Philmont Scout Ranch backcountry closed for first time

July 6, 2018

The Philmont Scout Ranch, the 140,000-acre Boy Scouts of America outdoor destination in Northeastern New Mexico, announced Thursday it will close its areas for the first time in its history.

The ranch, besieged by the region’s extreme wildfire risk since the Ute Park Fire spread to 36,000 acres in Colfax County last month, called the closure of its vast backpacking area a “difficult but prudent decision” on its website.

Previously the ranch, southwest of the village of Cimarron, had canceled backcountry treks through July 14.

The ranch, which annually draws thousands of scouts from far and wide, becomes the latest casualty in a tinder-dry summer that has seen much of Northern New Mexico’s great outdoors closed off due to fire risk.

The Morris Creek Fire, started Friday by a lightning strike near Philmont’s southern property line, has scorched 1,600 acres and is burning Philmont property, the website says.

That new fire foreclosed the “alternate trek routes” that ranch managers had begun to plan in the wake of the Ute Park Fire, which burned 14 unoccupied outbuildings on the scout ranch before it was contained June 19.

“As difficult as this situation has been for our Philmont family and for scouts across our country, we have been truly inspired by the incredible enthusiasm and perseverance shown by our staff, the resourcefulness displayed by displaced crews to find other summer adventures and the understanding and good wishes from thousands of scouts and scouters from around the world,” the ranch wrote on its website. “For all of these blessings, we are truly grateful.”

“The Philmont ranger motto is ‘scramble — be flexible,’ ” the website added. “That’s what we at Philmont have been doing all summer as we deal with these unexpected and unfortunate circumstances.”

The closure means all scheduled seven- and 12-day treks, which take groups of scouts on journeys of 50 to 120 miles, and individual backcountry programs are shelved this summer. Scout crews must register for the backcountry treks at Philmont 18 months in advance.

The ranch said it would send refund checks and offer treks in the 2020 summer season to affected groups of scouts. It was not immediately clear how many scouts would be affected.

According to its website, the ranch attracts 23,000 “participants” each summer.

The closure does not affect the ranch’s camping headquarters, base camp, training center and scouting museum.

A ranch spokesman did not return a message seeking comment. In a statement, Al Lambert, national director of outdoor adventures at the Texas-based Boy Scouts of America, said safety was the top priority.

“As difficult as this situation has been for visitors and scouts across our country, we are grateful for the local, state and federal authorities who have worked to contain the fires and keep our communities safe,” Lambert said.

The Carson National Forest, which has ranger districts adjacent to the Philmont Scout Ranch, closed last week with the exception of the Jicarilla Ranger District west of Dulce, which is under stage two fire restrictions. The 2,300-acre Sardinas Canyon Fire in the Carson National Forest, which started June 24 some 18 miles southeast of Taos, was 15 percent contained, according to nmfireinfo.com on Thursday.

The Santa Fe National Forest has been closed since June 1.

Large swaths of the Cibola National Forest in Central New Mexico have been closed since mid-June.

Follow Tripp Stelnicki on Twitter @trippstelnicki.

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