Sunday, July 6, 2008

ArrowCorps5 recollections

[This is intended for publication in the Nentico Lodge 12 newsletter, the Arrow of Light; reproduction is allowed as long as attribution is maintained]

News for Nentico Lodge 12

from ArrowCorps5

George Washington Jefferson National Forest

[by Jim Spath]


On many camping trips, the camaraderie around a campfire is the highlight of the evening, with stories, jokes, and songs shared that might be recalled for a lifetime. The opening and closing shows of summer camp, lodge events and huge operations such as ArrowCorps5 are no exception, with the slight modern adjustment of the flicker of digital images replacing the flicker of hydrocarbon combustion. But by no means was the gathering of Arrowmen merely an opportunity for all to communally watch movies, as if we all had shown up at a mall theater (or perhaps the Bengies drive-in) in full Class A uniform, with sashes.

But even before the opening show, I participated in several gatherings. The first was Conservation USA training, where experienced trail crews from Philmont shared knowledge of project management, water conservation and safety, safety, safety for all crew. At our lunch break Saturday, we met our 2 mascots for the weekend, Smokey Bear and Woodsy Owl. I remember when the former was known as “Smokey The Bear” back in the 1960s on television commercials teaching youth and adults to “Always Be Careful with fire. Before we knew it, both the Owl and the Bear were given Ordeal honors, each donning brand-new sashes they would wear the remainder of the week. It was a brilliant idea, melding the United States Forest Service media representatives into the Order of the Arrow lodges. We cheered as each was presented to the crowd.

Around 7:30 PM Saturday night, the crowd gathered at Camp Post near the main registration area, in view of Lake Merriweather, the lake that the camps of Goshen Scout Reservation share for merit badges and recreation. Late arrivals continued to pick up badges, goodie bags and training material for the days to follow. During the afternoon, I had decamped from Camp Olmsted en route to my longer-term home at Camp PMI. Before the formal show, members of the “elite” Instructor Corps entertained us with country/bluegrass stylings. Seems that musical talent was just one aspect of the “I-Corps.” The formal show included introductions of the youth and adult OA leaders, Forest Service project staff and video clips from those unable to attend.

On Friday, Saturday and Sunday, I met my fellow AC5 staff, including squad leaders like myself, support staff (cooks, commissioners, and public relations, to name but a few) and the “experts from out of town” the 42-strong contingent of Philmont trail crew experts selected to work all 5 of the service projects. They had been selected for their skills not just in handling shovels (called “spoons” here), Pulaskis and McLeods, but for leadership skills. Each was assigned 2 squads, so I was working for a youth younger than my son. The training continued what some had started at NCLS (National Conservation Leadership School) but I was able to fast track completion thanks to my environmental engineering background. It took me a while to find Jake, my crew leader, given the size of the crowd and number of activities going on, but by Sunday we were able to begin organizing for the week.

The closing show on Friday night proved to be the first time that I-Corps had been able to stay, as the schedules for Manti-La Sal and Mark Twain required them to depart beforehand. Thus, they were able to hand out packets containing crew photos, patches and related memorabilia. My squad sat with Jake in the front row; I played the “old guy” card and sat further back in a folding chair.

To say this event was well-prepared and structured for brotherhood would be an understatement. Each participant was given a booklet with ample inspirational quotes, guidance, resources and suggestions. One of my favorites was the blank area for autographs, and a suggested goal of 20 signatures, to be collected on your recreation day (I have 30, including National Chief Jake Wellman, the National Chairman, and the Youth Incident Commander Geoff Landau). Another suggested goal was to introduce yourself to someone you've never met. Well, a 1 hour 15 minute bus ride from base camp to work site gave ample opportunity to share stories with brothers you've never met, and may never meet again, and to gain perspective into many lodge operations.

A final word on brotherhood moments – we were supplied with trail lunches, a wonderful feast we picked up during our morning bus departures. Each day, we ate together either at the trailhead, or along the trail. Thursday's was particularly memorable, as Brad Haddock, Carey Miller and Jack Butler of the National Order of the Arrow organization, worked with our crew and then shared lunchtime with us. Jonathan (of O-Shot-Caw lodge 265) led us in grace. During the week we worked to avoid dehydration, with brothers sharing water among those in need.


Of course, who could be cheerier than Woodsy Owl (“Give a Hoot, Don't Pollute!”), who seems a friendlier character than Smokey Bear. We were given stickers in our welcome packets, including both Woodsy and Smokey, which many affixed to our red safety helmets. A few lodges came prepared with their own stickers, which they gladly shared around. Squad leaders were given sheets of decals to be handed to those doing “good jobs” (anyone who has seen the movie “Hancock” will appreciate this sentiment).

