When Waite Phillips donated the land that became Philmont Scout Ranch, the total properties were valued in excess of $5 million. Adjusted for inflation, that’s roughly $79.5 million today.
Scouts and Scouters who have visited the beautiful, rugged New Mexico paradise know the real value of Waite’s gift, however: It’s priceless.
Waite Phillips died Jan. 27, 1964, which was 50 years ago last month. He was 81.
Waite’s vision for Philmont was that it would be an opportunity to get young men closer to the great outdoors. He must have realized, even in the late 1930s and early 1940s when he donated the property, that boys needed nature — especially in a world that offered more and more excuses for them to remain inside.
He once said the best contribution Scouting can provide to a young person’s development is “learning to live in the great out-of-doors.” That helps build “initiative, self-reliance, and dependability,” he said.
Philmont specifically, he continued, perpetuates “American idealism and patriotism among boys from all parts of America.”
Waite could never predict a world of iPhones and Xboxes, but he knew the land he donated possessed a magnetism strong enough to rip young people away from other draws on their time, which today are many.
What if Waite could see Philmont today? For starters, he’d see that more than 22,000 Scouts and leaders go on 12-day treks during a typical summer. In 1963, a year before Waite’s death, about half (11,887) that number hiked Philmont’s trails.
I know he’d be proud of the continued growth of Philmont’s signature backcountry programs, its tirelessly dedicated seasonal and full-time staff, and its expansion beyond the country’s top hiking destination into a national training center and so much more.
Those of us who visit Philmont these days will never get to personally thank Waite, of course. But I believe we keep his dream alive each time we experience the Philmont magic for ourselves. I’ve been on two Philmont treks and attended numerous conferences at the Philmont Training Center, and I still haven’t gotten my fill.
If you’ve never been, I urge you to get there and see how this man’s gift became a cherished Scouting treasure that we’ll still be raving about 100 years from now.
Learn more about Waite Phillips by reading Philmont’s excellent summary.
See Scouting magazine’s obituary as it printed in the April 1964 issue, below.