Tuesday, January 30, 2007

Klondike Derby

Over the weekend I ran my Boy Scout district’s annual Klondike Derby. We had 270 participants (besides staff), which was better than we anticipated. Historically we have had remarkably low turnout in years when there has been little snow on the ground.

We scheduled the venue months ago and obviously had no control over how much snow we would have. With the low snowfall so far this year and the sunny days, by Friday afternoon our venue had perhaps six inches of snow in the very deepest spots.

Thankfully, many people came together to make this event a success. Our district webmaster did a wonderful job of making promotion over the Internet available. Many assistant district commissioners plied the units in their zones to get commitments to attend. The Order of the Arrow chapter provided older boys to help staff the event. Numerous adult staff members came out and helped with administrative and organizational affairs. Assistant district commissioners ran the various Scoutcraft events. And, of course, the unit leaders and boys, not to mention the dads that accompanied troops, were really the ones that made this event work.

Every year when I attend Klondike Derby I grouse about it to my wife. It takes as much work to run a 20-hour winter campout (including planning, packing, setup, execution, breakdown, and cleanup) as it does to run a week-long summer camp. But year after year we do it anyway. Why? I think it comes down to three reasons.

Number one is adventure. Adventure is an indispensable part of the Boy Scout program. While many good things have been achieved through our emphasis on risk reduction over the past couple of decades, sometimes we have gone too far and have killed the critical adventure factor. We need to eliminate superfluous risk, but psychologists that understand how boys’ minds work understand that boys crave adventure. If they can’t get it constructively they get it destructively. Hence, the problems we have with trying to make boys always behave nice at school. Camping out in the snow is, for most boys, quite an adventure.

The second reason we do Klondike Derby is to teach winter survival skills. I don’t have any statistics on how many boys and men can attribute survival in cold weather conditions to skills they learned in Boy Scouts, but it worked for me. At age 17 I became lost when my snowmobile broke down on a trip in a mountainous area. I was able to survive partially due to the winter survival skills I learned as a Boy Scout.

The third reason we have Klondike Derby is to develop camaraderie and develop citizenship skills. When you put a couple of hundred Boy Scouts together for an event, they learn to depend on one another and they learn how to interface with the nearby troops. Sometimes they deal with camp boundary disputes or manage whose turn it is on the sled slope. Hopefully this provides some good citizenship lessons.

One of the problems we have at the venue we have traditionally used is that the parking area is suitable for perhaps 18-20 vehicles. When you bring nearly 300 people from a sizable geographic area to a place like that, they come in a lot of vehicles. We have always tried to keep the parking area for loading and unloading only and have asked people to park only on one side of the road leading to the area. That means that we have cars parked down the road for almost a mile. This year one zone managed the loading/unloading area very effectively. One volunteer drove up and down the road for several hours shuttling people to and from their vehicles. This helped a lot.

I’m sure that the low snow and the clear weather, which was warm during the day and quite crisp during the night (about 11°), lent to the manageability of the parking situation. The loading zone was mud instead of ice, and there was no massive snow bank surrounding the loading zone as there usually is during the winter months.

But the area we use has become a popular cross-country ski venue. A volunteer group grooms the trails there throughout the winter. The regular skiing patrons were less than pleased to have our large group there. Some of them were quite unhappy about having to park nearly a mile away from the trailhead. Although this venue is public property and we pay to use it, we might have to seek out another venue next year in the name of good public relations. The trouble is that the next best venue we can think of would add about an hour round trip to the travel time.

For this year I am glad that this event is complete. I’m very grateful to all those that worked to make it successful. My committee will work on implementing some of the lessons we learned from this year to make the event more successful next year. Now, it’s on to planning the district’s spring and fall campouts.

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