Antarctica. The Amazon rainforest. Remote sites like these are great places to explore and to expand mankind’s knowledge.
But so is San Antonio, Texas, according to Exploration merit badge counselor Ted Lee. An attorney and member of The Explorers Club, Lee helped a group of eight Scouts complete the new Exploration merit badge last year. None of them needed a passport or a safari jacket.
One Scout studied the impact of juniper, an invasive species. Another delved into the 1918 Porvenir Massacre with a researcher who had identified the incident’s location. Several helped map caves in the Government Canyon State Natural Area.
Such local projects were just what Explorers Club members and Distinguished Eagle Scouts Mike Manyak and Lee Berger had in mind when they began developing the new merit badge after the 2013 National Scout Jamboree. Manyak is an expert in expedition medicine, and Berger has been on the cover of National Geographic magazine for his groundbreaking fossil finds. But these world explorers crafted a badge Scouts can work on just about anywhere.
“One of the requirements for the merit badge is that you have to organize and mount some kind of expedition,” Manyak says. “It doesn’t have to be to Mount Everest; it could be to the field behind your house to look at some scientific question.”
The expedition actually accounts for three of the badge’s nine requirements. The Scout must first plan an expedition (requirement 6), which involves considering objectives, budget, health and safety, and more. Next, he must prepare for the expedition (requirement 7) by meeting an adult with expertise in the field. The best part comes last: He must actually conduct the expedition (requirement 8).
“These are all real-life things you have to do,” Manyak says. “The intent of the merit badge is to simulate that to some extent.”
While the expedition doesn’t have to be the last step in completing the badge, that’s the approach Lee took with his Scouts. They started meeting as a group in February 2016 to go over the badge’s other requirements, which include learning about the history and importance of exploration, studying a living explorer or actual expedition, and visiting (in person or virtually) a relevant organization or facility. With those requirements out of the way, the Scouts worked on their individual projects during the summer and fall.
Not everyone made it that far, Lee says. In fact, about twice as many Scouts began the badge as finished it. Based on that experience, he recommends Scouts be 13 or 14 years old before taking on this challenging badge.
“You would not want to do this as a real early merit badge,” he says. “To do it right, you end up spending a good deal of time on it.”
To Manyak, attitude is as important as age.
“I think this offers an opportunity for just about anybody,” he says. “They have to have curiosity; if they have curiosity, they can be an explorer.”