“Far and away, the best prize that life offers is the chance to work hard at work worth doing.”
These words from Theodore Roosevelt fittingly describe what Scouts from Troop 6 in Bismarck, N.D., were up to last summer.
There was some work worth doing in Medora, N.D., a historic town dating from 1883 that is adjacent to Theodore Roosevelt National Park and the Badlands. It was here that Roosevelt sought adventure and solidified his service ideal of conserving our nation’s natural resources.
And it is here that this tradition of adventure and service is continued by the Boy Scouts of America.
A Unique Idea
This tradition came about through a unique relationship between the BSA’s Northern Lights Council and the Theodore Roosevelt Medora Foundation. Inspired by Roosevelt and how the area shaped his character, businessman Harold Schafer — founder of the Gold Seal Company, which produced Mr. Bubble bubble bath, among other household brand names — began financing the revitalization of Medora in the early 1960s. In the 1980s, he established the foundation to continue this work. Schafer wanted to preserve the area’s history as well as create a family-friendly education and entertainment destination.
More than a decade ago, Northern Lights Council employees approached the foundation in hopes of securing a donation for the council.
The foundation’s president, Randy Hatzenbuhler, responded, “Since the foundation is nonprofit, instead of a monetary gift to the BSA, the foundation can host Scout troops in Medora every week of the summer for three days.”
His proposal was that the foundation would provide the Scouts activities around Medora for free or at discounted rates. In exchange, the Scouts would perform service work for the town.
A tradition was born.
During each week throughout the summer, a different Scout troop from the council travels to Medora for three days of service and adventure. The result, as Troop 6 assistant Scoutmaster Scott Schafer (no relation to Harold) says, is “an amazing experience.”
Not to Be Missed
The service involves everything from performing flag-raising and -lowering ceremonies to picking up trash at campgrounds, mini-golf greens, parking lots and public venues, and assisting with the city’s recycling program. Sometimes it even involves raking horseshoe pits and emptying grills. It’s pretty much anything the town needs done.
The adventure involves camping, swimming, hiking, biking, horseback riding, mini golf and visiting historical sites, not to mention getting a steak dinner with all the fixin’s and tickets to the Medora Musical. The world-renowned big-stage spectacular chronicles the area’s history and is performed in an outdoor amphitheater overlooking the magnificent countryside.
“The Medora outing is a great opportunity. It’s a popular event involving Scout activities, service and a wonderful family-oriented location that’s historically rich. And it’s relatively inexpensive,” says Dan Rouse, Troop 6 assistant Scoutmaster and a retired U.S. Air Force Colonel.
Indeed, it’s a Scout outing nobody wants to miss.
“This is my second time to Medora,” 13-year-old Scout John Greige says. “It’s amazing.”
Assistant Scoutmaster Dawson Rouse, 19, an Eagle Scout with four palms, makes time for Scouting when he’s not involved in his pre-dental studies at University of Mary in Bismarck.
“I’ve come to Medora every year since first grade,” he says. “It’s always an enjoyable experience. I don’t think anyone can come here and not fall in love with it.”
A Morning of Service
The Scouts in Troop 6 begin their first day after rousing from tents at Medora Campground, which is owned by the foundation. At some point later on in the outing, campground officials will give the Scouts cleanup assignments around the property.
This morning, after the Scouts ride bikes to the town square to perform a flag ceremony, the next item on the troop’s itinerary is picking up trash at Burning Hills Amphitheatre, home of the Medora Musical. As it turns out, the service project is more of a privilege than a chore: With the amphitheater’s panorama over the vast Badlands, it’s got to be the most scenic trash pickup ever.
Plus, it isn’t too terribly demanding.
“It’s pretty easy picking up trash,” reports Cameron Ereth, 11. “Everyone in Medora is pretty good about picking up their own.”
Soon it’s time to move on to the next activity.
