Boy Scout ranch focuses on wildfire recovery as summer season nears

This Oct. 15, 2018, photo, provided by Philmont Scout Ranch shows piles of slash being burned as part of an effort to clear out extra fuel. The historic ranch near Cimarron, New Mexico, is rebuilding following a devastating wildfire that burned nearly 44 square miles in 2018. Backcountry trails were wiped out along with trail camps. (Philmont Scout Ranch via AP)

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (AP) — Tucked away in the foothills of the southern Rockies, the Philmont Scout Ranch has become a holy grail, its stretches of untamed wilderness and challenging backcountry treks drawing more than 1 million Boy Scouts and other adventurers from across the United States over the past 80 years.

For many of those who have spent time at the mountain retreat, they can’t get enough. It gets in the blood, it’s infectious and it’s the reason there was so much heartbreak last year when a wildfire ripped through the heart of the ranch.

Dozens of miles of trails were wiped out along with campsites, leaving behind a scar that will take years and millions of dollars to restore.

The work is necessary, ranch managers and troop leaders say, pointing to Philmont as a crown jewel of the scouting experience.

“There’s just a real sense of loss, kind of a grieving process so to speak,” said Roger Hoyt, a longtime Scout leader and Philmont’s general manager. “But at the end of the day, nature does renew itself and I think from the tragedy and the heartache comes this sense of renewal and opportunity.”

More than a half-million dollars already has been raised and the rebuilding effort is underway with the installation of 85 new campsites and work to shore up some of the ash-covered hillsides.

Crews were sidelined in January due to snow, but work has resumed in the lower elevations as the clock ticks down for the start of the summer season.

And it will be a banner season with a record number of Scouts — possibly as many as 24,000 — expected to pass through Philmont, Hoyt said.

Some of them initially planned to make the trek in 2018 but were derailed due to the fire and the subsequent closure of the backcountry.

With nearly one-fifth of Philmont blackened, the ranch is not alone in its new mission to become more resilient as western land managers face larger and hotter wildfires fueled by overgrown forests and dry conditions.

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