The secret of their success: How one Indiana troop retains older members with the promise of a “big trip”

Thingvellir National Park is one of the most visited sites in Iceland. Photo courtesy of Troop 4010

We’ve long known that older kids have different interests than younger kids.

That’s why there’s Cub Scouts for youth in kindergarten through fifth grade, and Scouts BSA for kids in fifth grade and higher.

But I would suggest we could take it one step further: Scouts BSA members who are 13 years and older have different interests than kids in the same troop who are 11 or 12.

They’re both the right age for Scouts BSA, but in many cases, they’re completely unalike.

So how do you run a troop that keeps kids of all ages interested? For Troop 4010B out of Clarksville, Indiana, the answer is to focus on what they call their “big trip.”

The big trip is an annual event that goes well beyond your average Scout campout or summer camp experience. Sometimes it’s a trip to a BSA high-adventure base. Other times it’s a trip to an exotic location such as the Boundary Waters, Yellowstone National Park, Alaska, or, more recently, Iceland, where the troop visited last summer with a few members of their sister troop, 4010G, and Venturing Crew 4010.

Photo courtesy of Troop 4010

Something to look forward to

The troop requires big trip participants to be at least 13 years old and to have achieved the rank of First Class. Each big trip requires about two years of planning, so there’s literally always something for Scouts to look forward to.

Younger Scouts stay with the program and work on advancement because they can’t wait to be old enough to go on a big trip. Older Scouts stick with the program because they can’t wait for their next big trip.

But it’s not just the trips themselves that keep the troop strong; it’s the process surrounding the trips: They’re brainstormed and planned from the start entirely by the youth, with adults there to provide guidance only as needed.

“The whole process ties in with the methods of Scouting,” says Dan Ellnor, a former youth member of the troop who continues to serve now as an adult leader. “It’s leadership development. It’s personal growth. It’s all of the methods. (The Scouts) come up with all the ideas. They really inspire us.”

Photo courtesy of Troop 4010

There was an idea …

The planning for each Troop 4010B big trip starts with a handful of Scouts doing extensive research on the cost, logistics and advantages of going to any destination of their choice. For the trip to be considered by the rest of the Scouts, they’re required to put all the data together in a presentation in front of their peers.

“We voted on Iceland after looking at a handful of destinations to choose from,” says 17-year-old Mark Nokes, who also served as a crew leader on the trip. “We picked it because of its natural beauty, and it was an incredible and otherworldly experience.”

Recently, the troop watched presentations on options such as the United Kingdom or Colorado, but it was 15-year-old Wyatt Chisman who put together the presentation on Iceland.

“I wanted to go somewhere not many people have gone before,” says Wyatt.

The adults worked with the youth to make sure they adhered to the BSA’s rules on international travel. They also helped with tasks that youth can’t do, like making airline and lodging reservations and making payments.

“This was the first trip that we went out of the country for,” says Scoutmaster Garry Nokes. “It created new challenges that we were up for, and all of them were worked out.”

And once they got there?

“The Iceland trip was strenuous but an all-together amazing experience that I will never forget,” says 16-year-old Mary Braden of Troop 4010G. “It was fascinating to explore the land and the culture. We did caving, snorkeling, sightseeing at a glacier lagoon and trekking on a 30-mile hike to a hut in the mountains.

“It was hard, but it was an adventure.”

Photo courtesy of Troop 4010

Fundraising, fundraising, fundraising

It’s worth noting that big trips are not cheap. That’s why fundraising is such an important part of Troop 4010B’s programming during each two-year planning period.

The troop offers a lot of fundraising opportunities, but the main one involves performing essential duties such as assisting people with disabilities and removing trash before, during and after a very popular community festival.

“It’s all about managing the people flow,” says assistant Scoutmaster Jeff Braden. “We look at it as a community service, but it’s great that we get some funding from it, too.”

In between the fundraisers, the Scouts stay active, going on regular campouts and working on advancement.

They also find time to make sure they’re all in top physical condition for the next big trip, and prepared for all possible weather conditions, which, for Iceland, meant being ready for the cold.

“We went through lots of practice hiking trips, did cold-weather camping and had lots of meetings to discuss foreign travel,” 16-year-old Ian Prinz, who served as another crew leader. “I worked closely with the adult and other crew leaders to help plan the itinerary and keep things moving.”

Photo courtesy of Troop 4010

They do it because it works

Troop 4010B’s adult leaders say the big trip goes a long way toward keeping all of their Scouts – no matter their age – engaged in the program.

Recently, the troop recognized 10 members for earning the rank of Eagle. Most of them were within six months or so of turning 18, the drop-dead date for earning the Eagle requirements.

They didn’t wait that long because they were lazy, either.

“It was because of the big trip,” says assistant Scoutmaster Ben Chisman. “They wanted to stay involved.”

It’s a model they think would work for any troop looking for ways to keep older kids active.

“The main advice I would give is that getting used high adventure takes time,” says 18-year-old Eagle Scout and assistant Scoutmaster Jeffrey Braden. “You won’t be perfect at it at first, but once you get the routines down, it can be — and will be — a blast.”

Those dark specks in the photo are flies! Photo courtesy of Troop 4010

Share your “success” stories

We’re always on the lookout for Scouting success stories. Know any units or leaders who have gone above and beyond expectations? Email us and let us know! We might feature them in our next “secret of their success” story.

About Aaron Derr 436 Articles
Aaron Derr is the senior editor of Scout Life and Scouting magazines, and also a former Cubmaster and Scouts BSA volunteer.