It’s a beautiful, sunny winter’s day at the Clements Scout Ranch, southwest of Athens. Just inside the main entrance of the ranch, a few dozen boy scouts are enjoying a pick-up game of football on an expanse of open field.
It’s just a small scene from the annual Winter Camp. Hosted by the Circle 10 Council, the gathering takes place the week between Christmas and New Year’s and is the largest such camp in the country, with around 2,000 scouts attending.
It is, in short, a boy’s paradise: camping amidst thousands of acres boasting towering pines and hardwoods, a stable of horses, four well-stocked lakes, more activities than you can shake a stick at … and very few females.
On this particular day, just before 3 in the afternoon, the boys chasing each other across the field are moved back by several men charged with clearing the field in anticipation of a drop-in visitor. In this case, the visitor is an Air 1 helicopter being sent over from ETMC Athens to allow scouts the chance to tour the chopper.
Several groups of boys decide to sit down around the edge of the field and wait, casting an eye toward the sky and keeping an ear cocked for a telltale thump-thump-thump.
It’s not long before someone calls out, “I hear it!”
Moments later, a teal-and-white metal bird can be seen as well as heard. It circles around the field a few times before slowly, gracefully settling down atop an orange X painted on the grass.
Boys grab their hats and brace against gusting wind created by the helicopter’s whipping blades. Bits of leaves and grass tumble through the air.
“Cool!” someone yells and several boys begin to clap.
When Air 1 comes entirely to a rest and a door swings open, dozens and dozens of scouts literally run toward it. On board, the pilot, Bob Moeh, answers many questions before ever stepping out. Flight nurse Amanda Bailey and Flight Medic Michael Lawyer also answer questions. Scouts and their leaders look in, under and around what seems every inch of the helicopter.
The chance to see Air 1 close-up and ask its crew questions, says Greg Ryan, a local troop Scout Master who helped organize the camp, goes hand-in-hand with the emergency preparedness merit badge being offered at the camp.
“That, and it’s just kind of cool,” he says with a laugh. Judging from their reaction, plenty of the scouts agree.
Ryan, who is also a member of the Henderson County Hospital Authority Board of Directors, says the opportunity to earn more than 70 different merit badges is available to scouts during the winter camp – ranging from aviation and plumbing to fire safety and leather crafting.
“We have a mountain man area, a Native-American village, surveying, pioneering. We have a climbing tower; we offer auto mechanics. This is one of the largest winter camps in the country,” he says.
One 11-year-old scout from Carrollton inspects Air 1 and then offers, “That was actually pretty cool.”
As anyone who has spent time around a boy that age would know, “pretty cool” is high praise, indeed.