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Before my Hike through Florida last month, I contacted some troops in towns along the trail. I hoped to visit with the scouts, share some hiking stories and advice, and encourage them to get out and enjoy the trail in their neighborhood.
I wound up visiting with four troops along the way, and almost one Pack, but it didn't work out. These visits were highlights of my trek and gave me the opportunity to meet fellow scouters, and watch other troops in action.
Close Call in Dade City
The difficulty with arranging a visit while hiking long distances is not knowing how long it will take to reach a location. For example, maybe it's Thursday and I'd like to reach a town on the next Tuesday. If the trail is easier than expected, my legs are strong, and I get up extra early, I might arrive on Sunday. On the other hand, a rough trail, a couple big rain storms, and a few bad nights sleeping might slow me down to Wednesday.
Walking west from Kissimmee, I was hoping to meet the adventurous cub scouts of Pack 301 in Dade City. The hope was I could visit a pack meeting on Monday night. But, I was flying down the trail and would arrive easily by Saturday night. I couldn't just slow my pace or take days off and waste two days of hiking.
So, texting my contact in the pack, we looked at having me join them on their campout on Saturday night. I thought that would be cool, since it didn't matter to me if I camped in my tent in this woods or that woods. It would be fun to tell some stories around the campfire, with Purple Gorilla being one of my favorites.
I thought we had logistics worked out so I picked up my pace a bit for a couple days. I would hike an extra 1.5 miles off trail to a trailhead where someone would pick me up and drop me off the next morning. Unfortunately, no one could be found to do the shuttle. As it turned out, the temperature dropped below freezing that Saturday night and only two scouts camped out. Oh well.
Strong Inverness Scouting
Just two short days later, I arrived in Inverness where I had arranged to meet two troops. Having missed the Dade City scouts, I was really looking forward to this.
I hiked with my cousin's son for the 22 miles into Inverness, moving fast and arriving with a couple hours to rest in a city park before the scoutmaster could pick me up. When he got off work, we went out for a quick dinner with his son and daughter, then off to their troop meeting.
The local Inverness Kiwanis group has just built a new scout hut for Troop 302 and Troop 457 to use. The troops meet on different nights of the week, so it works out great. When I visited, they had a special joint meeting so I could chat with scouts from both troops.
Their scout hut is very, very nice! I'm envious whenever I see a unit with their own meeting place since troops and packs I've volunteered with meet in church basements or school cafeterias. The local support of groups like the Kiwanis helps keep scouting strong and vibrant in communities.
It was a lot of fun talking quickly about my hike, my gear, people and animals I met on the trail, and then answering the dozens of questions. Lots of questions means there is interest, so I really enjoyed that part of the evening. After the meeting, I was allowed to sleep overnight in the scout hut which was a great bonus - I didn't have to set up and pack up my tent. It was fun to meet John and Steve, the two scoutmasters, and get a flavor of how their troops run. All the scouts were polite and attentive.
Well, I don't know if they call them potlucks in Florida, but I got to enjoy two of them! When I reached Ocala, the scoutmaster of Troop 331 met me on the trail. We had been conversing through email for a few weeks, so it was great to finally meet her. Sue is one of those dedicated scouting volunteers that lives scouting full-time. Troop 331 is a special needs troop, so there tends to be more parent support needed and Sue throws herself into the challenge. She has a ton of support from the other dozen or so parents and they all seem to work well together for the good of their kids.
Before meeting the scouts, I had made a big assumption - I assumed this was a boy scout troop like any other I've visted, just with disabled boys. There is no age limit for scouts with disabilities, so I was surprised to find that the average age of the scouts in Troop 331 must be somewhere around 30. I laughed at myself for making assumptions, yet again.
These guys were great! Outgoing, friendly, courteous, kind, cheerful, ... pretty much everything you'd hope to see in a group of scouts. Sure, some were withdrawn a bit, some were difficult for my unaccustomed ears to understand, and some had repetitive habits that I noticed. But, they were funny. They were fun. They were sincere, welcoming, and proud of their scouting accomplishments. As a matter of fact, one of them (who is 46 years old) will be having his Eagle ceremony on Feb. 27 after working hard to reach that goal.
