The Philmont Scout Ranch is a special place for members of the Boy Scouts of America.
The ranch lies at the base of the Rocky Mountains, in northern New Mexico. More than 1 million Scouts and other people have visited the property over the past 80 years.
Philmont has large stretches of wilderness and is known for its demanding, backcountry trails.
For many people who have spent time on the ranch, they cannot wait until their next visit. One could say the experience gets in their blood. They love every minute of it. That explains why there was so much sadness last year when a wildfire burned through the center of the property.
The fire destroyed many hiking trails and campsites. It will take years and millions of dollars to return the ranch to the way it once was.
The work is necessary. Boy Scout leaders say Philmont is a large part of the scouting experience.
“There’s just a real sense of loss, kind of a grieving process so to speak,” said Roger Hoyt. He is a longtime Scout leader and Philmont’s general manager. But he added, “Nature does renew itself and I think from the tragedy and the heartache comes this sense of renewal and opportunity.”
More than $500,000 already have been raised. The rebuilding effort has begun, with workers setting up 85 new campsites.
Workers had to stop in January because of snowfall. But work has begun again in the lower parts of the mountain as warmer weather returns.
And it will be an exceptional season with a record number of Scouts, possibly as many as 24,000, Hoyt said. Some of them had planned to make the visit in 2018 but stayed home because of the wildfire.
With nearly one-fifth of Philmont destroyed, the ranch owners are not alone in their desire to do a better job of caring for the land. Western land managers now face larger and hotter wildfires caused by overgrown forests and lack of rainfall.
In 2018, fires burned more than 3.5 million hectares of land across the United States. Most of it was in the West, says the National Interagency Fire Center. Many records were set, especially in California, which had its deadliest and most destructive wildfire last November. The fire destroyed the town of Paradise, killing 85 people.
Scientists have said the 2018 fire season was part of a larger trend and more common fires in the western U.S.
In New Mexico, nearly 160,000 hectares burned in 2018. The state has experienced its largest and most destructive fires on record within the past ten years.
Roger Hoyt estimates the Philmont Scout Ranch will spend $1 million in the next year on restoration and fire control projects. While the work is relatively low-cost, it requires a large workforce, Hoyt noted.
In March, 140 volunteers spent over 6,000 hours on fire control and restoration projects.
Hoyt hopes parts of the burned camp can be used as an outdoor classroom for visiting Scouts.
Across the country, in the eastern state of Virginia, members of Scout Troop 715 are preparing for their trip to Philmont. They gathered recently for a 3-kilometer hike so they could learn what equipment to take. They will eventually work up to longer walks, hiking 16 kilometers a day.
Then there is the first aid training and other skills that will help when Scouts are far from civilization, said Scout Master Steve Tyler. He will travel to the Philmont Scout Ranch with his sons.
Aside from being in what Tyler calls “big sky country,” he said another goal is reaching the top of Baldy Mountain — a 3,793-meter high peak on Philmont’s northern side not far from the Colorado border.
“So it’s very, very different out there. It is a special experience,” Tyler said.
I’m Susan Shand.
The Associated Press reported this story. Susan Shand adapted it for Learning English. The editor was George Grow.
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Words in This Story
trail – n. a path through a forest, field,
hike – v. : to walk a long distance especially for pleasure or exercise
grieve – v. to feel or show grief or sadness
manager – n. one who in in charge of other people
opportunity – n. an amount of time or a situation in which something can be done
trend – n. a way of behaving, proceeding, etc., that is developing and becoming more common
peak - n. the pointed top of a mountain