Philmont ROCS: An environmentally focused 21-day backcountry adventure

There are epic Philmont adventures, like the traditional treks that allow participants to spend 7-12 days in the Philmont backcountry. And then there are EPIC PHILMONT ADVENTURES like the Roving Outdoor Conservation School (ROCS), which lasts a whopping 21 days.

Sponsored by the Philmont Conservation Department, ROCS combines conservation work with field lessons and guest speakers that help youth participants better understand the environment that makes Philmont special — and what we must do to sustain it.

“Environmental science, education, forestry … they get to do all that for 21 days on the trail,” says director of camping Steve Nelson.

Oh, and there’s backpacking, too. Plenty of backpacking.

ROCS appeals to youth with an interest in conservation and environmental science. In addition to a great backpacking trip, they get hands-on experience with timber stand improvement, removing invasive weeds and other projects. And they learn everything from geology to botany, fire ecology to range management.

Philmont Scout Ranch sits on 214 square miles of pristine New Mexico wilderness. With all that land comes great responsibility — the perfect job for the Philmont Conservation Department.

Since 1971, the Philmont Conservation Department has been managing, maintaining and planning for the sustainable use of Philmont’s recreational and natural resources. Its programs focus on volunteer engagement, environmental education and wildfire mitigation and prevention.

ROCS is one of those programs.

How are ROCS crews formed?

Unlike Philmont’s traditional treks, ROCS participants attend as individuals. Rather than showing up with members of their troop or Venturing crew, ROCS crews are made up almost entirely of people who have never met.

These provisional crews are organized by Philmont and assigned two adult leaders provided by Philmont.

And that’s part of what makes it so great.

“The best part was being able to meet all of these people and creating friendships and all of those memories,” says ROCS participant Ethan Lewis.

Every person who returns home from Philmont does so with a greater appreciation of the Philmont land.

That goes double for ROCS.

Is there hiking in ROCS?

The emphasis is on learning opportunities rather than total miles, but there is hiking in ROCS. Much of it will be over rugged backcountry. Participants must be in excellent shape with a solid grasp of backcountry skills.

In addition to all of that, there are a wide variety of conservation projects and hands-on science. Throughout the three-week program, participants learn how natural resource professionals make the right decisions when it comes to land management and conservation.

“The kids get to do a ton of really cool things,” says former Philmont environment educator Kathryn Sweeney. “On one ROCS trek, we got to go up to Baldy Town and catch salamanders. … We did a soil lesson. … It’s a lot of different sciences that we bring all into one, and really teach all the participants about the entire community as a whole.”

Roving Outdoor Conservation School trek
Members of ROCS trek gather for an ornithology lesson. Photo by Alex Cenci

What are the requirements to participate?

ROCS participants must be at least 16 years old by the time the programs beings, and not yet 21 by the time it ends.

Philmont advises that participants should be able to hike 10 or more miles with a 50-pound backpack and be able to lift and handle materials up to 75 pounds.

ROCS is one of four individual trek programs sponsored by the Philmont Conservation Department.

The others are:

  • Order of the Arrow Trail Crew (OATC), a 14-day program that brings Arrowmen together for a week of trail building followed by a week of trek program.
  • STEM Trek, a 12-day adventure designed to give participants ages 14-17 an up-close look at the Science, Technology, Engineering and Math behind Philmont’s most popular programs.
  • Trail Crew Trek (TCT), a 14-day program that consists of trekking and trail construction and is designed to develop leadership skills and prepare participants to plan conservation projects in their communities.

About Aaron Derr 457 Articles
Aaron Derr is the senior editor of Scout Life and Scouting magazines, and also a former Cubmaster and Scouts BSA volunteer.