My time with Troop 331 was a whirlwind of activity. I got a shower, then we met at Gretchen's home for a potluck - and Gretchen's birthday party! Gretchen is a scout's mom and another super person. I got to meet all the scouts - Kale, Chris, Michael, Shawn, Brandon, Eric, Chris, Michael - that could be there, and chat with each of them. After we ate, I was asked to talk a bit about my hiking. There weren't as many questions as I got in Inverness, but it was fun to share my trip. I gave each scout a spoof merit badge that reminded me of them - a super scout, fun meter, smiley face, thumbs up - and some stickers. But, then we got on to the more important activity of celebrating Gretchen's birthday with cake!
The next day, many of the scouts came to Sue's home (where I was staying) and we all had potluck breakfast together. After that, we invaded the local bowling alley for a few games. I'll let you know that I did not get the high score. These guys had been practicing!
Please check out the Disabilities Awareness page at scouting.org for more information on making scouting in your community inclusive.
That evening, I had the pleasure of visiting one more Florida troop - Troop 100. Troop 100 has another very nice scout hut in which to meet - jealous again. The scouts were all in uniform and this struck me as a well-run outfit. Their SPL, Chris, was exceptionally well-mannered and confident. Manners are something I've really noticed here in Florida - lots of "yes, sir", "please", and "thank you" stuff going on all the time.
We ate some food and I talked with the scoutmaster and other adults awhile. It was enjoyable just sitting around with some other men for awhile since I hadn't had the luxury of doing that for the past few weeks. Then, I presented my hike to everyone, followed by a few questions. But, it was getting late so we kept it pretty short.
My impressions of Scouting in Florida:
- Manners are used more than other places.
- Uniforms are worn more than other places.
- Units that are surviving, are not just surviving - they are doing very well. They are active and flourishing.
- Some units are not surviving - recent changes in BSA have resulted in lost charters and loss of members in this area.
- Each troop is unique, just like other places - based mostly on the direction of the involved adults.
- Councils are having difficulties with running business as usual, just like other places, and are consolidating.
- Scouts camp more in the winter when the weather is more pleasant, much different than what I'm used to.
It was a great experience meeting these Scouts and Scouters.
Did you notice there are no shooting activities in the new Cub Scout program adventures? Nothing to replace the old BB Gun and Archery belt loops.
Have no fear! A replacement award is here!
The Cub Scout Shooting Sports award should be available at your local district and council camps this summer. Like the previous program, you can't shoot at Pack events - only at district and council events.
This new program offers a different patch for each rank, plus a different pin device for each style of shooting - Archery, BB Guns, and Slingshots. That should keep scouts interested since they can earn a patch and three pins each year for four years.
Find out more about the Cub Scout Shooting Sports award and check with your local council folks to find out when it will be ready for your scouts.
The new 2016 13th Edition of the Boy Scout Handbook should be in the hands of every new scout joining your troop this year. The new edition made what I believe to be some nice improvements, along with just a couple things not so much.
- The distracting background images found on most pages are gone. This makes it much easier to read the crisper, black text.
- Overlapping, skewed, faded out images are replaced with bold, obvious, correctly oriented images. This draws attention to the image as a helpful device rather than a decoration.
- Each topic chapter lists the advancement requirements covered in the chapter. This is nice, but I doubt will be used much because...
- The requirements list for each rank in the back of the handbook had page numbers where info for that requirement is found. The page numbers are gone.
- It's only 10 pages longer than the previous edition, but the heavier paper makes it bulkier.
How's It Going?
So, how are those new 2016 Boy Scout requirements going over in your troop?
Certainly by now, the scoutmaster has met with the senior patrol leader to explain the changes.
And, the SPL has passed on the new expectations to his PLC.
And, the Patrol Leaders have discussed the changes with their patrols at a patrol meeting recently.
And, Troop Guides and Instructors are ready to teach skills for the requirements to new scouts.
All the scouts are now working the new requirements.
The troop's advancement chair has explained the changes to the troop committee and interested adults.
The scoutmaster met with his/her assistants and everyone is aware of the new requirements.
