By Bruce A. Smith
I was a camper at Philmont Scout Ranch when I was sixteen-years old, and it was one of the most meaningful experiences of my youth. As a kid growing up in suburban New York, I had never traveled to the western United States, and my month-long expedition with a bus-load of scouts from Long Island was profound – I saw big mountains for the first time and prong-horned sheep scampering on the prairies of Wyoming, and met scouts from Los Angeles, a place so exotic in my mind that it seemed like I was meeting guys from Mars.
We spent ten days hiking in the mountains of Philmont, a sprawling wilderness of over 100,000 acres nestled on the eastern slopes of the Sangre De Cristo Mountains of New Mexico. I climbed Mount Baldy – at 14,000 feet the highest I had ever been in life, and got lost on the way down when we left the treeless tundra of the summit and couldn’t find where the trail re-entered the forest. Fortunately, my cohorts and I fanned out and searched the woods as the sun fell beneath the western horizon. Within a few moments, our crew leader, Jimmy – a savvy 17-year old – found the trailhead and we scrambled along the path to our campsite at 10,000 feet.
Now, the BSA is in trouble. The Scouts are grappling with how to compensate all the young men who were sexually abused by predatory scoutmasters during its history. That’s decades of abuse, and thousands of affected kids. It’s a lot of money, but well worth it. I understand the BSA’s need to place Philmont as collateral to secure a $400 million compensation loan, but it hurts and scares me. I support the move – after all where else are the Scouts going to find any more money? Already they have scoured the wealthy – my beloved home camp of Wauwepex in Wading River, NY, has been renamed the Schiff Scout Reservation of Nassau County Council – and the BSA has been charging boys thirty bucks to join the Scouts when it was free back in my day. Plus, the BSA wants to raise that annual fee to $60.
My Gawd, what is happening to my Boy Scouts? Everything I’ve cherished all my life seems at risk. I hope we – and the BSA – find a way through all of this mess. If it hadn’t been for the Scouts, my teenage years would have been truly insufferable instead of barely tolerable. I had been blessed with the wise and caring leadership of many adult men, most notably my home troop leader of Mr. John Peters; my first boss, Johnnie Jones, who was the Ranger at Camp Wauwepex and was like a second father to me; and Mr. Robert Henderson, a former high school English teacher who led my Philmont group through rugged terrain and titanic teen clashes. Where would I be now if not for them?
I pray that Philmont and the BSA survive, and that all the boys who enter the Scouts will be safe – from each other, their leaders, and the wonderful challenges that Mother Nature will present as they explore the trails of life.
To read more of my experiences at Philmont, especially at the campsite known as Cimmaroncito, which was destroyed in the forest fire of a couple of years ago as described in the following article, click here:
To read more of my times at Wauwepex, click here:
The following was first published by the Associated Press and is re-printed here under the “Fair Use Doctrine” of sharing copyrighted material for educational and societal purposes.
Boy Scouts mortgage vast Philmont ranch in New Mexico as collateral
(Ira Dreyfuss | AP file photo) In this July 2001 file photo, a double rainbow is shown in the early evening in Philmont Scout Ranch, N.M. The vast Philmont Scout Ranch, one of the most spectacular properties owned by the financially struggling Boy Scouts of America, has been mortgaged by the BSA, according to member of Philmont’s oversight committee.
By David Crary | AP National Writer
- Published: November 22
Updated: November 22, 2019
The Boy Scouts of America has mortgaged one of the most spectacular properties it owns, the vast Philmont Scout Ranch in New Mexico, to help secure a line of credit as the financially strapped organization faces a growing wave of new sex-abuse lawsuits.
The BSA said Friday that it has no plans to sell the property, and that the land is being used as collateral to help meet financial needs that include rising insurance costs related to sex-abuse litigation.
However, the move dismayed a member of Philmont’s oversight committee, who says it violates agreements made when the land was donated in 1938. The BSA disputed his assertion.
Top BSA officials signed the document in March, but members of the Philmont Ranch Committee only recently learned of the development, according to committee member Mark Stinnett.
In a memo sent to his fellow members, Stinnett — a Colorado-based lawyer — decried the financial maneuver and the lack of consultation with the committee.
“I cannot begin to tell you how sorry I am to be the one to break this news to you,” Stinnett wrote. “The first point of the Scout Law is ‘A Scout is trustworthy.’ I am distressed beyond words at learning that our leaders apparently have not been.”
“But I am even more distressed to learn that Waite Phillips’ magnificent gift has now been put at risk,” Stinnett added.
