After graduating from Fort Madison High School, I hopped on an Amtrak train to New Mexico to be a Philmont Ranger for the summer.
The Boy Scouts organization received a 214-square-mile ranch from a wealthy oil tycoon. An incredible place for young people to enjoy and discover not only the property but also themselves.
Every week he brought out a new team of kids and leaders from all over the United States. Each group had their own level of experience, but we taught them the basics.
Our uniform was basic, a green polo shirt was our trademark. We wear this shirt with pride and respect.
We were leaders, but we never led when we took on a series of campers as adults. We always kept going, making sure no one was left behind and to help these kids realize how important our lessons were.
We only had a few days before we made our trip back to base camp on our own, the only people on the ranch who had this privilege to experience the huge ranch on our own, because we had all the skills to get back safely and without have problems. lost in this huge mountainous region.
Thousands of people passed through the different camps, but left almost no evidence of this pedestrian traffic. We went to great lengths to share our methods and philosophy of leaving only footprints and it showed.
The camping areas were the same as I remembered from my visit three years earlier and I noticed that the different campgrounds looked exactly the same at the end of the summer as they did at the beginning.
The best part was seeing people discover nature.
An adult was sitting at the next campsite writing in his journal when a mule deer wandered into the grass. The expression on his face was incredible. Never in his life had he experienced this close encounter with nature.
Decades later, I witnessed this same expression in a friend’s son who wanted to go squirrel hunting. On the way back to the farm, we saw a doe feeding under a power line.
I told him to put her into action and get as close to her as possible. Once again, I simply stood back letting this young man sneak up on her, constantly glancing back in amazement that he was so close to her, simply beckoning him to come even closer.
Leadership is not just giving people orders, but helping people reach their own individual potential. It is about experiencing life through others and challenging them to do things outside of their personal comfort zone or perspective.
Lee County has so many adventures and paths to self-discovery if we just take the time to discover it. Philmont may have mountains and streams, but we are surrounded by rivers and a huge state forest.