“This is the last charge! We want to leave this place without a scrap of trash, and it’s all up to you!” Dan Rouse motivates the Scouts, adding, “Buffalo droppings don’t count as trash!”
An Afternoon of Adventure
Troop 6 — which is the oldest troop in North Dakota and celebrated its centennial in 2017 — takes a particular interest in history, something that plays heavily into the Medora outing. Scoutmaster Mark Zimmerman ensures the group takes time to visit a local cemetery and the grave of Ralph “Doc” Hubbard, a museum founder and preservationist of Native American culture. At the grave, Zimmerman explains to the Scouts that Hubbard knew Roosevelt and Robert Baden-Powell. In fact, Hubbard wrote the chapter on Native American craft for the BSA’s 1927 Handbook for Boys.
Back in town, the troop attends a talk with professional Roosevelt impersonator Joe Wiegand, who has performed at the White House and in all 50 states. Throughout his impressive performance, Wiegand tells the Scouts about Roosevelt’s life, emphasizing his connection to the BSA and his belief in the importance of literacy (especially reading Boys’ Life magazine!).
Then it was time to get active.
Usually, Scout units on the Medora outing go swimming at a local hotel pool, but Troop 6 opts for the Little Missouri River instead.
“It was nice staying cool in the river in this incredibly hot and dry weather,” says Lukas Dutchuk, 11. “Plus, it was great having fun with my fellow Scouts.”
Next, everybody heads to the national park, where, after visiting Roosevelt’s Maltese Cross Cabin from his ranch, they hike a trail through a prairie-dog town that offers majestic views of rock formations, buttes, roaming bison and blooming cacti.
An Evening of Fun
After such a busy day, the Scouts, leaders and parents are all ready to tuck into dinner at the Pitchfork Steak Fondue where — just like the name suggests — the steaks are fondued in vats of hot oil on pitchforks. Yum … juicy on the inside and crispy on the outside.
The open-air restaurant is next to Burning Hills Amphitheatre, so it’s just an escalator ride down to their seats for the Medora Musical. As the sun sets in the spectacular backdrop, the show informs and delights the audience with variety acts, horsemanship, fireworks and more, all in its telling of the region’s history. Some of the Scouts even get to go up on stage for a song.
The evening concludes back at Medora Campground with a campfire visit from a Baden-Powell impersonator — longtime Scouter Charles Huntley — who regales the boys with stories about the early years of Scouting. He challenges each Scout to do Good Turns Daily and to grow their own legacy in Scouting through leadership and service.
And this is just Day One of the Medora outing.
When asked what his favorite part of the day was, Scout Dalton Rouse, 12, says, “I loved the hiking, all the nature, wildlife. You don’t get to see blooming cactus all the time.
“And we wouldn’t get to see all this beauty if it wasn’t for Theodore Roosevelt conserving all this land.”
The Conservation President
The Dakotas played a significant role in Theodore Roosevelt’s conservation efforts. When he first went to the region in the 1880s, he saw natural resources were being threatened by overhunting, overgrazing and other factors. This experience inspired him as our 26th president to:
- Establish the U.S. Forest Service
- Sign the 1906 American Antiquities Act, which created 18 national monuments
- Partner with Congress to create five national parks, 150 national forests and dozens of federal reserves — including more than 50 bird reserves (which would become the National Wildlife Refuge system) and four game preserves — amounting to more than 230 million acres of protected public land.
- To honor and memorialize the man and his conservation accomplishments, Theodore Roosevelt National Park in Medora, N.D., was established in 1947. Find out more at nps.gov/thro
Troop 244 in Fargo, ND has participated in this project several times. Over the years I have noticed the number of cigarette butts has decreased markedly; other garbage has also decreased. Last year we arranged with the organizers to stay extra days to participate in the touristy things that the Troop doesn’t really have the time to do. Bike rides on the trail, the route through the South Unit of Theodore Roosevelt National Park. Go on this trip at sunset as the animals are more active just before dark.
On a side note, I designed the patch you receive as recognition of your service.