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Snow Scouts: Troops take on rigors of winter outdoor skills event


March 6, 2020

Jana Peterson

Members of Cloquet Boy Scout Troop 171, including Mike Kruse, Matthew Mangan, Ace Vang, George Skutevik, Aiden Murray, Jack McGrath and Malakai Reynolds, pull their dog sled to the next stop at the Beargrease Derby held Saturday at the Cloquet Forestry Center. Close to 20 scout troops came for the annual event, which features winter skills challenges at each stop named after one of the stops on the actual John Beargrease Sled Dog race route.

Doing the work of sled dogs didn't seem to bother the members of Cloquet Scout Troop 171, or the other 20 or so teams of scouts at the Cloquet Forestry Center Saturday. They joyfully jogged around on snow-covered trails - occasionally breaking off to grab some good firewood or investigate something else in the forest - as they participated in the Beargrease Derby.

It used to be called the Klondike Derby, and most scouting organizations still call it that, said Troop 171 Scoutmaster Kevin McGrath, who is also in charge of organizing the annual outdoor skills event for scouts. They changed it to honor the John Beargrease Sled Dog Race a few years ago, and now each station is named for a stop along the actual Beargrease marathon route.

Twenty different teams of scouts, boys and some girls, ages 11-17, made their way to each stop Saturday, each one taking turns pulling or guiding their own sleds between stops, then working together to master or solve whatever task they were given at that particular stop.

In "Grand Marais" the scouts learned first aid. At "Billy's Bar" they built a fire. At the "Tofte" stop they used a two-man bucksaw to cut through an 8-inch piece of timber. Each stop should take a team about 10 minutes or so, explained McGrath.

In "Two Harbors" they practiced lashing, an important skill in the wilderness.

"They used three poles and some rope, plus the surrounding trees to build a structure to get their sled and all of the scouts off the ground at the same time," explained Troop 171 assistant scoutmaster Jason Mangan.

At the "Duluth" stop, an obstacle course, the teams walked on thick ski-like planks called "smoosh" boards in groups of three - a great teamwork exercise - and walked across a rope, climbed a net and conquered the up-and-over wall.

Esko troop member Spencer Hipp got on his hands and knees at the wall to allow fellow troop member Liam Reeves to stand on him so he could reach the top of the wall. It took a while, but eventually Reeves did indeed get up and over the wall.

"They get to go out and have a lot of fun but they're actually actually learning, too," Mangan said. "They also learn that working together they can accomplish a lot more in a quicker time frame.

That is really the whole spirit of the event: to learn to work together, building skills and building teamwork."

Jana Peterson

Stops on the Beargrease trail included challenges like climbing netting. Members of an Esko Boy Scout Troop helped each other out at this "Duluth" stop.

The derby was well-staffed with volunteers, and even featured an actual sled dog team and musher, who brought back the score sheets from the various stops and gave the outdoor event the feel of an actual dog race when they passed by.

Yes, it's a competition, although winning wasn't top of mind for every team. The winning team was mostly older scouts who had been there before, but Mangan said he was thrilled with the Cloquet troop's finish near the middle of the pack.

The teams were outside most of the day, from 8 a.m. until the 4 p.m. awards ceremony. The weather was almost perfect, sunny and gradually warming up to nearly 30 degrees.

Mangan was a Boy Scout when he was growing up, but he never made it to the winter derby, he said. So Saturday was the first time at the outdoor skills event for both him and his son, Matthew. In fact it was Matthew's first activity ever with Troop 171.

"He just finished Cub Scouts last Tuesday," Mangan said. "It was a great learning experience for him and for the other boys. I think they had a lot of fun."


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