Tuesday was another challenging day on the trail, and afterwards, as our bus headed in the opposite direction from camp and dinner, to a “meet the press' event. Allegheny Highlands Chamber of Commerce, the town of Covington, and representatives from the OA and the Forest Service expressed their gratitude for our service. After hearing one speaker say he had never heard of the OA before this project, but he sure knew us now, one of the highlights was the announcement from a town manager that she had been inducted as an Ordeal member this year, and knew well the potential of a group of Arrowmen. This elicited a round of applause. Afterward, we were presented with cold watermelon and drinks.

The challenge of occupying and operating a camp with hundreds of participants requiring food, shelter, water and trading post access fell to a combined task force from OA National HQ and from the camp owners, the National Capital Area Council. The photo of Bob Owen, head Commissioner, at one of the bus departure mornings, is a priceless moment of the cheerfulness required for a project of this magnitude to succeed. Bob's commissioners gave out “Goshen Gopher Happy Camper” awards to those exemplifying Scout spirit in making camp a happy place to be. I am pleased to report that my squad earned several of these limited edition (not-for-sale) patches, including a few earned when I volunteered them in absentia to clean half the shower house. Those who showed up, pitched in, and got the job done without complaints showed their ability to do a good deed.

Since I returned from AC5, I've been looking online for news, photos and videos of ArrowCorps5. There is an official video on YouTube (verify link: ) which should be available in higher resolution as part of the AC5 DVD. A friend of mine runs an event tracking web site, so be sure to visit to view project images.

Forest Service site photo gallery:


By definition, ArrowCorps5 is a service project like no other, so it almost goes without saying that each site delivered a week of service to our nation's natural resource conservation efforts. But if all we accomplished was a massive Eagle project at 5 places around the country, that would not be sufficient return on the investment of time, people, money and other resources we've dedicated to this effort. It would be a great return, but we intended to deliver more.

I think the closing show speech from a Forest Service administrator sums up what we accomplished. Speaking from the perspective of an inside-the-Beltway career federal employee, she related her original skepticism that this project would amount to much. It seemed too ambitious for a volunteer group to succeed in a week producing what would have taken paid contractor months or years to complete. I heard similar feedback from others, who had the initial impression that 1,000 Cub Scouts would appear in the National Forest, full of enthusiasm, but short on stamina. We certainly fooled them! I've heard different statistics on how much trail we were expected to complete, how much we might have completed, and how much we did complete, but the undeniable quote from the Forest Service administrator was that we not only completed one part of the project, building durable surfaces for camp sites, but she planned to have the sites open for business the next day! Others told similar tales of how much more we achieved than had been hoped, including the two prior sites.

A primary goal of the projects, just like Eagle Scout Leadership Service Projects, is team and leadership skills. I saw firsthand how the young men of I-Corps (also known as the “A team”, the “Iron Men”, “Strike Force” and similar accolades) tackled daunting organizational, administrative and logistical obstacles. While not every battle could be considered a complete success (nature fought back Friday with a noon thunderstorm), every faltered step was bolstered by learning and coaching. The ideas of Leave No Trace, Safety, Conservation and Legacy were reinforced time and again during the week.

What am I returning with for Nentico Lodge? Firstly, while I started on my journey believing I was the sole Lodge 12 representative, it turned out that a Florida lodge member (Sam) had relocated to Howard County recently, so I was not alone. Secondly, I have patches and memorabilia for our lodge museum. Thirdly, I have a fuller appreciation of the skills required to manage a project of this magnitude. Fourthly, I have tales to tell at Lodge and Chapter meetings, that I've practiced sharing already. Last, and definitely not least, I have ideas and inspirations for future service projects.

Seeing expert trail crews at work, teaching neophytes the skills required to build and maintain pathways through beautiful forests has given me new appreciation of what pioneers have done. Different crews used different techniques, some more invasive than others, leaving a variety of impressions for National Forest visitors. I'd like to serve as adviser to trail crews at the Lodge and Chapter level, where our expertise in conservation can be leveraged not only for Unit and Eagle projects around Scout properties, but extending to local, county, state and national parks. Continuing the legacy of ArrowCorps5 is my goal.

Also see:

1 comment:

Brad Haddock said...

Jim --
Thanks for sharing your thoughts about ArrowCorps5! I am glad you had such a wonderful experience and intend to keep the AC5 momentum alive now that you are home.
It was a pleasure to join you at the site and have the opportunity to work along side you on Thursday as the squad worked diligently on Peter's Ridge.
All my best.
Brad Haddock
National OA Chairman