28 September 2009

Let them roam!

Several years ago, the scout troop was camping in a beautiful spot in Virginia: Sherando Recreation Area (look it up, it's beautiful). The only problem was that the recent rain would prevent us from rappelling, so we needed an activity to keep about 12 boys ranging in age from 11 to 16 busy for an entire day! Or, at least get through the morning; we could worry about the afternoon later. Included in this group were several younger boys who had joined the troop only a month or so earlier, and several of the youth leaders in the troop. Some of the younger boys' fathers had accompanied us to provide transportation and watch the fun on the rocks (and I'm positive they were certain I was about to kill off all the boys from either falling kids or falling rocks). But that was out - allowing kids to have adventures does not include deliberately endangering their lives.

I had a brainstorm. Scouting requires hiking for advancement, and these new Tenderfoot Scouts needed at least a 5 mile hike using a map and compass. I grabbed the trip leader (an older youth) and gave him a map of the park. There was a nice trail up on the ridgeline that circled the huge bowl that Sherando sits in. I pointed it out, noted that they should not cross any asphalt once they left the campground (paved roads also ringed the area), and turned them loose with their compasses and the maps. A couple of the dads got up to go, too, but I stopped them. They looked shocked. In a rather loud voice, I said "I trust the leaders, they'll be fine." The boys all heard me.

And off they went. We adults sat around and talked and played cards. I noticed a few glances at watches a couple of hours in. At three hours, more glances at the watches. At nearly four hours, I thought they were going to go nuts wanting to go searching for the kids. Four hours and about 15 minutes into the morning, here they came. The younger boys were practically strutting with confidence. The older boys were seething! What could have gone wrong?! "You told us it was a five mile hike! It was closer to TEN!!!" I reminded them that my comment was the boys needed "at least" a 5 mile hike. And that they had fulfilled the challenge of taking a group of newbies on a 10 miler with no adults, and gotten back. The attitude instantly changed as that dawned on them.

The afternoon was spent playing Ultimate and football, with the older boys completely including the younger ones. They had bonded during that four hours on the trail that morning. The fathers were astounded, and after that, knew we trained our youth leaders to handle things.

Three different groups learned some very important things that day. The youth leaders gained a huge measure of confidence, and learned that their scoutmaster trusted them to get the job done. The younger boys learned that their scoutmaster trusted the older boys to be able to take care of them, and that they were capable of doing a lot more than they thought. The new fathers in the troop learned that the older boys were capable young leaders, and that although the scoutmaster was a bit crazy, he knew what he was talking about when it came to letting the boys run the show.

The older boys moved on to run trips to the Albemarle Sound sailing catamarans they rebuilt themselves, trips to the Allagash Wilderness Waterway in Maine, and many other adventures. The younger boys are now the leaders taking the newest scouts out on adventures they can grow from.


  1. Nice article, Tray! This sounds slightly familiar, at least the part about not being able to rappel

  2. Great article Tray. I had many great times at Sherando when I was growing up and in Scouts.