Monday, January 14, 2008

Snow Shelters for Hundreds

As my Boy Scout district camping chairman, I ran our district’s Klondike Derby overnighter this past weekend. We have been doing this event annually since about 1978. At least, I think that was the first time I attended, and I think that was the first time district hosted it. Most years we have held the event at Weber County’s North Fork Park at the South Gate/Old Bowery area. This area gets more snow than other nearby areas and it is accessible by regular vehicle.

Last year I had people calling me asking if we were going to cancel because there was less than a foot of snow at North Fork. Wednesday night, as people in my area were grappling with nearly two feet of new snow that had fallen in 18 hours, I fielded calls asking if we were going to cancel Klondike due to too much snow. We have never cancelled an event on my watch, and we’re not about to start now. If some future event faces severe conditions, we might have to scramble to adapt, but we will do everything feasible to avoid cancelling.

I drove up to North Fork after work on Thursday to survey conditions, and especially because a member of my committee had had some fairy tale passed down to him about seven-foot high snow banks that narrowed the road to a single lane. What I found was the most optimal conditions we have had in years.

Thanks to a large number of willing and dedicated volunteers, we were able to sponsor this event on a shoestring budget. We had about 360 participants show up, which is close to a record for our district. This number was split almost exactly two parts boys and one part adults. It’s amazing how many adults will show up for this winter campout to sleep out in the snow. For the boys it’s a great adventure. Perhaps not all of the boy has been removed from the man.

Our biggest challenge with holding this event is parking. Where can you go that is close enough to get to after school and work and still have some daylight left in January, that gets a goodly amount of snowfall on average, where you can build snow caves for nearly 400 people, and where you can park 120 vehicles (mostly trucks), all for very little cost? You try to arrange an event like that, and you’ll find out how difficult it is.

We have ended up keeping the small parking area for loading/unloading only, and then having vehicles park along one side of the road for nearly half a mile. Years ago this was not a problem, but the road is now a residential street with large properties (and some spectacular homes) having driveway entrances onto the road.

It is hard enough for my staff to manage the loading zone. It becomes impossible to manage the street parking. I’m sorry to say that a very few of our participants were discourteous enough to park right up against both sides of some driveway entrances. With the parked vehicles narrowing the road, some residents with long vehicles found that they could not get into or out of their driveways. They were understandably upset. It seems as if some of our drivers can’t understand that if residents feel mistreated by our presence, we will soon lose the privilege of using this facility, notwithstanding the service projects we perform there in the spring.

Another challenge we faced this year was that the parking area that we use for loading/unloading had not been plowed well, although, we had requested that Weber County take care of it. County crews were understandably busy dealing with the aftermath of Wednesday’s massive snowfall. But I now realize that I should have contacted the county commissioner that lives down the road and asked for his help. After all, nearly all of the adults that attend this kind of event actively vote, and so do their spouses.

As it was, the lot was a sheet of sheer ice covered by four to six inches of grainy slush. It was deceptive because you could not see the ice as you drove through or slogged through the slush. Many people slipped and fell. Many vehicles (including 4WDs) got stuck and had to be pushed out. A few minutes with a plow and a sander would have saved these problems.

But the rest of the event was fantastic. Anyone that wanted a snow shelter was able to build one and sleep in it. Some troops constructed very comfortable quarters. A few troops simply did tents, not wanting to spend the time and effort required to build a shelter. But that kind of thing partially robs the boy of an adventure he would remember for the rest of his life. We had light snow off and on throughout the evening, and it never got very cold. In the early morning it got down to 19°, which is quite balmy for a night’s low temperature in January at North Fork.

On Saturday morning the sun came out. We held a number of competitive games in which the boys participated. The premier event was the traditional Klondike sled race. Each troop constructs its own Klondike sled. Many designs are available on the Web. One boy rides on the sled while others are either ‘mushers’ that push or ‘dogs’ that pull the sled around a course. By early afternoon, all that was left were the holes in the snow, some empty snow caves, footprints, and memories.

It takes months to put together an event like this. It takes me some time to deal with the aftermath as well. For the troops, it takes as much work to pull off this overnighter event as it does to do a whole week of summer camp. But it is one of the most highly demanded events we hold. It accomplishes many of the aims of Scouting in a relatively short period of time.

So why do I volunteer countless hours to host this event and camp in the snow when I could avoid the stress, the work, and the discomfort? Perhaps it’s because I take seriously the oath I took at age 14 when I became an Eagle Scout, “to give back more to Scouting than it has given to me.” Perhaps it’s because I hope in some small way to influence the lives of some boys for the better, the way others did for me when I was a youth.

I’m grateful for fantastic climate and snow conditions that developed for our Klondike Derby this year. That’s something we can’t control. And I’m especially grateful to all of the volunteers that came out and did so much work to make this event successful. I now need to buckle down and get serious about our district Camporall next fall.

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