Ongoing fire risk forces Philmont to close backcountry for remainder of summer

Philmont Scout Ranch announced Thursday that extremely dry conditions and the continuing risk of fire have forced it to close its backcountry for the remainder of the 2018 summer season.

This means all seven- and 12-day treks scheduled for this summer are canceled. Individual backcountry programs, including Rayado, ROCS, Trail Crew, STEM and Ranch Hands are canceled for the summer as well.

Over the next few days, Philmont will contact the lead advisor or contingent leader of affected crews to confirm the refund, offer a trek at Philmont for the 2020 season and answer questions.

All other areas and programs at the Philmont Scout Ranch, including the Philmont Training Center, will remain open all summer. Training courses at the Philmont Training Center and the National Advanced Youth Leadership Experience (NAYLE) will proceed as scheduled.

This decision does not affect Philmont’s fall programs either. This includes Autumn Adventure and fall Philmont Training Center conferences.

The Morris Creek Fire was caused by lightning and is burning on private neighboring property and Philmont in the Rayado River Canyon area.

Why was this decision made?

Safety comes first at Philmont. Nothing matters more than the well-being of participants, staff and volunteers.

This has been an unusually dry season for northern New Mexico, and things haven’t been getting better. The extreme fire risk has forced officials to close state and federal lands near Philmont. More closures were announced in the past week.

The Ute Park Fire, which compelled Philmont to cancel treks through July 14, is now contained. But its effects linger. Because of the Ute Park Fire, Philmont was planning how it would reroute remaining treks through the southern portion of its backcountry.

Unfortunately, just as that was happening, a new fire was discovered on the Philmont property. The new blaze, called the Morris Creek Fire, eliminated these alternate routes.

Beyond that, two new fires in northern New Mexico and southern Colorado highlight the continuing risk that more fires could break out at any time.

With safety as its focus, Philmont had no choice but to close its backcountry for the season.

Which Philmont activities are canceled, and which are not?

Canceled for summer 2018:

  • 7- and 12-day treks
  • Individual backcountry programs:
    • Rayado
    • ROCS
    • Trail Crew
    • STEM
    • Ranch Hands

Not canceled/still open:

  • Philmont’s Camping Headquarters and Base Camp area
  • Philmont Training Center
  • National Scouting Museum at Philmont Scout Ranch
  • Chase Ranch
  • Kit Carson Museum at Rayado
  • Training courses at the Philmont Training Center
  • National Advanced Youth Leadership Experience (NAYLE)
  • Autumn Adventure
  • Fall PTC training conferences

What do I do if my trek was canceled?

  1. Please don’t call Philmont; this will overwhelm the phone lines. Wait for Philmont to contact you.
  2. Expect a refund check soon. The check will be sent to the to the lead contact advisor beginning Monday, July 9, 2018.
  3. Expect a call from Philmont. Over the next few days, Philmont staff will contact the lead advisor or contingent leader of affected crews to confirm the refund, offer a trek at Philmont for the 2020 season, and answer questions.
  4. Consider a Plan B. With your Philmont trek canceled, you might be looking for a replacement adventure. Sea Base is at capacity right now, but Northern Tier and the Summit Bechtel Reserve are ready to help deliver a great adventure program this summer. Crew advisors and councils can call Northern Tier at 218-365-4811 and the Summit Bechtel Reserve at 304-465-2800.
The conservation staff has begun cutting burned trees behind Ute Gulch and is repurposing the trunks to create a barrier on the forest floor to help absorb upcoming rainfall. (Photo by Whitney Dumford)

What will happen to Philmont’s seasonal staff?

Let me take a moment to commend these young Philmont staffers for their positive attitudes as they experience a summer that none of them signed up for.

Some have taken the opportunity to transfer to other BSA camps and national high-adventure bases to fill staffing needs elsewhere. Their flexibility is impressive.

Others stayed at Philmont to put in hard work there. These young men and women expected to be delivering the Philmont experience to thousands of Scouts and Scouters this summer. They thought they’d be working in backcountry camps or guiding crews as Philmont Rangers. Instead, many are rebuilding trails and restoring the backcountry — putting in long hours to make sure Philmont can fully reopen next year.

Yes, it’s the Scouting way to cheerfully serve others. But these Philmont staffers have gone well beyond the call of duty.

How can I help?

Over the past month and more, Philmont has been overwhelmed with messages of support from the Scouting community. People have been asking how they can help, whether by volunteering to help with onsite recovery efforts or offering financial support.

That support is appreciated and will be needed, but Philmont is asking for patience. Details will be released in the coming months. For now, the focus is on the immediate task of supporting affected crews.