If 820,000 trail meals were stretched out end to end, Barry Harper would be watching them like a hawk, making sure to account for every single mouthful.
Harper, 66, manages the commissaries at Philmont Scout Ranch. He rarely has a chance to interact with campers, but if he didn’t do his job, it would mean unhappy trails for many a hungry backcountry hiker.
Born in Fort Worth, Texas, Harper came to Philmont seven years ago after a career that included 10 years in manufacturing and production with Campbell Soup Company. Starting last November, he began receiving truckloads of prepared food for the 2015 season and overseeing the crew that assembles the trail meals.
For 2015, Harper estimates that his team of 15 will put together 405,600 bags of trail food. “Each bag feeds two, so we do around 820,000 meals,” he says. “They have to pack 6,875 bags per day to get that done by the end of April. That makes for some pretty full days.”
Once the packing is done, it’s time to convert the production area from an assembly line into a grocery-store operation. “By mid-May the seasonal staff arrives, and by June 6 about 250 of those people scatter into the backcountry to the 35 camps we have out there, and they’ve got to be fed, too,” Harper says. Each of the four large commissaries gets more than 900 cases of meals per week. A typical on-the-go breakfast meal might include pepperoni sticks, granola, oatmeal cookies, dried fruit and a drink mix. Dinner meals feature freeze-dried entrees (beef stroganoff is a favorite), pretzels, trail mix and a dessert item.
“We shoot for about 3,000 calories a day per participant,” Harper says. “It’s certainly not a lifestyle diet, but it’s a high-carbohydrate, high-protein diet that helps them do well on the trail.”
Harper, who has been a pilot for some 30 years, enjoys taking Bryan Hayek, Philmont’s marketing manager, aloft to photograph Philmont’s attractions. “We get a lot of pictures of the Tooth of Time, and we’ve been doing a lot of the Chase Ranch this year,” Harper says.
“Most people don’t get to see it that way.”
Harper finds his role at Philmont very satisfying, but it’s not without its challenges. “We deal with a lot of weather issues trying to stock the backcountry commissaries, but we don’t miss many deliveries. If we don’t have things in place for the participants coming out here, they’re not going to have the trek experience they want.”