The first rule of Pack 1855’s Hiking Club: Don’t forget the snacks.
But a few months after launching their new plan to take a hike every month, Pack 1855 leaders realized something amazing. They saw their Cub Scouts weren’t begging for the next snack break. They were hungry for the next hike.
The leaders discovered that Cub Scout hiking — if you keep it simple and make it fun — can put your pack on a trail to success.
In Pack 1855, it’s working. For the second year in a row, the pack from Elgin, Ill., (Three Fires Council) has achieved its goal of hiking more than 500 miles in a calendar year.
They get to that lofty sum by calculating the total combined miles hiked by every Cub Scout present. So if 25 Cub Scouts participate in a 2-mile hike, the pack counts that as 50 miles toward its goal. Do that 12 times a year, and you’re there.
“The best part of the transition from complaining to hiking has been seeing the Scouts develop new and stronger friendships,” says Cubmaster Tad Gralewski. “They have fun, get a sense of exploration and find excitement in those unexpected things we run across during a hike.”
Like animal tracks, scat or even an animal skull. Or cool-looking trees and plants to identify. Or giant boulders to climb.
“They have fun, and that’s what it’s all about,” Gralewski says.
How they did it
Pack 1855 schedules one hike a month, every month. Most of these hikes take place in forest preserves within 15 minutes of the pack’s meeting place, making it easy for families to attend.
Hikes are usually around 2 miles, but occasionally a 3-mile hike is scheduled so the Webelos can earn their Webelos Walkabout Adventure.
And once per year, the pack hosts an urban hike where the Cub Scouts learn about the history and architecture of their home town.
With about 30 Cub Scouts in the pack, the 500-mile goal is achievable as long as attendance remains strong on the monthly hikes.
“Keeping the hikes interesting, close to home and fun is the key,” Gralewski says.
The Hiking Club started out slowly, with only a few participants attending the first couple of hikes.
In the beginning, the Cub Scouts didn’t quite get it. They wondered why someone would hike when it’s that hot, or that cold, or that rainy or snowy. They longed for the end — or at least the next snack stop.
But the pack stuck with it, and things started to change.
At the beginning of each hike, two Scouts are designated hike leaders. Their job: follow the right trail on the map, decide when and where to stop for breaks, and make sure the buddy system is being followed.
“This responsibility and leadership is infectious, with the Cub Scouts pining for their opportunity to lead,” Gralewski says. “Even Lions get a turn to lead a hike. As a result, and with the understanding that those who complain are less likely to get an opportunity to lead, the complaining diminished and the hikes have become fun and exciting events.”
Marking the miles
As the Cub Scouts collect miles, they also earn awards that Pack 1855 leaders devised themselves. A three-fold display is presented at every pack meeting, showing both individual and pack progress toward goals.
Patches are presented at 5, 10, 20, 30, and 40 miles hiked. At 50 miles, the Cub Scout is presented with a hiking stick of their own. Everyone wants that hiking stick.
“The first thing Cub Scouts do when they get to a pack meeting is run to the hiking board to see where their name is at,” Gralewski says. “We try to remind them that it’s a competition against themselves, not each other, but all kids do like seeing their name in lights when it’s their turn to earn an award or patch.”
We all know that the Scouting adventure is grounded in outdoor activities. The sooner you get young people hooked on the excitement of being outside, the more likely they are to include the outdoors in their lifetime activities — in Scouts BSA and beyond.
Pack 1855’s Hiking Club does just that, and the pack intends to hit 500 miles again this year.