Phillips was a successful oilman who used some of his fortune to develop a huge ranch in northeastern New Mexico. In 1938, and again in 1941, he donated two large tracts of the ranch to the Boy Scouts.
Since the first Boy Scout camp opened there in 1939, more than 1 million Scouts and other adventurers have camped and hiked on the property, which now covers more than 140,000 acres (56,650 hectares). One of its many trails leads to the 12,441-foot (3,793-meter) summit of Baldy Mountain.
In a statement provided to The Associated Press, the Boy Scouts said programming and operations at Philmont “continue uninterrupted, and we are committed to ensuring that the property will continue to serve and benefit the Scouting community for years to come. “
“In the face of rising insurance costs, it was necessary for the BSA to take some actions earlier this year to address our current financial situation,” the BSA said. “This included identifying certain properties, including Philmont Scout Ranch, that could be used as collateral …. in order to keep in place an existing line of credit for insurance.”
Disclosure of the mortgage comes at a challenging time for the BSA, which for years has been entangled in costly litigation with plaintiffs who said they were abused by scout leaders in their youth. Hundreds of new lawsuits loom after New York, New Jersey, Arizona and California enacted laws making it easier for victims of long-ago abuse to seek damages.
The BSA, headquartered in Irving, Texas, says it’s exploring “all available options” to maintain its programs and has not ruled out the possibility of filing for bankruptcy.
Seeking to ease some of the financial pressure, the BSA announced in October that the annual membership fee for its 2.2. million youth members will rise from $33 to $60, while the fee for adult volunteers will rise from $33 to $36. The news dismayed numerous local scout leaders, who had already started registering youths for the coming year.
According to Stinnett, the BSA mortgaged its legal right and title to Philmont Scout Ranch to the J.P. Morgan Chase Bank to secure $446 million of debt incurred over the past decade.
Stinnett wrote that ranch committee member Julie Puckett — a granddaughter of Waite Phillips — had urged BSA officials in recent weeks to recognize Philmont as a restricted asset based on the understandings of all parties when Phillips donated the land.
“BSA management has instead stated its position that Philmont and its endowment are free and clear of restrictions and are thus theirs to take or encumber as they wish,” Stinnett wrote, depicting that stance as a “betrayal” of agreements made with the Phillips family.
The Boy Scouts disputed Stinnett’s assertion, saying nothing in the agreements with the Phillips family prevented the ranch from being used as collateral.
Philmont has been one of scouting’s most popular destinations for decades. At many times of the year, Philmont can’t accommodate all those who want to trek there; it offers an online lottery, held about 18 months in advance, to give everyone an equal shot.
Most activities take place during the summer, but Philmont also has autumn and winter programs. In addition to backpacking treks, it offers horseback riding, burrow packing, gold panning, chuckwagon dinners, rock climbing, mountain biking and sport shooting.
It’s also home to the National Scouting Museum.
Last year, a wildfire ripped through the heart of the ranch. Campsites and several miles of trails were wiped out, leaving behind a scar that will take years and millions of dollars to restore.
More Pictures of Philmont, courtesy of the AP
The trail to Mount Baldy.
This is how my Camp Wauwepex looked back in my day. Now known as the Schiff Scout Reservation. Photo courtesy of Bill Cotter and the Theodore Roosevelt Council of the BSA.
Wauwepex is still pristine, although the sprawl of NYC is not far away. Photo courtesy of Cliff Jones, former Ranger at Camp Wauwepex, BSA.
This “Zia” symbol, aka the “sun sign,” is ubiquitous in Philmont and New Mexico. It is the official symbol of the Zia People. Photo courtesy of the Zia People, Zia Pueblo, NM.
Editor’s Note: The following commentary comes from an email sent by MN reader and former scoutmaster, Robert Rohan:
I, too, bemoan the potential loss of our camps due to the actions of a small fraction of all of us scoutmasters across the country.
One of my longest, and, frankly, most lucrative cases, involved a non-denominational church whose pastor had seduced dozens of female parishioners. The case was referred to me by a friend who was on the church’s board and had been in my Scout troop. The testimony of the abused women was so shocking that the judge at one point turned scarlet and kept shaking his head in disbelief. We won the case and the church was sold for $10 million to pay for the damages, but the money hardly compensated for the breach of trust and the alienation of the abused on their families from religion.
Thanks, Robert. Our fellow scoutmaster, John S., says that this incident shows that the MeToo movement has comes to the BSA, and shows this nationwide issue for what it is – massive and critically in need of healing.
So sorry to hear. Birch Ridge Girl Scout Camp was a wonderful escape for me! Hope it’s still safe and active.
Let’s hope so, Karelina. Where is Birch Ridge GS Camp?