Longtime Scouting insider touts the value of thinking outside the box.
Bob Dalton has moved around the country, but he’s never moved away from Scouting. He became a Scout leader in 1985 when he was asked to serve as Scoutmaster for the Marshalton Ward of the LDS Church’s Philadelphia Stake. Since then, he has held Scouting jobs in California, Arizona, again in Pennsylvania, and now in Illinois.
A strong proponent of high adventure, Dalton has taken crews to the Philmont Scout Ranch and the Florida Sea Base—twice for both. In 2007, he directed a Powder Horn course, and he now coordinates Powder Horn training in the Central Region’s Area 7.
We caught up with Dalton between trips and training courses to get his take on both topics.
You’ve spent a lot of time leading high-adventure trips. What is it about high adventure that attracts and retains kids?
Nothing can inspire a person like being in the backcountry. When you get kids away from all the lights and gadgets and really see the grandeur of this earth, it changes their lives. When they get back, they become your best advertisement.
What else works in Venturing recruiting?
I think the best prospects are the sisters of your active Boy Scouts. When they see all the fun that their brothers have, they naturally want to be part of a program where they can participate.
Who does better: the brothers or the sisters?
After my last time at Philmont, I decided that I would not do another high-adventure trek without it being coed. In most cases, the girls were tougher than the boys, and as a result the boys worked harder and complained less. It was an interesting dynamic.
Many Scouters get sticker shock when they contemplate high adventure. How do you keep costs down?
One of the best high-adventure activities I have participated in was at the Sylvania Wilderness Area on the upper peninsula of Michigan. The cost was less than $75 per person, and we had a blast. The national high-adventure bases are great—and my unit has used them all—but if you’re on a budget, make the most of local and regional high-adventure activities.
How can you get kids to think creatively about high-adventure activities?
Powder Horn training is a great way to stimulate outside-the-box thinking. Take the training and bring the resources back to your youth. Ask your youth leaders what activities a “perfect” troop or crew would do and encourage them to pick activities that fit that vision.
What if they want to do an activity that you know little about?
Bringing in outside experts is key. When asked, people love to share their expertise with youth. A great thing about Powder Horn is that it connects you with experts in your area.
High adventure can be risky. How do you maintain health and safety?
Training is critical, not only for the adults but also for the youth. Another important element is to start small and work your way up to more challenging activities.
Speaking of training, how do you get adults to take training?
In my troop, adults who participate in long-term activities such as summer camp have to be trained. Also, I feel strongly that training is a journey, not a destination. Too many leaders get the essential training and then stop. In my church, the term used is “magnify your calling.” Training is critical to doing this.
What keeps you motivated after 25 years in Scouting?
A few years ago my family and I traveled back to Philadelphia to visit. At a church meeting a man approached me with his wife and kids and said, “You don’t remember me, but I’m Chuck.” Chuck was in my first troop. He was a success in his life, and I was so grateful to have played a part as his Scoutmaster. There have been many “Chucks” over the years, and seeing the growth in their lives from crossing over the bridge to being successful adults is why I love this program.