Zia Experience makes high adventure more accessible to all Scouts, families

For decades, Scouts with special needs have attended Philmont Scout Ranch, enjoying adventures at the BSA base in New Mexico. However, not every activity has been accessible to every Scout.

The BSA is working on changing that via the Zia Experience.

Under the Family Adventure Camp program, the Zia Experience provides an adaptive high-adventure course, designed to help Scouts with special needs enjoy all of the activities their peers do. Last month, Philmont hosted a trial week-long course for five families from across the country. Using adaptive equipment, the Scouts got to go hiking, horseback riding and try out the C.O.P.E. course.

After the week was over, the Scouts didn’t want to leave. It was a hit.

How to adapt

The Zia program, named after the indigenous people whose symbol is emblazoned on the New Mexico state flag, started as an idea two years ago. Scouts with special needs have attended high-adventure bases with their units. Some families elect not to send their Scouts on such adventures, knowing the accommodations their Scouts require.

So, how do you make these life-changing adventures more inclusive?

Since the launch of Family Adventure Camp in 2018, families have been able to experience Philmont together. If a parent or caretaker of a Scout with special needs wants a high-adventure experience tailored to their youth, then Family Adventure Camp could be the ideal place.

Zia Experience organizers and Philmont staff members worked together to see what adaptations would be needed for the small visiting group. For example, a Scout in a wheelchair would need a rugged personal vehicle to traverse the trails.

With those accommodations in place, Scouts and their families came to Philmont. The course ran the same time as the Adaptive Special Needs Conference at the Philmont Training Center. Scouters attending the conference came over to see the Zia Experience in action as well as to help out. More volunteers meant parents and caretakers could relax and savor seeing their kids have the time of their lives.

Future plans

The Sea Base in Florida is set to host a similar program, called the Keys Experience, next March at Camp Sawyer. Another session at Philmont is in the works for next summer. After this recent trial course, staff members realized they can accommodate more families for future courses.

For more Family Adventure Camp offerings at Philmont, Sea Base and the Summit Bechtel Reserve, click here.

About Michael Freeman 446 Articles
Michael Freeman, an Eagle Scout, is an associate editor of Scout Life and Scouting magazines.