Historically high levels of participation in summer camps, backpacking, cycling, Philmont, Northern Tier, and Sea Base perennially place Meridian among the most active Districts in the entire country.

Meridian District
Meridian District Backpacking is Down!

That’s why it came as a bit of a surprise when the number of backpacking outings dropped so dramatically this past year. Troops and Crews combined for a total of only 12 long-term backpacking trips in 2010, compared with 16 units completing a long-term backpacking outing in 2009! And by many accounts, the hikes in 2009 were shorter and closer to home. Yosemite and Emigrant continue to be the two most popular destinations. Troop 834 was by far the most active unit on the trail this past summer with three long-term treks attended by more than 50 hikers.

What caused this drop off? There are several possible explanations. Many units diversified their high adventure program in 2010 by travelling to Sea Base or adding a second summer camp. Others added cycling to the mix, replacing a 50 mile backpacking trek with a 30-150 mile ride. But one underlying theme in talking to the units is that, compared to other options, backpacking outings are harder to organize, expensive for the units, and require younger adult leaders who need a lot of training. Without enthusiastic, trained adults to coax the boys away from their other activities, the necessary practice hikes are not going to be well attended and a long-term hike is very difficult to complete.

Emerald Bay - Balogna
Backpacking Takes Dedication

Another explanation for the drop off is simply that last year was an exceptionally active year with more backpacking miles than any other year on record. 2010 may just represent a return to more normal levels of backpacking participation. We will see how the numbers add up next year. Rescheduling the Council Basic Backing Awareness Course to the spring should help.

Attendance at summer camp continues to be strong, with more than 54% of Meridian Boy Scouts attending at least one summer camp in 2010. Seven units organized a second summer camp (vs. four in 2009) possibly to accommodate the increasingly busy schedules of local families. The most popular summer camps are still Wolfeboro (7 units), Emerald Bay (5), Cherry Valley (5), Oljato/Kern (4), and Wente (4). Despite its position as the only Council Summer Camp, Meridian units continue to drift away from Camp Wolfeboro, opting to take the longer trip to Catalina or Huntington Lake, near Fresno. Rustic Camp Wolfeboro attracted less than one in five boys (19%) from the Meridian District in 2010, the lowest percentage in the past five years.

When all the results are tallied for the Camping Report, Meridian remains exceptionally active, depite backpacking’s drop off. In addition to summer camp and High Adventure, more than 40 youth attended National Junior Leadership Training and 72 participated in a shooting outing. Eleven Cub Scout Packs earned the Summertime Pack Award for their participation in outings over the summer.

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