Freezing Cold, Burning Calories
By Suzanne Wilson
The council Scout executive in northern Wisconsin provides a worthy incentive for Cub Scouts, Boy Scouts, and Venturers to maintain a monthly schedule of active, outdoor events.
When Troop 439’s Boy Scouts wake up at Samoset Council’s Crystal Lake Scout Reservation, the temperature has dipped to 25 below zero, with a wind chill of minus 47 degrees.
However, that doesn’t matter to these Scouts spending the weekend at the council’s Hanna Winter Resort program in northern Wisconsin. Assistant Scoutmaster Thad Brockman says, “They don’t care about the weather; they’re here to have fun.”
By 9 a.m., the Scouts gear up and leave the lodge dressed for whatever the weather can dish out and already burning breakfast calories.
Jon Hohol sets off on snowshoes with three other Scouts, crossing frozen, snow-covered Crystal Lake. John Petts chooses backcountry-touring skis for exploring the lakeshore with two friends. And a daylong broomball tournament opens to all comers.
Matt Fiene is enthusiastic about the action. “You get to run around, slip and fall, and score. ... It’s sub-zero, and we’re still having fun.”
The Scouts’ activities serve as good examples of how units can stay active, even in winter, when they take part in the Scout Executive’s Active Outdoor Challenge, a year-round program particular to Samoset Council.
Troop 439 is working on the challenge, which requires one activity each month. This weekend gives the Scouts plenty of time to enjoy several winter sports, proving that even in deep snow, at seriously chilling temperatures, it’s possible to get outside, play hard, and have fun.
Audun Mikkelson, now Scout executive in Great Alaska Council, was Samoset Council’s Scout executive from 1998 to 2008. He grew up in Samoset Council, where he became an Eagle Scout. An advocate of the active outdoor life, he has participated in Ironman Triathlons, American Birkebeiner ski marathons, and other athletic events.
Mikkelson says he thought most Scouting units weren’t doing enough to keep physically active. “When the boys were outside,” he explains, “they were putting up tents and sitting by the fire, which is fun, but it’s not really active.”
He believes that contrasts with what young boys hear when they’re invited to join Cub Scouting. “We say, ‘If you want to go fishing, hiking, canoeing, and swimming’ — that’s why they’re joining. That’s the promise: ‘We’re going to be outside having adventures.’”
Mikkelson created his Scout Executive’s Active Outdoor Challenge in spring 2006, prodding Cub Scout packs, Boy Scout troops, and Venturing crews to complete one outdoor physical activity each month for a year. The reward would be fun and excitement, plus a distinctive patch for the right pocket of the uniform shirt.
“This ties in perfectly with what our country needs,” Mikkelson says. “Children are becoming relatively sedentary and have forgotten how to enjoy the outdoors, or they just never give it a chance. This generation is becoming the indoor generation.”
Studies back him up. Physical activities, like those involved in striving for this award, are important for health.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s 2003-2004 National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey found that 19 percent of children ages 6 to 11 and 17 percent of adolescents ages 12 to 19 were overweight. These numbers represent big increases over the 1988-1994 survey, when 11 percent of young people in each group were overweight.
The Office of the Surgeon General reports an increased frequency of high cholesterol and high blood pressure, risk factors for heart disease, in overweight children and adolescents. Experts blame unhealthy eating patterns and a lack of physical activity. They say kids spend too much time with television, computers, and video games, while they should be accumulating at least 60 minutes of moderate physical activity most days of the week.
After the challenge experience, Mikkelson hoped leaders would keep delivering an enriched outdoor program, youth would stay in Scouting, and Scouts would discover enjoyable pastimes while becoming physically fit.
In April 2007, Troop 564 of Minocqua became the first to complete the challenge. This small troop really put the “active” into outdoor activities as demonstrated when they dropped in for a visit at Hanna Winter Resort. Equipped with well-worn straw brooms, they played a fast and rugged game of broomball on a snow-packed road near the lodge.
When assistant Scoutmaster Joanne Kumpula first read about the challenge, her first response was, “That’s us.”
Kumpula leads the troop in their outdoor activities, along with her son Jeff, also an assistant Scoutmaster.
By adding several new adventures to their schedule, the Scouts completed their plan for a memorable challenge year.
One troop tradition is nighttime, candlelit cross-country skiing, a Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources event. Glowing candles llluminate a route along a snow-covered trail through the forest. Sometimes moonlight shines, too. “It’s pretty cool,” says 13-year-old David Butler.
Troop 564’s adventures — mountain biking on Wisconsin rail trails, a 5K midnight run, a canoe trip on Lake Superior — have given them exciting, physically demanding, and sometimes downright inspired (mini-golf in the snow!) sport.
The combined Cub Scout Pack, Boy Scout Troop, and Venturing Crew 345, a special-needs unit whose members have physical and mental disabilities, earned the challenge patch together in Marshfield.
In 2003,when assistant Scoutmaster and crew co-Advisor Paul Erickson joined 345 with his son Matthew, Erickson realized, “We’ve got to get out more and make use of the Scout skills we’re learning indoors.”
In good weather, they went on canoe trips, day hikes, and evening hikes on trails in the arboretum of the University of Wisconsin-Marshfield/Wood County. But in winter months, they slacked off.
During their challenge year, troop members were outside every month. Erickson brought snowshoes from home, and eventually everyone walked in the woods. “A lot of the kids had never tried stuff like that,” Erickson says.
Toni Novak, committee chairwoman with Pack 321 in Abbotsford, says, “We’d just brainstorm and think ‘what can we do this month?’
“We’d get heavy snow conditions, and that was a little more challenging. But we did it...When you get a couple of months into the program, you hate to give up.”
In summer the pack held a family baseball game, as well as promoted hiking, swimming, biking, and outdoor basketball. “You always think there’s some kid out there who isn’t really interested in it,” Novak says, “but you get them to go along, and they all participate.”
Roger Dillon, committee chair with Pack 118 in Wisconsin Rapids, was a den leader for his son Mitchell during the pack’s challenge year. “In Wisconsin, I have to admit it’s definitely a challenge,” he says. “Up here, it’s almost six months of winter. Boy Scouts do winter camporees, but for Cub Scouts it’s a little more protected."
Pack 118 played a December soccer match before snow arrived and continued with broomball, ice-skating, ice fishing, and a PolarCub weekend of outdoor fun at the Scout reservation. In warmer weather they went on hikes, fishing excursions, and bike rides. The boys earned their patches.
While the challenge severely tested some units, it was a piece of cake for others. Troop 544, Stetsonville, already had a policy of one outdoor activity every month. Even so, the Scouts were excited to know they could earn a patch for that, says Scoutmaster Joe Daniels.
“That’s what Scouting is about,” he explains, “to get out there.”
By late afternoon, Troop 439 Scouts return to the lodge after a full day of energetic outdoor activity. The high temperature had reached just minus 9 degrees, with a wind chill around minus 30.
They’ll all remember the cold (a fish placed on the ice froze solid in five minutes). But many of their fondest memories will center on hiking a trail through undisturbed snow to a place with a beautiful view of the lake. Other recollections will focus on the action-packed broomball tournament as the best part of the weekend. Why?
“I like it really cold,” says Chris Werner, who has been busy sledding, skiing, and playing broomball. “When you’re doing stuff, it doesn’t seem cold.”
And how was his day outdoors?
“Awesome! I’m gonna sleep good tonight.”
Suzanne Wilson is a freelance writer who lives in Joplin, Mo.