Houston Philmont Crews: Guy Parker’s Mission to Get Youth Outdoors

Guy Parker grew up in south Texas along the Gulf Coast, surrounded by the influence of the outdoors. Whether it was hunting, fishing, plinking, Scouting, camping, or just hanging out at the beach or in the woods, he learned at an early age to respect and appreciate the wildlife and land around him. He spent much of his youth in Boy Scouts, earning Eagle Scout, and being introduced to backpacking through a chance opportunity to attend Philmont Scout Ranch in northern New Mexico. At the age of 14, 51-inches tall, and weighing in at 84-pounds, he was hooked on backpacking. He spent the next 4 years learning how to lighten his load, and acquiring the best equipment he could find in the 1970s.

Guy took a creative route for his career, and for the last 35 years has been been a graphic designer, creative director, and owned several agencies. He currently lives and works in Austin as the Chief Strategy Officer for a multi-disciplined creative agency, Workhorse Marketing. He and his wife of 32 years have two sons, both Eagle Scouts. His Scouting resume is extensive, with awards and accolades to fill a page, but his true love is still backpacking and Philmont's captivating allure and ability to transform lives.

We caught up with Guy to learn a little more about the work he's doing to provide Houston youth with the opportunity to experience the backcountry at Philmont, just as he did as a kid.

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Can you tell us a little about the mission behind the youth work you do through Houston Philmont Crews?

The real reason we do this, and the inspiration behind it, was after attending Philmont both as a youth in 1974, and again as an adult in 2005. I saw how life-changing the expeditions were to young kids and adults. I'm a retired Scoutmaster, and one of the rewards (among many) of being a mentor, a leader for young men, was the opportunity to see young boys grow into responsible young men over the course of eight years. Now, imagine seeing that type of dramatic growth in young boys compressed into 12 days.

Of course, the cost to attend this once-in-a-lifetime experience can be out of reach to most kids and families. Providing light–and leaning ultralight–gear to each Scout averages about $1,200 each. In addition, there are travel expenses and Philmont's cost to attend. Total cost per Scout is $3,000 for the trip.

My epiphany was the idea that this "life changing" adventure shouldn't be only affordable or attainable by rich kids. And, more importantly, it's the under-privileged or financially challenged youth who need this type of life event most. We target low-income, financially challenged Boy Scouts. Scouts who could never afford this type of trip. All we ask from the Scout is a $100 commitment.

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How long have you been doing this for and how many youth have you been able to serve?

This summer is the 6th year. The number we can serve is limited to the amount of gear we have and the number of adult volunteers we can get each summer. Right now, we have gear for 18 youth. When I say "gear," I mean everything –from toothbrush and underwear to backpacks, tents, and boots. The only thing we ask the boys to provide is a t-shirt and shorts for sleeping purposes.

We've been able to impact 45 kids in the first five years. We're providing a huge impact on small groups of boys, one boy at a time, for the rest of their life.

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What types of activities do the kids participate in?

At Philmont, the crews backpack between 50 and 103 miles, depending on the itinerary they choose. While on the trail, they visit as many as 10 different camps and traverse elevations from 6,500 feet to over 12,000 feet. During their trek they have the opportunity to participate in the following activities (depending on their itinerary): rock climbing, homesteading, gold panning, blacksmithing, black powder shooting, .30-06 shooting, shotgun shooting, 3D archery, search and rescue, burro racing, lumberjack activities, spar pole climbing, Native American archeology, petroglyphs, and much more. Some camps are staffed, and some are trail camps.

How has Gossamer Gear supported your work?

Gossamer has generously provided their famous Mariposa backpacks for the crew. There is no other backpack that is as light, as well-made, and has enough volume for the two-week trek.

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What's one of your favorite stories from your work?

Too many. But, one that comes to mind is about Marvin. We were day three on the trail and heading down a canyon trail. Suddenly, the line of Scouts stopped. I slowly made my way up the narrow trail to the front and found Marvin, third in line, abruptly stopped and refusing to take another step forward. His next step would have been across a gap in the trail. We were traversing a steep slope, and at this very moment we discovered that he was deathly afraid of heights. After a lot of maneuvering between myself and Stephen (my right hand man and volunteer), we were able to hand walk and coax Marvin across the gap.

Fast forward seven days later. For our last night on the trail, I like the boys to experience a landmark named The Tooth of Time. It resembles a 1,000-foot granite canine tooth sticking straight up out of a ridge. I like to take the boys up there for sunset. It's a tough climb, and after we got to the top, I turned around and there was Marvin, just smiling at me. I asked, "I thought you were afraid of heights?" He said, "Not anymore!"

