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Scouts played key role in starting state guide-license program

August 16, 2011
By Peter Kick

With all due respect to the New York State Outdoor Guides Association and the vital contribution it has made to the guiding profession, I'm compelled to comment on the recent article, "Changing face of Adirondack guiding" by Joe Hackett (Embark, May-June 2011), which loosely describes the evolution of guide licensing in the state of New York. Perhaps a few friendly facts will contribute to an objective revision of Joe's history.

It was, in fact, youth programs development that took the lead in legitimizing guiding as we know it today in the Adirondacks - not NYSOGA. Joe makes a substantial and important omission in failing to acknowledge the seminal contribution to the state's present licensing process that was initiated by a handful of dedicated outdoors people, who were both active scouting professionals as well as at-large members of the Boy Scouts of America. These were the people who developed the Voyageur Guide Training Program under the auspices of the Association of Adirondack Scout Camps. This pivotal leadership program became the archetype from which any and all guide training programs would be measured (by the state Department of Environmental Conservation). Guide aspirants from all walks of life attended the program (and still do). In fact, for the early years of 1980, the Voyageur guide-training program was the only program that the state recognized as an official guide-licensing venue. The state not only embraced the program but also provided personnel to help with instruction modules in the week-long course, which was conducted as a segment of the BSA's National Camping School program. The DEC then awarded licenses to those who completed the course.

To wit: The Boy Scouts' NCS Voyageur program was the first non-state-administered, DEC-sanctioned, guide-licensing venue ever to exist in the state of New York. I think that's a fairly important fact that deserves acknowledgement in any discussion of the growth and development of the guide-licensing process in New York state. Mr. Hackett's omission is symptomatic of the tendency of the private sector of professional guiding to regard the vast presence of nonprofit groups in the park as "competition."

How, and more vitally, why did this happen? In response to the increasing youth group presence in the Park during the early 1980s, the state began to look for a suitable qualifying program for the leaders of church, club, Boy Scout and other organizations that were bringing hordes of young people to the Adirondacks. Youth leadership was often found to be misinformed and unqualified. These leaders were typically untrained, and their groups were often disorganized, ill prepared and accident prone. They had the inevitable potential to become (and sometimes were) liabilities. Concurrently, unregulated professional guiding was suffering beneath a similar but longer-standing stigma; thus, the individuals who formed NYSOGA (many of them involved with and drawing training experience from the Voyageur program) sought to establish credibility with a bona-fide testing program. In fact, professional guiding had a pretty tough time shedding its bad rap - the usual case of the few rotten apples spoiling it for the rest. We all remember being present at the first meeting of the guides whose mission it was to reorganize themselves once again into a reputable organization. We watched with disbelief as an ad-hoc chairman was backslapped up to the podium. Ominously, he began, "Well. If I'm hunting a deer, and that deer goes onto someone's private property, that is still my deer." I remember Joe Carr looking at John McKenny and saying, "Uh-oh." The speaker's utterance was perhaps the last dying ember of the old generation of Adirondack guides yielding to the postmodern philosophy of a profession that would have to embrace a new standard of ethics in order to survive. The transition to today's NYSOGA was long overdue.

Meanwhile, (years before the acronym NYSOGA would find its first utterance), in response to the warranted scrutiny (of youth groups in general and of scout groups in particular) by forest rangers in the field, several volunteers of the Schenectady County Council (many of them General Electric management people with immense organizational acumen and corporate resources) had begun to develop the Voyageur guide training program which was refined and delivered by knowledgeable and expert outdoor people and consultants connected with the scouting program: John McKenny, Joe Carr, Perry Williams, Jim Seton, Spike Woodruff, Rich Larson, et al (to name just a few). The course was further enhanced, modulated and moved forward under the leadership of a civilian Air Force cartographer named John Baumann.

The scouts took the responsibility of training their own guides to support their own youth group initiatives, offering their program content to anyone with interest. This not only proved efficacious for the DEC's needs and concerns - it just as readily provided training for anyone who cared to attend. And if they wanted to lead a youth group in the Park where payment to any organization was involved, the DEC required that they attend. This program predated the New York State Outdoor Guides Association by two years, taking up the slack while the state, with deserved pressure from the new leadership of NYSOGA, clamored to get a formal testing program up and running. Now in its 33rd year of training guides, the Voyageur program (not its younger scion, NYSOGA, as it is implicit in Mr. Hackett's article) was the prime mover of the licensing program that's in place today.

The involvement of the BSA in this process is the reason why the Boy Scout "Field Book" is the DEC-recommended reference for preparing for the NYS guide's licensing examination.


Peter Kick, of Saugerties, is a New York state-licensed guide and a former district executive of the Adirondack Council, Boy Scouts of America.



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