Troop 51 has adventure-filled summer

Troop 51 at Camp Old Indian during the summer.

PICKENS — Riding a bike down a beautiful Mountain trail for 22 miles — canoeing on a pristine mountain lake — camping out with the bears in the Smoky Mountains — spending a week at summer camp.

All of these were a part of the exciting summer experienced by Scouts of Troop 51 of Pickens.

As the doors of the schools closed for the summer, Scouts from Troop 51, youth and adult leaders, loaded their bikes on their customized bicycle trailer, packed their camping gear and headed to Whitetop Mountain, Virginia to camp and ride the most incredible bike trail imaginable—the Virginia Creeper Trail. The trail starts in Whitetop Mountain and for 22 miles, gradually descends towards the town of Damascus, Virginia while crossing beautiful mountain rivers on old railroad trestles and meandering through the country side and rolling hills.

The many sights along the way include old railroad stations which have been converted into country stores and museums, wild animals and many picturesque moments around every bend in the trail. After reaching the bottom and hanging out in Damascus for lunch, games and of course, ice cream, the group is shuttled back up the mountain to their camp sites for some needed rest, food and evening activities around the fire. Several scouts rode an additional section of the trail covering more than 30 miles.

The entire trial is 35 miles from Whitetop Mountain to Abingdon. The Appalachian Trail crosses the bike trail several times as well. This trip has become one of the favorite outings for Troop 51 and these scouts have made regular pilgrimages to this area of Virginia. On the return trip, they had lunch at Bay State Mountain Park just outside of Kingsport, Tennessee.

On recalling the biking adventure from earlier this summer, Andrew Dyer, a Life scout working on his Eagle, said “I had a lot of fun on the Bike ride but was very tired.” Andrew was one of the scouts who rode 50 miles for cycling merit badge on the previous trip to Virginia in 2011.

In July, 17 scouts from the troop attended a week of summer camp at Camp Old Indian in Northern Greenville County. During the week, scouts worked on swimming skills, earned more than 38 merit badges, and worked on rank advancements. The scouts participated in a variety of activities and met scouts from other states, in addition to the many trips for slushies and other goodies at the camp trading post. It was a good week with the troop earning 8 ribbons for competitions and achievements and several awards and recognition for individual scouts.

In commenting on his first year at Camp, Knowledge Allen said that it was the “best thing I have done this summer, because I got the chance to earn merit badges.” Mason Collins, also a first timer, stated that he liked camp because he got to earn “a lot of merit badges and swim” and was it “lots of fun”.

“A week at summer camp is a great time for both the scouts and adults,” commented Perry Gravely, the Scoutmaster for Troop 51. “This is one of those weeks that a boy will always remember and talk about every time he starts talking about his “scouting days”. It is also important for keeping scouts on track and motivated for the scouting program. We really had a great bunch of guys this year and I can’t wait to get back up there next summer.”

For the summer finale, the troop headed to Cataloochee Valley in Smoky Mountain National Park near Cherokee, North Carolina. On this trip, the scouts from Troop 51 and Troop 8 of Dacusville worked on map and compass on a hike through an old growth virgin forest. Due to the incredible amounts of rain this summer, several of the bridges were washed out, but this did not stop these scouts who built a rope tether and took off their shoes to ford the main river. The primary attraction of Cataloochee Valley was the herd of wild elk which come down to feed in the fields every afternoon. The elk lived up to their billing and the scouts got to observe a herd of elk in the wild. (Elk have been reintroduced into the Smokies by the National Park Service several years ago and a fairly large herd has survived and flourished in this area.)

After winding down with a campfire, the scouts headed off to their tents (and hammocks for several scouts) for what they thought was to be a restful night. After the campfires faded, one of the local residents, a large black bear, decided to inspect all of the camping gear and food. With some loud scolding by the scoutmaster, the bear decided that it wasn’t worth it and moved on, but not before providing a few excited and memorable moments. Logan Galle and Thackston Nickels both remarked that sleeping a few feet away from a bear was an exciting moment of their summer. Sean Crowe summed it up this way: “Between sleeping with a bear and camping with friends, this has been an exciting and mind blowing summer.”

For its September event, the Scouts helped vendors set up their booths at the Birchwood Arts and Crafts festival before heading out for a day of canoeing, kayaking and fishing on Lake Oolenoy near Table Rock State Park. The scouts did not have a very successful day fishing but had a blast with canoe races and exploring in kayaks. In addition to some regular canoes, the scouts got to test out an old canoe which had been built by previous scouts from the troop in the 1950s or 60s and had been in storage since its previous trip more than 50 years earlier. The old canoe worked well, only taking in minimal water, but providing a great nostalgic moment.

This was a very busy summer, but one which these scouts will remember for quite some time. Brandon Booty, also a Life Scout, remarked: “From the Virginia Creeper to Camp Old Indian, this summer has been an adventure filled blast” And Dustin Gilstrap, known for his love of nature and the outdoors, said the summer was great and “the Smokies was the best part with the bear and the elk.”

In addition to the many adventures, one of the primary goals of scouting is to promote involvement with the community and to help others. Over the past year, Troop 51 has been involved in numerous service projects throughout the community including the installation of benches at Hagood Mill and the Pickens County Museum (Jacob Dyer’s Eagle Project), helping with the Azalea Festival, clean up on Highway 8 and reworking the Nature Trail at A.R. Lewis Elementary (Sawyer Hester’s Eagle Project). Individual scouts participated in other community projects which benefitted Meals on Wheels, Miracle Hill and Cub Scout Day Camp.

Troop 51 meets at the Scout Hut on Black Snake Road in Pickens every Monday night at 7 p.m. The troop has met at this location since the early 1950s and currently has a number of trained adults who assist with this scouting program. Any boy who is at least 11 years old can join scouts and is invited to visit one of the regular meetings at the Scout Hut on Monday nights. For additional information, please contact Scoutmaster Perry Gravely at (864) 878-1577 or contact the Blue Ridge Council at (864) 233-8363.