If all that has not yet happened in your troop, (alarms blaring, red lights flashing) your next troop meeting and committee meeting should be dedicated to those items!
2016 is a transition year for the new requirements.
- Scouts joining a troop after December 31, 2015 must use the new requirements.
- Scouts working on Tenderfoot, Second Class, and First Class in 2015 may continue to use the old requirements up to First Class. They must use new requirements for Star rank and above.
- Scouts working on Star, Life, or Eagle on December 31, 2015 may complete that specific rank using the old requirements. They must use new requirements for all subsequent ranks.
Starting on January 1, 2017, all scouts must use the new requirements for all rank advancement. For example, if they are a Second Class scout nearly done with the old First Class, they must convert to the new requirements.
Even though some scouts don't have to use the new requirements this year, it makes sense to have just about everyone use them. Those few scouts with just a couple requirements left for a rank should finish up, and then use the new requirements from then on. But, it's up to the scout to decide.
Little Help Here
There are two documents that may be useful for scouts managing their advancement during the transition:
For your Troop Guides teaching scouts the skills for advancement, these documents might be useful:
I believe the relevant pages of Boy Scout Trail have been updated to the 2016 requirements. If you find some that are outdated, I'd appreciate hearing from you.
I often wonder about the processes used to make things. I'm always curious how someone takes raw materials and creates consumable products - for example, what all needs to happen to get that plastic gallon of milk into your refrigerator? Or, that can of soda? Or, the stack of Post-It notes?
Last month, I hiked almost 500 miles across Florida. I ended my hike in Ocala, FL which is the world headquarters for Country Meats, an advertiser on Boy Scout Trail. It wasn't a coincidence that I hiked to Ocala. I've been wanting to meet Paul, the owner, since we first talked almost two years ago because he seemed like such an honest, hardworking, straight-shooting guy with a passion for his business. In this electronically connected world, we often never meet the people with interact with online. My hope was that I'd be able to tour the Country Meats facility and see if the organization could live up to my high expectations.
When I was on the trail about 100 miles south of Ocala, I texted Paul to let him know I'd be in town in a few days and would like to visit. He said that would be great! So, on a Tuesday afternoon, my friend Sue and her son gave me a ride to Country Meats and joined me for a quick, whirlwind tour. Paul showed us the entire process from receiving an order, through processing raw meat and spices into individually sealed and boxed product, to shipping it out the door. It was amazing! We even got to see the top-secret, "can't photograph this", parts of the process that give them an edge in productivity and efficiency. That was what I enjoyed the most - hearing and seeing how the entire facility was laid out to make the process steps as streamlined and efficient as possible.
There were barrels of spices as big as 50-gallon drums. There were mixers, and stuffers, and cutters, and packagers, and boxers. So much high-tech machinery, I could have spent much more time watching it all. But, there were people, too, doing the parts that required human control.
And, the smell!!! I imagine I might get tired of it after awhile, but the smell of the smoker was wonderful. The smoker runs all night, smoking 45,000 snacks at a time which are then packaged the next day.
You can see one rack here that will be a tasty treat tomorrow morning, after spending the night soaking in flavor and slowly drying. One other thing I found interesting about the production - a USDA inspector stops by often to check that everything is within specs. So, cleanliness, correct heat, and everything that makes a safe product are top priority.
Paul is a sincere, yet very animated, fellow who really loves what he's doing with his business. He has a big, long-term vision for his family-run company, and a plan to make it reality. Everything is based on honest business, good product, employee welfare, and consistent improvement - sounds like a perfect combination to this Business 101 guy. :-) I like to see someone with qualities found in the Scout Law doing well, and I tend to want to support their efforts.
I blogged about Country Meats back in June, 2014 when our relationship was just starting. Since then, Paul and his gang running their operation have seen literally explosive growth! They've distributed 75 million smoked meat sticks through fundraising groups, and the numbers just keep growing.
There's a very good chance that no one is selling their snacks as a fundraiser in your area. If you are looking for a new way to pay for summer camp, trip to Philmont, or new tents, you really should contact CountryMeats.com - you can request a sample and they have a fun patch incentive program for Scouts that you'll see on that linked page. They've got some exotic flavors, some very hot and some smooth and sweet. The Ghost Fire is hot - really hot - honest!
