As members of the Philmont Staff Association know firsthand, Philmont is a place that changes lives and shapes the people that we have all become. From November 3-6, twenty PSA members were able to bring the special magic of Philmont to Mississippi, to participate in a special project that succeeded in making an impact upon the ‘outside’ world. With the help of Ken Davis, the PSA worked in conjunction with a group of volunteers from National Capital Area Council (NCAC) to help restore Pine Burr Area Council’s Camp Tiak. The camp, located near Wiggins, MS, suffered severe damage as a result of Hurricane Katrina and her aftermath. An estimated 70% of the trees on the property were damaged or destroyed. As a conscientious Scout and citizen, I was becoming restless for an opportunity to help affect positive change in an area in such dire need of it. Fortunately, I was not alone; indeed, the reason all of us had agreed to come on this far from glamorous tour of the Gulf Region was to help out in the way we knew best by assisting other Scouts as we do while at Philmont. Vern Miller, member of the Fall 2005 Fire Restoration Crew, points out “helping others, especially at this crucial time, is what the Boy Scouts is all about, it’s the root of our organization.”
I was lucky to be one of nine current staff members who drove from the Ranch to meet the other eleven in the work crew, who hail from Mississippi, Alabama, Tennessee, North Carolina, and the Washington, D.C. area. An astonishing 15 of those 20 people were a part of the 2005 Summer Staff. The two-day drive from New Mexico was long and slightly cramped, due in part to the 6 chainsaws and other assorted pieces of equipment we piled into our rented 15-passenger van. In spite of space constraints and bumpy southern highways, we arrived at Camp Tiak in high spirits, eager to begin the difficult work of clearing away hundreds of trees around the roads and waterfront.
Friday evening, we were graciously welcomed with old-fashioned Southern hospitality and a grateful Pine Burr Area staff; after a brief orientation of the camp’s grounds and our plan of action, we were set to attack the exhausting task that lie ahead of us. Phil Graham, the Assistant Foreman of the Fire Restoration Crew, described the work as “some of the toughest we’ve seen all season. In order to save the buildings that were not damaged, we were challenged to make some very precise cuts.” That challenge was met. Over the next two days, with some 12 chainsaw operators, various backhoe, tractor and dump truck drivers, and continuous staffing of two chipping machines, we moved approximately 600 square yards of debris off the camp’s grounds to an outside area to be picked up by FEMA workers. Patrick McGough, a PSA member and certified forester who was part of our crew, estimates that the value of the work that the twenty of us accomplished is about $8000 (equipment plus labor). The progress we made, along with the work that other NCAC members completed earlier that week, will allow Camp Tiak’s winter camp program to take place, against initial estimates that the camp would not be usable until the following summer season at the earliest.
Along with having the opportunity to work for two days at Camp Tiak, we were fortunate to have our own personal tour guide in crew member Cliff Galle (Director of Conservation ’05), who is from and still currently resides in Ocean Springs, MS (minutes east of Biloxi, MS). Saturday evening, we all traveled approximately 40 miles south, first for a traditional Southern dinner in d’Iberville. I had my first (of what I hope to be many) experiences with crawfish etoufee, along with having the pleasure of meeting Mr. and Mrs. Carl Galle. They shared with us their story of weathering Katrina, and even brought photographs of the damage, to help us better understand the severity. And as if the delicious dinner wasn’t enough of a treat, The Galle’s generously surprised us all by treating us to dinner. We were, and still are, so grateful to them. After dinner, Cliff led us to Biloxi and Ocean Springs to take a driving tour of one of the most severely damaged areas along the Gulf Coast. For me personally, this was the portion of the trip that had the greatest impact. In the days and weeks following Katrina, I logged countless hours of television coverage, as well as internet and print news press detailing the disaster. Despite this, I was still completely unprepared to digest the utter destruction that was left in Katrina’s wake. We drove through neighborhoods representing every socioeconomic class in Mississippi, and the one unifying feature was that Katrina paid no attention to social class her fury demolished one-bedroom tenements alongside six bedroom mansions. No one was immune from the affects not even an organization like the Boy Scouts, which stresses good citizenship and dedication to self and others positive development.
I was consistently struck by the optimism expressed by all those affected by Katrina. Despite the weeks and months of cleanup that lie ahead, they maintain upbeat attitudes, thankful for what they still have, and are quick to offer whatever they can to any who cross their path. Their positive attitudes provided us with the necessary energy to make a positive impact upon the Camp Tiak cleanup. Amazingly, the entire Tiak relief effort has been without injuries of any kind. Save a few scratches and filthy work clothes, the only permanent reminder of our work is the camp’s now-safe program areas and our lasting memories of the rewarding work we were able to accomplish in our intense, albeit unfortunately short, time in the Magnolia State. As we packed up to head back to the Ranch, Andrea Consalus echoed a feeling that I had all weekend “I only wish we had more time there.”
All told, we put 3000 miles on our beloved Chevy van, which quickly became an equal member in our slightly dysfunctional traveling troupe. We consumed somewhere in the neighborhood of 1 billion calories (90% of which, I am almost positive, was purely from snack-sized Nerds boxes). It will probably be some weeks before our teeth fully recover of the onslaught of sugar, and our bodies are still proudly displaying scratches, bruises, and brushes with possibly poisonous ivies.
While this adventure could not have been possible without the help of a multitude of people, there are some specific people I would be remiss to not thank individually. To Michele Allen, PSA Director, our Den Mom, our Timekeeper thank you for coordinating all the logistics so that all we had to do was show up ready to work. I am amazed that you were able to put up with our shenanigans at every Dairy Queen stop and cigarette break and still managed to remain in good spirits for the length of the trip. You kept us on time and moving, despite our best efforts to dawdle! To Ellen Bracy and Loretta Owens, from Plano, TX and Ruston, LA, respectively. These lovely women graciously provided us not only with a place to stay along our way, but homemade goodies as well. Sincere thanks for your hospitality! I was touched by the fact that both of these ladies were willing to provide so much for so many of us, sight unseen, no questions asked. On behalf of the entire van load of Philstaffers who somehow managed to survive some 40-plus hours together, I would like to extend my heartfelt thanks to all those in the PSA who made our trip possible. It was truly an unforgettable experience that I will carry with me, along with many others, all provided to me by Scouting’s paradise.
Originally from central California, Diana graduated from the University of Southern California in December of 2003 with a B.A. in Psychology. She first worked at Philmont the summer of 2003 as a Group Leader at the PTC. And again as a Group Leader at the PTC the summer 2005 and was a member of the Fall Second Season Staff in 2005. Now Diana works for the Girl Scouts of America at a Southern Colorado council, teaching Middle School girls important life skills such as self esteem, healthy relationships, personal safety, drug & alcohol awareness, and more.