The middle years for Troop 212 are the 1970s and 1980s. These years of Scouting have always been a bit obscure for me. They are far enough in the past that very few adults with the Troop today had any contact with those years. As I did my research I was rewarded with a very interesting story.
Our story begins in 1972. The documents in our troop library indicate that the troop was very healthy with combinations of small weekend events and two to three major events per year. Typical activities include camping at local Scout Camps around Southern California, beach camps. The major events included canoeing the Colorado River, multi-day bike hikes of over 100 miles, and weeklong hikes in the High Sierras. However 1972 also marks the beginning of one of US Scouting’s most difficult periods. In 1972 Boy Scouts of America introduced their new, and improved version, 8th Edition, of The Scout Handbook. This new handbook dealt with several timely issues like ethnic and race identity, as well as drug abuse, and other inner city life challenges. However, it also all but abandoned the outdoors and wilderness activities that had been a part of Scouting since the beginning. Troop camping was optional in this new program. Outdoor activity merit badges like camping, cooking, nature, swimming and lifesaving where no longer required for Eagle. The result of this change to the Scouting heritage was a disastrous loss in membership by Scouting in general nation wide over several years. How did Troop 212 fair during these years? A letter written in 1974 by Dan Harris, an adult leader with the troop, to William Baker at Long Beach Scout Council, can best answer this. “As you are well aware Troop 212 is very active during the year and goes to many areas such as the Grand Canyon, Colorado River, High Sierra and bike hikes in the desert. I have been asked by some of the professionals in the council to prepare an outline of these trips so that the information would be available to other units”. The rest of the letter goes on to explain how the troop organizes and undertakes a hiking trip in the High Sierra. It indicates the troop operated in a mode of continuous trip planning 12 to 18 months in advance. The letter also indicated that some broad program planning took place 3 to 4 years in advance. In fact, the high sierra trip described in the letter was actually the fourth trip of a multi-year plan to hike the length of the John Muir Trail. This type of trip was not an anomaly in the 70s and 80s for Troop 212. The records indicate each year the troop held multi-day hiking, biking or canoeing trips. More often than not the troop included 2 such adventures per year. In 1982, the list of high adventure trips were the San Jacinto Hike, the High Sierra Week Backpack, and the Death Valley 3 Day Bike Hike. All of this is in addition to the normal weekend outings, service projects, and summer camp. As you can see, in terms of an active program the troop remained very healthy through the 70s and into the 80s, despite the problems Scouting was encountering nationally. In 1977 seeing their problem Boy Scouts of America finally responded by asking William Hillcourt (Green Bar Bill to those of us that enjoyed Scouting in earlier years) to return from retirement and write a new Scout Manual. The 9th edition of The Boy Scout Manual was published in February of 1979. While retaining much of the good new ideas from the 8th edition it was a return to traditional values for Scouting, emphasizing Scout Craft and outdoor activities. So why then did Troop 212 survive, and what can we learn for today? Looking over the records, it is apparent three key elements contributed to Troop 212’s survival. First is the support of a great Charter organization. Lakewood First Presbyterian Church (now Grace First Presbyterian) founded the troop with an understanding of Scouting’s importance to the community. Through the years the church never lost sight of that. We would be remiss if I did not thank them for that support now. Second is the community its self. In the case of Troop 212 we have always been lucky to have adults that saw past the needs of their own children, and continue to support the troop after their own boy has moved on. The 70s and 80s documents are full of such adults. Having adults work with multiple generations of boys helps the transfer of troop values from one generation of boys to the next.
Third and finally, it is the program itself. No boy joins Scouts to learn citizenship, maturity, teamwork, and leadership. They join to have fun. A program like the High Adventure one offered by Troop 212 in the 70s and 80s (as well as today) attracts boys, and keep them coming to meeting and outings.