Philmont traditions return as COVID-19 restrictions ease

July 10, 2021 – It’s no secret that Philmont is a tradition rich place backed by the legacy of thousands of staff members and over 1 million participants. These Scouting customs have been passed down from generation to generation and are what connects the past to the present and the present to the future. Virtually everyone who has stepped foot into the backcountry has a shared common experience such as mountaintop victory, campfire connection or sunrise vista.

In 2021, some of these traditions have had to change to help mitigate the risk brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic. Some were put on pause all together. However, after a successful first half of the 2021 season, some of the adaptations are being lifted and others are coming back in full.

Return of the Ranger Bell

The start of July signified a new chapter for the summer. At 11:30 a.m. about 50 rangers gathered around the dining hall bell with smiles underneath their masks. Four rangers climbed to the top of the bell. One of those four, Connor McNeil, shared his story on when he realized he wanted to come back to Philmont this year as a Ranger Trainer.

Rangers prepare to catch the rangers on top of the dining hall bell during the Ranger Bell Chant on Thursday, July 1, 2021. In the middle of the chant, the rangers fall from the bell. Photo by Jack Rodgers.

“I was honored to have the privilege of giving the first bell story of the season,” McNeil said. “I felt that it represented the resilience of our staff and our mission, that even in an unusual summer: Philmont can thrive.”

After McNeil shared his story, the rangers chanted the Ranger Song as has been done since the 1960s.

I want to go back to Philmont
Where the old Rayado flows,
Where the rain comes a seepin’
In the tent where you’re a sleepin’
And the waters say hello…

The four rangers on top of the bell fell back into the arms of their fellow rangers and finished the chant before ringing the bell for lunch.

“The ranger bell was one of the first things I ever saw as a participant when I came here on my first trek, and the enthusiasm and comradery I saw amongst the rangers was one of the reasons I wanted to come back and be on staff,” Associate Chief Ranger Danny Marshall said.

Ranger Trainer Connor McNeil rings the Ranger Bell for the first time of the 2021 summer season. This tradition happens before every lunch and dinner. Photo by Jack Rodgers.

Attending the Chapel Service of Your Choosing

Another change comes with the chapel services at Philmont. There is now only one service time at 7 p.m. instead of two. Participants are also now able to attend the service of their personal choosing, instead of having to decide as an entire crew which service to attend.

The head chaplain Chip Turner said the chaplains are very happy about the update. He said it is something they advocated for, as long as it would stay within the guidelines.

Peter Certo of crew 620-N from Indianapolis, Indiana kneels during the Catholic Mass Service at Philmont Scout Ranch on July 1, 2021 before heading home. Certo attends Mass every Sunday. “I think that going to Mass anywhere, you can get a sense of home. I think it’s really great that I can go to Mass at Philmont.” Photo by Nicolas Castelli.
Peter attends Mass every Sunday at home. “I think that going to Mass anywhere, you can get a sense of home. I think it’s really great that I can go to Mass at Philmont.”

Peter Certo of crew 620N from Indianapolis, Indiana attended the Catholic service on July 1st after completing his 54 mile, 12-day trek.

“When I was on the trail, I was looking forward to Mass and enjoyed reflections with my Chaplain’s Aid,” Certo said. “When there are no distractions, it’s easy to connect with God, especially in the backcountry.”

Capacity Restrictions Lifted

There are no longer capacity limits at the Tooth of Time Traders or the National Scouting Museum.

A pair of boots hang off the Philmont sign as the sun sets on Thursday, July 1, 2021. Photo by Adam McCoid.

Hours of operation:

Tooth of Time Traders 7:30 a.m.- 6:45 p.m.
Snack Bar 10 a.m.- 5 p.m., 8-10 p.m.
National Scouting Museum 8 a.m.- 7:30 p.m.
Kit Carson at Rayado 8 a.m.-5:30 p.m.
Chase Ranch Main House 8 a.m.-5:30 p.m.
Villa Philmonte Tours 8 a.m.-5 p.m. (by reservation)

Opening/Closing Campfires

The first of July also brought the first evening opening campfire at the opening campfire bowl. At the beginning of the summer, there were a few different opening campfires and they were at the closing campfire bowl.

The Activities staff were excited to be able to actually have a campfire again. “Having the fire at night will create a bit of ambiance,” Andrew said. “I think it’s a great thing to do right before people go to sleep right before they hit the trail.”

Elizabeth Blankley shouts, “I came here for gold!” as she preforms a sketch about Cyphers Mine during the Opening Campfire at Base Camp on Thursday, July 1st, 2021. This was the first campfire of the summer at the opening campfire bowl. Photo by Jacob Geboski.

Opening campfire is a way to inspire the crews ahead of their trek for the task at hand. Staff members also introduce some of Philmont’s history that crews will discover more about throughout the backcountry.

Kyle Magennis of Crew 701-DD at Opening Campfire says, “This is the start to a great Scouting adventure.”

Opening campfire is a tradition that advisor Collin Magennis of Crew 701-DD got to share with his son for the first time. This year is Magennis’ first time back at Philmont in 34 years.

“Being here again, and being here with my son, means everything to me.”

Meanwhile, the closing campfire will be returning to one campfire as well.

Matt Walker is part of a contingent with eight crews from Los Angeles. This is Walker’s third trek at Philmont. He has been on two with his sons, but this trek was with his daughter who is part of two all-eagle scout female
crews. Walker reflected on treks at Philmont.

Scouts pass the “we all made it award” sign as they leave closing campfire on Thursday, July 1, 2021. Participants receive their arrowhead patch during the closing campfire ceremony after successfully completing their trek. Photo by Steel Brooks.

“It’s easy to want to go home immediately. I do feel like at the end of the campfire it’s a great sense of closure; it puts a bow on it,” Walker said. “I’m actually a big advocate of staying for the campfire. And it’s really fun to get to do it with this many people from our crew.”

Chloe Moshrefi from crew 620-T-07 finished her trek at the closing campfire service on July 1.

“It’s a fantastic end to a memorable adventure of a lifetime,” Moshrefi said.

Written by Monica Dunn – MPS Manager.

(from left) Chloe Moshrefi, Kate Walker, and Madeline Milan sing along to “Take Me Home, Country Roads” by John Denver during closing campfire after their trek on Thursday, July 01, 2021. “I thought it was really pretty,” said Kate, who celebrated her 16th birthday at Philmont on Thursday. “When you’re going through a hard time [on the trail] it will always get better,” she said. “We could think about ourselves,” she said, “think about how we act in our normal communities versus out here.” Photo by Steel Brooks.