He had conquered his biggest fear, and you could visibly see the change in his demeanor and the way he carried himself. That's the biggest take away. These kids start off not feeling like they have a chance to get ahead in life and out of the ghetto, and finish feeling like they can accomplish anything they set their minds to. They gain self-confidence, respect for the outdoors, and an appreciation for proper process and planning.

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How can others help support these efforts?

The Sam Houston Area Council of the Boy Scouts financially supports our program now. Philmont scholarships everyone in our crews. I hope that other Boy Scout councils around the country might be interested in adopting a similar program.

We would love to have more supplier support similar to how Gossamer supports our program. This would allow us to provide high-quality gear for our youth participants. We have to have multiple sizes of gear in anticipation of providing the proper fit for each youth. For example, boots and camp shoes ranging in sizes from 7 all the way up to 13, including half sizes–and multiples of each. They also seem to burn through rain gear! And, every summer we replace all of the toiletries.

Follow the Philmont Adventure

Unfortunately, due to wildfires, Philmont had to close its backcountry programming this summer. However, you can get in touch with Guy and check out the past adventures of the 2017, 2016, 2015, 2014, and 2013 crews on their respective Facebook pages.

Prepare with Boy Scouts

Philmont Scout Ranch

Those of you familiar with the Boy Scouts will recognize "Be Prepared" as the Boy Scout Motto. It's one thing to recite it as part of your Scout training, but very much another to learn its importance as part of real life experiences.

I just returned from a 12-day trek at Philmont Scout Ranch in Cimarron, New Mexico, a 137,000 acre mountainous high-adventure mecca for Scouts. Stephen Hankins, a fellow Scout leader and seasoned backpacker, and I took a group of six Boy Scouts from Houston's inner city Third Ward on a backpacking adventure they'll soon not forget. I usually start training Philmont crews 12 months out. This gives us plenty of time to have at least three shakedowns, multiple practice hikes, acquire gear, test gear, learn necessary processes and procedures, and get physically in shape. For this crew Stephen and I had four months to get them ready.

In our home Boy Scout Troop, young Scouts learn the "Philmont way" and how to backpack starting the minute they join our Troop. Our new group of six young Scouts for this summer's trek had little outdoor experience. We had our work cut out for us. The bad news… they had no gear. The good news… they had no gear. This gave me the opportunity to properly outfit them with quality gear that was light. We were only able to schedule two shakedowns before our trek in June, and unfortunately only four or five boys attended each trip. Logistics for a group like this became a major issue. Throw any idea of readily available transportation and family support out the window.

Boy Scout Knot Practice

Boy Scout Knot Practice

To say the least, we hit the trail at Philmont to cover 67+ miles with some fairly inexperienced boys. In fact, several had never flown on a plane. We were confronted by some of the most diverse weather I have ever encountered this time of year at Philmont. Unbelievably dry and hot days with humidity dipping below 5%. That's brutal for a group of guys from the Texas Gulf Coast used to 90% or higher humidity. After three days of scorching heat and penetrating dust, we had rain, hail and lightning every day until we hiked back into base camp. Those 14 and 15 year old Scouts endured steep climbs, long hikes in blistering heat, cold rainy weather, hail and lightning, muddy trails, rocky terrain, blisters, sore knees and turned ankles to traverse more than 67 miles over mountainous terrain covering elevations from 6000 feet to over 10,000 feet.

What did they learn on their odyssey? Besides how to put up bear bags, cook one-pot dehydrated dinners, to eat breakfast as you hike, and wake up, break camp and be on the trail in less than an hour? Number one answer from four out of six after we were back in base camp: "It's important to plan ahead and be prepared."

There's something much more important that these six kids learned on a journey like this, and I quote from one of them, "The most important thing I learned was that you can do anything if you set your mind to it." (Marvin)

Philmont Lunch Stop

This trek was a pilot adventure conceived with a goal of bringing a life-changing event into the lives of young men who are faced with life and family challenges daily. These youth are fortunate to be involved in Scouting at the Yellowstone Academy Middle School and Cristo Rey Jesuit High School in Houston's inner city. They receive the Scouting program weekly at school, and their outdoor experiences are infrequent, but very meaningful. It is my hope to give other young men this rare opportunity, a chance otherwise not available to youth in this community. An outdoor experience like Philmont can have a monumental impact on the life of a young man who struggles every day to find hope and meaning in his life. We now have eight complete sets of kids backpacking gear ready to hit the trail for next summer's adventure, and the next, and so on. One adventure is over, but another one begins again to help disadvantaged youth gain the knowledge and confidence to succeed in life.

This post was written by Trail Ambassador Guy Parker and Editor.