Hey, there's one other way you might get your hands on some COuntry Meats snack sticks - enter my Monthly Give-away and maybe you'll win 2 dozen sticks!
Please send me a comment if you try Country Meats fundraising for your group.
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Have you ever used Biaxially-oriented polyethylene terephthalate? Sure, you have! But, you probably know it as the brand name of Mylar.
It was developed in the 1950s by those great chemical folks at DuPont that also brought us neoprene, teflon, kevlar, tyvek, and panty hose.
Mylar has many uses, but the one we're most likely to see is the cute, shiny, fun party balloon. Mylar balloons can be any shape and color, are lighter than latex balloons, and they keep the gas trapped longer. That's great for parties - BUT it means they can float longer and cover more distance if their ribbon breaks. And, break they do!
On every single one of my long hikes so far, in Arizona, Minnesota, Wisconsin, Virginia, and now Florida last month, I have recovered mylar balloons far out in the wilds - a couple stuck in a cactus, one in a soybean field, four floating in a swamp, and others. I thought I was just unlucky to find this many, but it turns out balloon litter is a Huge Problem that effects the environment, animals, our electric grid, and maybe even air travel. I had no idea.
A few years ago, I attended a big Scouting event with my sons at a local amusement park. It was a big deal. To kick off the event, the local council arranged to have a couple thousand helium-filled, latex balloons released. I was not aware the release would happen until I saw the mass of color floating and spreading into the sky. It was sure colorful, but I just thought, "Really?" I was surprised that our Boy Scouts council would be doing such a thing with our emphasis on conservation and outdoor ethics.
All those balloons would disperse far and wide, but I knew they would eventually come to earth in thousands of places across the miles. All balloons that escape into the wild are a problem, regardless of the material used to produce them.
In 1986, Cleveland set the world record by releasing 1.5 million balloons at BalloonFest. It caused air traffic problems and interfered with a helicoptor rescue of two men that ultimately drowned. The organizers expected the balloons to float far away (becoming a litter problem someplace else), but weather caused them to stay right in Cleveland, creating a huge mess.
Main Problems with Balloons
- Every balloon released into the air is litter. They all come back to earth someplace.
- A balloon, whether mylar, plastic, or latex is man-made and takes years to break down. Mylar balloons hang around for a loooooooong time - think decades at least! This is a bad thing!
- A popped balloon, or pieces of balloons, lying in a natural area looks like food to many wild animals. Animals get tangled in the balloon ribbons and die. Animals consume the balloon material and slowly starve with their digestive tract blocked.
- While in flight, balloons may be a nuisance to air traffic, but I could find only this one article that may be a plane crash caused by balloons.
- Mylar balloons, being metallic, can cause fire and power outages when they hit power lines, like this.
- Helium is a non-renewable resource and every floating balloon frivolously wastes a bit. Some estimates are that we will exhaust the earth's usable helium supply in under 30 years.
OK, you get the idea that I feel balloons are floating litter, bad for the world, and possibly dangerous. So, what should we do about it? Well, the two main uses for balloons are Parties and Balloon Releases.
- If you really want balloons, use latex balloons. They are the least bad.
- Fill balloons with normal air and save the helium for science and other uses that make the world a better place.
- Attach balloons to walls, wire frames, or hang from ceilings. They won't rise on tethers, but they also won't float away.
- Dispose of balloons by having a fun Balloon Popping Party after the party. Place latex balloons in the garbage. Place mylar balloons in recycling.
- Use paper decorations instead of balloons.
- Visit BalloonsBlow.org for some alternate ways to decorate parties, including pinwheels, bubbles, and inflatables.
- Don't do it! There's just no valid reason to ever organize, host, support, sanction, encourage, or do a balloon release. It is simply littering, plain and simple.
- These releases are often to kick off an event, as a memorial, or a celebration. Alternative ways to recognize the event could be to fly kites, make giant bubbles, plant a tree, float flowers on a stream or lake, use drums, or even use tethered sky lanterns.
