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January 20, 2013

Klondike Derby, campout a hit with local Boy Scouts

NEW PARIS — It was a perfect day for some outdoor adventure in New Paris Saturday afternoon as nearly 100 Boy Scouts from in and around Elkhart County converged on River Reserve Park to participate in day two of the 2013 Klondike Derby and winter campout.

Held at the Benton Spillway along C.R. 31, the annual outdoor event featured scouts from the Pioneer Trails District of LaSalle Council, which includes troops from Elkhart County as well as Cass County, Mich.

“We have troops from Millersburg, Bristol, Nappanee, even Edwardsburg, Mich.,” said event spokesman Eldon Seidner of the derby. “This year’s theme is Frontierism, and so we thought what better place to hold the derby than the River Preserve Park, because there’s no running water, there are no toilets, no heated buildings. ... There’s just nothing out here but tall prairie grass and a large expanse of woods, and that’s just the way it was back in the day.”

The scouts kicked off their three-day event early Friday afternoon, gathering at the New Paris park to get their gear unpacked and tents set up before settling in for what turned out to be a very windy and cold night.

Waking bright and early Saturday morning, the scouts shook off the cold and began what would be the main event of the trip, the 2013 Klondike Derby, where scouts break into teams and move between numerous stations set up across the grounds where they then demonstrate their skills in everything from fire starting and knot tying to shelter building and animal tracking. In addition to their regular skills tests, the scouts were also treated to a special presentation on river rescue and water safety by Indiana Department of Natural Resources officer Paul Crockett.

As a way to help in moving their gear from station to station during the event, each team was also required to build their own dog sled using either traditional or nontraditional designs. The sleds were then filled with any equipment they felt they might need to help with their skill tests, and pulled from station to station by the scouts. Following the event, each sled is judged by members of the Elkhart County Parks Department with marks for sturdiness, practicality, creativity, design and quality of workmanship.

“While on the Klondike Trail, they move from station to station, and have 45 minutes to complete the requirements per station, and then when finished they have 15 minutes to get to the next station,” Seidner said. “Then they get judged, earning up to five gold nuggets per station. Then at the end of the day, they count up their gold nuggets, and the top earners win first, second and third places.”

One feature that was noticeably missing from the Klondike Derby this year was snow — something that made dragging the self-made dog sleds from station to station that much more challenging. In an effort to remedy the situation, many of the teams opted to place wheels on their sleds to make the going a little easier.

All in all though, Seidner said Saturday’s event looked to be a complete success, with many of the scouts already planning the stories they’ll be telling to their friends when they return to the real world Sunday afternoon.

“For these young, 10, 12, 13-year-old boys, to be able to acknowledge that they can camp outside in these elements, and go home and tell everybody else about it, it’s just too much fun,” Seidner said. “And it’s more than that, too. The stuff they learn out here, it will stay with them for the rest of their lives.”

For Josh DeMorrow, a Goshen resident and member of Boy Scouts Troop 715, just being able to spend time and share stories with scouts from other troops in the area is his favorite part of the Klondike experience.

“This is my second time doing the Klondike,” DeMorrow said. “I really enjoy traveling back and fourth between the stations, because I like talking with the guys and I like having that personal connection with the rest of the scouts. It’s rare that we have so many different scouts together in one place.”

Nappanee resident and fellow Troop 715 member Hunter Bradt, a first-timer at the Klondike, agreed.

“I also like going back and fourth between the activities because it gives us a chance to talk about our experiences and what we’ve learned,” Bradt said. “This is my first time out here, and it’s a lot of fun. I’d definitely recommend it to anyone.”

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