Local Boy Scouts spend Christmas break backpacking for badges

Using a break to take a group photo, members of Boy Scout Troop 130 record their time visiting the wilds of Cumberland Island National Seashore between Christmas and New Year’s Day. Pictured (kneeling, from left) are Jackson Lunsford, Jacob Worsham, Jamison Heyde and Justin Lunsford; and (standing, from left) Nick Anderson, Breckin Hammel, Jacob Bruce, Kevin King, Isaac Gordon, Brendan Brinkman and Brad Gordon. Not pictured is Assistant Scoutmaster Jeff Webb.
Using a break to take a group photo, members of Boy Scout Troop 130 record their time visiting the wilds of Cumberland Island National Seashore between Christmas and New Year’s Day. Pictured (kneeling, from left) are Jackson Lunsford, Jacob Worsham, Jamison Heyde and Justin Lunsford; and (standing, from left) Nick Anderson, Breckin Hammel, Jacob Bruce, Kevin King, Isaac Gordon, Brendan Brinkman and Brad Gordon. Not pictured is Assistant Scoutmaster Jeff Webb. Photo provided.

Originally published Jan. 18, 2018.

Known for their pluck, a dozen hardy members of Boy Scout Troop 130 spent most of their Christmas break backpacking, dune climbing, beachcombing and hanging out with wild horses, on their way to achieving several backpacking merit badge requirements.

The troop, which meets at Life Church in Huntington on Monday nights, headed south to Cumberland Island National Seashore on the Atlantic coast of south Georgia, just a stone’s throw away from Jacksonville, FL. Scouts Nick Anderson, Brendan Brinkman, Jacob Bruce, Isaac Gordon, Breckin Hammel, Jamison Heyde, Kevin King, Jackson Lunsford and Jacob Worsham made the trip, along with assistant scoutmasters Brad Gordon, Justin Lunsford and Jeff Webb.

“It’s a destination that many outdoor enthusiasts and wilderness lovers like to go to in the eastern half of the United States,” explains Assistant Scoutmaster Jeff Webb. “It’s got a great wilderness feel; it’s got a maritime forest, salt marsh and lots of exotic animals, so it’s pretty cool.”

Highlights of the six-day trip included hiking six miles of beach along the Atlanta Ocean with stops to hunt seashells and identify shore birds. Along the shore they collected sand dollars and conch shells, among other sea treasures.

The scouts left the frigid temperatures of Huntington County, to a climate ranging from the 60s during the day to around 40 at nighttime – which would have seemed like a tropical paradise, if not for all the rain they encountered, as they set up tents on the island’s interior back country and slept in hammocks. In some instances, they just had to tough it out and endure the cold, rainy weather. For some of these scouts, they call that “fun.”

“You’d wake up, and it would be really cold, everything was cold and you wouldn’t be able to feel your feet,” Jacob Worsham, a Life Scout, explains. “It really just comes with the trip. You have to expect things that you hope won’t happen. It really gives you a lot of experience, especially with the younger scouts, so they can help better prepare for the future trips they take.”

Despite some inclement weather, groves of centuries-old live oaks, draped in Spanish moss and a thick undergrowth of saw palmettos added an interesting setting they hadn’t experienced before.

“We were just roughing it out,” says Breckin Hammel, who also holds the rank of Life Scout – one rung below an Eagle Scout.

“We hiked and played some cards, had a good time and admired the exotic trees and animals, like horses and armadillos,” adds Worsham.

At one point the scouts found themselves walking among the island’s wild horses, at times drawing challenges when they got too close to the herd.

“We did get pretty dangerously close to a couple of them. They were yelling at us!” Hammel recalls. “The experience was pretty exhilarating, because, if you don’t live on a farm you’re probably never going to be within a few feet of some horses. And, like, many people might see certain animals such as armadillos on TV, but we actually got to see them there.”

Another time the scouts came across an “Armadillo Crossing” sign along their hiking trail.

“I said (jokingly) to my friend, Kevin King, ‘Did you see that armadillo cross?’ because a squirrel ran across the path. He was like, ‘Yeah,’” Worsham says. “Then Jacob Bruce, one of my friends that was at the lead, said, ‘Hey, look – an armadillo!’ and there was an armadillo, right off the trail.

Wildlife wasn’t all the scouts encountered during their visit to Cumberland Island. They also toured the Plum Orchard Mansion, an 1898 Georgian Revival house and estate once owned by the famous Carnegie family and now listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

“Being on the island, you just don’t expect something to be so vast, where you’re in a place that’s so remote,” Hammel says. “You think about how someone came there many, many years ago and was thinking, ‘This would be a good place to put a mansion.’”

Webb says the group saw how the mansion was run before electricity was used in the home, heating the huge structure by bringing in hoppers of coal to feed the furnace.

“When he says ‘remote,’ it’s pretty remote,” he adds. “It’s cut off from the mainland. So we have this mansion with 30 rooms and servants and everything, and they had to figure out how to do all this stuff without actually having access to the conveniences of the mainland, which was very impressive.”
The scouts also toasted in the New Year on their trip by drinking Grape Fanta – no sparkling juice to be found on the island – and played music on a media player.

Troop 130 likes to maintain what it calls a “vigorous adventuring tradition.” They’ve already taken several trips, such as the ones to California’s King’s Canyon National Park, Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore in Michigan and hiked the Appalachian Trail in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park.

They plan to continue testing their pluck later this year with canoeing and backpacking trips in the spring, summer and fall, possibly to Utah.

“It’s all about being prepared,” Hammel pontificates. “The whole thing about Boy Scouts is being prepared. You have to know that, when you’re going on a trip, expect the worst, and so that’s why you have to be prepared.”

“A lot of our outdoor programming is geared toward presenting challenges to our scouts, and getting them a little bit out of their comfort zone. Today it’s tempting to have, as a parent and maybe as a boy becoming a man, it’s tempting to spend a lot of time indoors playing video games and really not putting yourself in a place where you’re going to be challenged and mentally challenged,” Webb says. “So the outdoor challenge is actually designed in scouting to push scouts a little bit and to maybe throw a little bit of adversity their way. Sometimes it’s bugs, sometimes it’s high elevation or altitude, sometimes it’s cold or rainy weather.

“I’ve grown accustomed to telling scouts they’ll have fun on their outdoor high adventure trip, but fun really isn’t necessarily the entire point of it; the point of it is to set a challenge out there in front of you and go tackle that challenge … It’s about developing what I call mental toughness.”

So would they do it all over again?
“Yes,” they all say. “Maybe in the summer.”