As someone trying to be a good steward of the earth, I do what I can to follow the seven Leave No Trace principles, one of which is Dispose of Waste Properly. I will not purchase helium-filled balloons. I pick up balloon litter I find. I encourage others to explore options to using balloons.
It seems to me to be an easy decision to use an alternative to balloons for decorations and events.
Check out BalloonsBlow.org for more information about the problem of balloon litter from a couple of girls in Florida. Then, decide what you'll do about it where you live, or not.
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I'm still here! I spent most of January on a hiking adventure through Florida. It was great to escape the bitter cold of Minnesota, but did no scout blogging.
I hiked almost 500 miles. My son and I started at the southernmost point in Key West and walked the 100 miles of connecting bridges through the Keys to Key Largo. From there, we got a ride to the southern terminus of the Florida Trail in the Everglades. We hiked another 100 miles through the Big Cypress swamp, Seminole reservation, and then sugar cane fields to Lake Okeechobee. The two days we spent plowing through the water of Big Cypress swamp was the wildest hike I've ever done!
My son returned to finish college and I continued north, reaching Ocala, FL near the end of January.
On this trek, I met some very interesting people, experienced exotic environments, and visited with some scout groups. You can read all about my trip on my Florida Trail journal, but I'll be posting a bit about some particular things I learned and experienced along the way.
Being used to preparing for the bitter cold potential of Minnesota winter camping, it feels weird to be packing for a trek across Florida starting on January 3.
Yep, I talked my youngest Eagle son into accompanying me from Key West to Lake Okeechobee. That's 300 miles along the Florida Keys Overseas Trail and the Florida Nat'l Scenic Trail. Assuming it's going well, when he leaves the trail to finish his last semester of school, I'll continue hiking on to Pensacola. Take a look at this Florida Trail map. There will be 1,300 miles along trails, beside roads, over bridges, and through swamps, forests, prairies, and beaches.
Instead of -20 degrees, we'll see temps in the 80s, and humidity that high as well. I'll finally get to find out how those Florida scouts camp in the winter.
Is your Troop, Pack or Crew in Florida? If you are in the Keys, Miami, or along the Florida Trail, I'd love to visit with your troop as I hike by. I already have three troops and one pack arranging for me to chat with their scouts. It would be awesome to meet more!
Please just email me ASAP and I'll get back to you.
Oh, and I've got stickers to give out to people I meet along the trail!
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Looking for something worthwhile for scouts to do over their Christmas break to fill some of that down time?
Through December 31, the Red Cross is offering FREE online first aid and CPR training.
It doesn't result in any certification, but it's a great way for your troop to learn, review, or brush up on their first aid knowledge.
See Red Cross page for info and free registration.
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Well, maybe not 'talk', but at least write or type!
There are over 700 Scouting groups looking for Pen Pals on the Pen Pals page. There are over 700 international Scouts, Girl Scouts, Cub Scouts, and Boy Scouts units looking for new friends to exchange greetings.
Many scout rank and merit badge requirements ask the scout to interact with other people in their community or around the world. Here's a great way to connect with other scouting groups out there.
Even if you aren't really looking for a Pen Pal, other activities can be more fun when done with scouts far away. For example, the new Code of the Wolf requirement #4 to send a coded message would be way cool if sent to a fellow scout in another state or country!
Or, the Building a Better World Arrow of Light requirement #10c to find a brother scout unit in another country can be done here.
Sign up your unit, find some Pen Pals, and start talking! (or writing)
Any advice from all of you about what you think of the situation in which a First Class scout named Robert finds himself? Please leave a comment that might help him out.
hello, I am a first class scout. I wanted help and advice. My parents showed me your website.
I joined my troop 9 months ago and recently made first class. I made first class because I am very motivated and have worked hard to earn the rank. I went to two summer camps and participated in every activity and event the troop offered.
I asked my scoutmaster for leadership projects three times and presented a proposal. He denied it because he feels I am going too fast. Being a scout is very important to me and it is not that I want to go fast. I am very goal directed and plan to be in scouting even if I earn Eagle at 14 which is my goal.
I don't know what to do. Other scouts have been appointed by scoutmaster for positions when they were scouts and tenderfoot but for me he is preventing me from advancing. I guess I wanted to know what you thought.
