January - February 2003
Fun, Family, Fellowship, and Learning
By Scott Daniels
A family vacation at the Philmont Training Center is one of the BSA's best-kept secrets.
It was Sunday afternoon in mid-July. Sarah and I had just arrived at the Philmont Training Center in northern New Mexico, and already my 9-year-old daughter had spotted a familiar face.
"Daddy!" she cried out excitedly. "There's Olivia. She was in my group last year. Can I go say hi?"
With a nod I watched as Sarah darted through the crowd of Scouters and their families to greet her friend.
This was Boy Scouting week at the training center. For 11 weeks each summer the PTC offers some of the finest volunteer training in the country. The reason so many Scouters bring along their families is one of the BSA's best-kept secrets: Attending the PTC can be a fantastic family vacation. During the day while mom or dad attends classes to become a better unit leader, roundtable commissioner, or district trainer, their spouse and children are hiking trails, riding horses, tackling COPE courses, and creating handicrafts.
After breakfast on Monday, Sarah and her friend Olivia Martinez from Portland, Ore., huddled with other 8- to 10-year-old girls and three PTC staff members who would form the Chicas group. An activity calendar posted on a large bulletin board listed the week's events. A sampling included a hike to Lovers Leap, a trip to the Coyote Cantina for ice cream, and a tour of the grand Villa Philmonte, the Mediterranean-style home of Philmont benefactor Waite Phillips.
The PTC organizes younger children's programs by age and gender. Teenagers 14 and older participate in coed activities, and spouses have events tailored just for them. A team of college-age staff members leads each group. There's even a nursery for infants and a Small Fry division of youngsters 3 to 5.
The Mountain Trek program is for adventurous young men and women between the ages of 14 and 20. These crews spend a week hiking 20 to 30 miles through Philmont's backcountry, staying in a different campsite each night.
Mike Krause, Scoutmaster of Troop 60 in Kerrville, Tex., came to the PTC with his wife, Jeana, and sons Gus, Ryan, and Travis. While Krause praised all the activities, he singled out the Mountain Trek program as having a profound impact on his oldest son.
"It was a life-changing experience for Travis. For a guy who had never been on a backpacking trip, he learned so many things about himself. He came back more self-reliant and more confident. He grew up on that trip. He was just a different boy."
Brenda Martinez, Olivia's mom, said she was impressed with the program activities for spouses. That group spent several days playing initiative games at the ropes course called COPE (Challenging Outdoor Personal Experience).
"I've gone through lots of team-building exercises at my work, but I've never seen it click like it did in the COPE course at Philmont. I've made many new friends, and we still keep in contact via e-mail.
"This was really an inexpensive vacation," she added. "It's such a good value."
Mike Krause agreed. "We've taken a lot of great family vacations, but this was one of the most wholesome, fun, and relaxing vacations we've been on. The kids want to go back next year."
Alice Carlisle has come full circle with her trip back to the PTC. The Providence, Utah, mom was a Chica some 30 years ago when her father attended Wood Badge training. Now her daughter, Laura, was a Chica. Fond memories of Philmont with her family made it an easy decision to return. (There will be no more Chicas at the PTC, however. Beginning this summer, the group will be called "Ropers." Other age-groups will also have new names.)
"As soon as my husband received an invitation to attend, I said: 'We're going. You can go do your Scouting thing, and we get a great family experience.'
"The thing I like best," she said, "is everybody has activities structured for their age-group during the day, but at mealtimes and in the evening we pull back together as a family."
Those family times include evening cracker barrels with ice cream and cobbler in the Tent City pavilions, a barbeque buffalo dinner on Western Night followed by a Country-Western dance with lessons in line dancing, and a movie night that features "Follow Me, Boys!" a vintage Disney film about Scouting starring Fred MacMurray.
In addition, Wednesday afternoons are set aside with no conferences or children's programs to allow families the opportunity to sightsee in nearby communities like Taos, Raton, and Cimarron.
Mark Warren is director of the PTC's family programs. At week's end, he said he was satisfied if he had accomplished his primary goal.
"I hope the kids have had a better time than their parents, that they'll want to come back and experience a bit more of Philmont, whether it be on a trek or working here on staff someday."
My daughter, Sarah, must have been listening, because before we left for our drive back home she wanted one souvenir from the Tooth of T3ime trading post. It was a T-shirt with the words "Future Philmont Staffer" printed across the front.
It was Sarah's way of promising that she'd be back.
Scott Daniels is executive editor of Scouting magazine.
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