Most folks in this area have had recent, and in many cases, frightening experiences with drought born wildfires. The Boy Scouts of the Buffalo Trail Council are no exception. The Buffalo Trail Scout Ranch (BTSR) is located in the heart of the Davis Mountains, site of the historically devastating Rock House fire.
And, the well-known Boy Scout camp has shared in the fire damage with more than 8,000 of its 9,000 acres burned. Despite the losses, BTSR opened this week for business as usual. Well, maybe not as usual, but certainly with the same pride, attention to quality of experience and commitment to the use of the great outdoors as the classroom of choice for developing the good charac,ter of boys.
In late spring when it became apparent that the Rock House fire threatened BTSR, a critical incident team of volunteers and Buffalo Trail Council staff began meeting as needed, often daily, to assess the risk, coordinate with emergency officials and make decisions regarding BTSR personnel and other assets.
Other assets included the Scout ranch’s herd of 58 horses, a few Longhorns, and some odd number of goats and chickens. After the safety of Camp staff, job one was moving livestock.
This was no small task as camp horses graze during off-season in multiple pastures, and it generally takes two to three days of round-up in each pasture to bring the animals down to base camp. The Council’s volunteer horse committee did this job with amazing speed and caution and, through the generosity of a Fort Davis neighbor, horses were quickly moved onto private ranch corrals away from the fire zone.
Day by day, the risk to the camp changed with fire at one point coming within 10 feet of base camp structures. Council volunteers and staff worked alongside emergency personnel.
All in all, BTSR was evacuated three times before the fire was declared fully under control. During this time, critical incident Committee members set a deadline for the final decision regarding whether to hold camp this summer.
The decision hinged on balancing the time needed to notify camp participants, many of whom are out of state, with a realistic assessment of damage to outback program areas and critical water supply systems.
Lyman Gifford, Executive Director of the Buffalo Trail Council, stayed on site, attending emergency briefings and participating in ground and aerial surveys, as the deadline neared. Finally, although it was clear that significant work had to be done quickly, the decision was made to hold camp.
Each summer, BTSR serves more than 4,000 Scouts and adult volunteers. The camp is known throughout the Boy Scouts of America community as a strong rival to Philmont, the revered Boy Scout facility in New Mexico. BTSR has a range of programs for Scouts of all ages and abilities.
Its High Adventure venue includes weeklong hiking through rugged terrain, horseback riding and camping, Mountain Man camp where participants live for two weeks away from civilization, Circle H Ranching where Scouts experience early ranch life, a simulated cavalry program, and activities designed for Venture Scouts who include both young men and women.
In addition, BTSR connects with its neighbors in Balmorhea to teach SCUBA diving, at Fort Davis to teach area history and at McDonald Observatory to introduce Scouts to the mysteries of the universe. BTSR is considered a critical component of the Fort Davis economy and is a critical asset for the mission of Scouting. BTSR exemplifies the best of West Texas.
Now the fire is out, the skies are clear and campers are settling in at BTSR to build lifetime memories. However, the Buffalo Trail Council is not at ease. Loss of critical pasture land has left the Council facing a one to two year unexpected feed bill for its gentle, well-trained horses, and an emergency fund-raising campaign is underway. Volunteers are still repairing trails and restoring program areas. Insurance claims are being filed and outback water systems are being replaced.
Camp activities are being adapted to avoid damaged areas. Camp staff and Scout leaders are integrating education in how the environment repairs itself into every camp program. And the Boy Scouts are doing what they do best – testing themselves in the great outdoors, challenging and achieving, developing leadership skills and preparing to become strong adults of good character.
Well done Buffalo Trail Council.
Deana M. Savage is president of the Buffalo Trail Council of the Boy Scouts of America.