So, can you give Robert any advice before I add my thoughts tomorrow?
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The successful Scoutmaster is a big brother to the scouts in his charge.
His role is important but, when done correctly, appears to be easy and not very crucial to what is going on.
These 10 skills will help a Scoutmaster succeed in his role:
- Fire Starting - Every boy likes fire. A scoutmaster able to create a fire with flint and steel, magnifying glass, battery and steel wool, bow drill, fire piston, ferrocerium sparker, ... gives scouts something to shoot for. Demonstrating the mystique of creating fire in so many ways shows scouts there are many ways to accomplish a goal. See Starting Fires page.
- Story Telling - Sitting around a campfire, after the scouts have run their campfire program, has been some of the most fun I've had in Scouting. A campfire without stories gets boring fairly quickly.
Having a few stories ready to prime the pump of the scouts' imaginations, and being able to tell them well, keeps these times interesting and entertaining. Hearing an experienced scout tell a tale to younger guys and realizing he had first heard it from me a few years earlier is one of those fine rewards we get.
- Walking - Being in good shape so you can walk around camp with the scouts, backpack, and participate in day hikes is essential to fulfilling the role. Walking is the way scouts explore the wild places and that is where we need to be.
- Iron Stomache - Some scout concoctions created for cooking competitions can cause cancer, canker sours, and cardio concerns. Scoutmasters, often asked to sample food, need to be able to digest a wide range of flavors and textures.
- Sense of Humor - Knowing whether to laugh or cry will keep you sane, or at least help a bit. The more broad your sense of humor, the more you will enjoy scouts.
- See Silver Linings - It's easy to view every lashing project that falls apart, every burnt meal, every 57-match fire, and every mis-navigated hike as a complete failure. A scoutmaster sees the one knot that held, the cajun flavoring, the 193 extra matches in the box, and the extra map and compass work as successes.
It's those small successes that gradually build on each other until a scout is self-sufficient. He doesn't join the gang as an expert - if he did, scouting would offer him nothing.
- Listening - Scouts, being boys, often don't communicate effectively or even in complete sentences. A grunt, shoulder shrug, or look of the eyes may be all a scout has to say. Being able to listen to this, and hear what's being said, helps a scoutmaster be that big brother needed more by this sort of scout.
- Sit On Hands - Whether it's an exciting game, food preparation, setting up a tent, or leading a meeting, the scoutmaster that can refrain from getting involved is a step ahead. The fun, challenge, and success of Scouting is for the scout, not the adult volunteer.
- Live Vicariously - Since the scoutmaster refrains from direct involvement in most scouting activities, he must enjoy watching the accomplishments of others. Some adults push their children too hard to excel and the scoutmaster can't do that. He should make opportunities available, encourage scouts to achieve, and appreciate their attempts. Visiting with past scouts that are home from college, and believing that Scouting has helped prepare them for life, is about the best pay I could expect.
- Selective Deafness - This is most valuable at night. If you can't sleep through snoring, night noises, and giggling, you will be a grumpy, old scoutmaster way before your time. Ear plugs are an alternative if you are still working on this skill.
What other skills have you found especially helpful in your role as a Scouting volunteer?
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Here are two Word Doc files that might be useful to Cubmaster Ramon and anyone else tasked with filling out recognition item paperwork for a large Pack.
When a scout completes one of the new Cub Scout Adventures, he receives a belt loop or pin for recognition along with a pocket card documenting the adventure he completed and date. Writing in the information for dozens of scouts can be quite time consuming, so I created a Word doc that is formatted so it prints the content in the appropriate positions to fill out a sheet of 8 Adventure Pocket Cards.
DOWNLOAD the Adventure Pocket Cards document.
The new Pocket Cards stock are HERE
Each rank also has a pocket card for documentation. Purchasing adventure pocket cards and rank pocket cards by the sheet is less expensive than individual cards. Even if you have only a few scouts advancing at a time, printing in all the Pack specific info will make the cards look better and save you time. You can just leave the date and scout name blank if you don't know who it's for yet.
DOWNLOAD the Rank Pocket Cards document.
The new Bobcat Rank Cards stock are HERE and all other ranks are available, too.
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